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Kieran Mulvaney's picture

Who's Influencing the Shark Conversation Online?

on August 6, 2012 - 4:28pm

We're just days away from Shark Week - the annual catalyst of by far the single biggest surge in cartilaginous conversation online. In recognition thereof, and in to complement our Sharkinars, we compiled a list of some of the most effective and influential drivers of social media shark discussions. Read on to learn more about our picks.

Subscribe to Upwell's "Shark Influencers" list on Twitter to keep tabs on these influencers from the comfort of your own Twitter feed.

Alisa Schwartz

Followers: 3,991
Klout Score: 66
Twitter Bio: Scuba diver & outspoken marine conservationist w/focus on sharks. No Blue = No Green. Total Ocean Devotion here! Follow @sharkangels too! #savesharks

Alisa is one of the most engaged individuals posting online about shark conservation, tweeting many times daily, including mutiple article and news links.

David Shiffman

Followers: 6,722
Klout Score: 54
Twitter Bio: I am a shark conservation biologist and blogger. I support science-based management, sustainable fishing, and do not support direct action.

David is one of the most active of shark experts in social media, frequently engaging his followers in conversations on science and policy and compiling some of those discussions in Storify form. he is also a frequent blogger at Southern Fried Science.

Dr. Alistair Dove

Followers: 1,368
Klout Score: 51
Twitter Bio: Director of Research/Conservation at Georgia Aquarium. Blogger at DeepSeaNews. In love with the diversity of life in the oceans. Views my own.
Website: ·

A marine biologist and parasitologist who has studied many aspects of aquatic animal health, Alistair now specializes in the biology of whale sharks.

Chuck Bangley

Followers: 366
Klout Score: 48
Twitter Bio: Grad student and wanna-be shark expert.

A specialist in the interactions between marine apex predators and fisheries, Chuck provides a good description of his work and the importance of outreach through social media in this interview with Bora Zivkovic following the ScienceOnline 2012 conference earlier this year.

Rob Stewart

Followers: 5,777
Klout Score: 44
Twitter Bio: Biologist, shark lover, photography and documentary filmmaker. Creator of Sharkwater, founder of non profit @uc_revolution working on second movie, Revolution

Rob boasts a wide presence online, not just through his own Twitter handle but also that of @uc_revolution (the website of which is, an organization that among other things campaigns against shark finning. His documentary, Sharkwater, received numerous awards. Also involved in Shark Angels (see below).

Neil Hammerschlag

Followers: 449
Klout Score: 40
Twitter Bio: Professor at University of Miami; Sharks Oceans Research; Education & Conservation. Views my own.

Conducts research on many aspects of shark and shark conservation; publishes with great frequency in the scientific literature but also has become a real 'go-to' scientist on sharks, shark behavior and shark conservation for print and broadcast media.

Project AWARE

Followers: 8,930
Klout Score: 49
Twitter Bio: Protecting Our Ocean Planet - One Dive at a Time

Engages scuba divers across the world to become involved in two principal project areas: marine debris, and protection for manta rays and sharks.

Shark Truth

Followers: 2,150
Klout Score: 43
Twitter Bio: A grassroots nonprofit dedicated to promoting awareness & action for sharks (sans #sharkfin). Home of HappyHeartsLoveSharks Tweeters @claudiali @ei_van

Founded by Chinese Canadian activist Claudia Li, Shark truth focuses on the Chinese-Canadian community, using social media and other grassroots efforts to bring about an end to the use of shark fin soup in wedding ceremonies and elsewhere.

Shark Defenders

Followers: 2,182
Klout Score: 48
Twitter Bio: Shark Defenders is dedicated to creating shark sanctuaries and supporting the proper management of shark and ray species worldwide. #FinSanity

Shark Week

Followers: 70,041
Klout Score: 65
Twitter Bio: Jawsome. Coming to you August 12th.

Of course, we have to include Shark Week itself, which is promoted widely across social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, as well as Discovery's own dedicated sites.

Not Enough Shark for You?

Outside of our top ten, of course, are multiple other individuals and organizations tweeting and engaging online wholly or partly on matters shark-related.

Shark Savers (Sam Whitcraft)

Followers: 1,273
Klout Score: 66
Twitter Bio: Conservation Biologist

Captain Chris Wade

Followers: 605
Klout Score: 63
Twitter Bio: Jump aboard, mateys, and follow the Captain and crew's adventures on the R/V Sea Watch - the Shark Boat! Lets save the sharks!

Pew Environment

Followers: 1,860
Klout Score: 54
Twitter Bio: We work globally to establish pragmatic, science-based policies that protect our oceans, preserve our wildlands, and promote the clean energy economy.

Shark Savers

Followers: 3,895
Klout Score: 42
Twitter Bio: We are raising awareness, educating people, bringing organizations together and empowering a grassroots effort to protect and sustain sharks on a global scale.

Founded in 2007 by a team of divers, Shark Savers is working as a conservation partner with Discovery Channel for Shark Week.

Stop Shark Finning

Followers: 5,923
Klout Score: 43
Twitter Bio: Shark fin soup could mean the end of sharks. Join me and stop shark finning.

Shark Angels

Followers: 2,454
Klout Score: 40
Twitter Bio: The Shark Angels are leading a grassroots movement to save sharks... and we need your help.


Ray Dearborn's picture

Attention Lab Digest - Week of July 30.

on August 3, 2012 - 11:05am

(Thank you to Liana Wong, one of our illustrious Upwell interns, for helping write this post!)

We're getting busier and busier at Upwell, and cataloguing everything we do is getting a bit tough! So we're going to try something new this week with the wrap post, and touch on our top 5 highlights of the week. Each week we are going to include in our list of 5 the biggest successes we had as well as some of our failures. We'll be explaining what we learned from our successes and our failures. Of course, if you are interested in what else we did, or want to know what happened with something you saw in the Tide Report, feel free to reach out to us!

1. Making Sustainable Seafood Sexy

As if the Olympics weren't exciting enough, we found out earlier this week that London 2012 is serving sustainable seafood for participants and attendants of the Games. Their goal is to become a "Sustainable Fish City" with the Sustainable Fish Legacy attributed to London 2012.

A quick Topsy search for "sustainable seafood olympics" shows that there's not much news coverage of this story. The news coverage that exists has been shared on Twitter only a small handful of times. Cory Doctorow once noted that "conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about." With that in mind, Upwell considered how to create conversation around a piece of content that wasn't getting much attention. Learning from our recent successes with images, we started thinking about what the classic British icons are. after a rather raucus brainstorm, we ruled out an Abbey Road image with fish in the place of the Beatles, and went for a couple quicker (and easier) icons that we thought would spark some conversation: a Buckingham Palace guard: 

and the saucy David Beckham:

News about sustainable seafood may not be totally buzz-worthy, but slapping it over the image of a scantily-clad Beckham just might spark some conversation. Additionally, the Olympics hook didn't hurt. We try to find the "ocean angle" in conversations that are happening big (like we did with ocean acidification and the Rio+20 conversation). Much easier to add content to an existing conversation than to try to create content and a conversation all at once. 

Aside from how much fun we had with this project, the most exciting discovery was seeing our assumptions proven corrent. On Greenpeace USA's Facebook page, the post of the Beckham image yielded 283 likes, 113 shares, and 40 comments - that's a lot of cod indeed. The Greenpeace blog post had an additional 91 shares and 1 tweet. The Keep Calm image was also shared on Twitter by Miriam Goldstein, and subsequent responses and retweets led to over 300 views of the image. 

2. Deep Sea Coral Versus Shell

Greenpeace recently found abundant deep-sea coral at Shell's Arctic drill site. The soft coral Gersemia rubiformis, or the sea raspberry, will become vulnerable as soon as next week if Shell gets their way. Our response was to create an image macro depicting the lack of transparency from the oil giant.

Greenpeace shared this image on Facebook, resulting in 1,098 likes, 1,901 shares, and 52 comments.

Two big lessons jumped out at us from this campaign:

In retrospect, the loaded wording we used was more suitable for Greenpeace's online channels than other organizations that are active on Arctic issues, so it makes sense that Greenpeace was the one to share the image.  

One aspect of these results jumped out at us - there were far more shares than likes. This is unusual on Facebook, and insinuates a higher than average level of engagement. The text on our image calls Shell out for their deception and secrecy - a negative message. We wondered whether people may be hesitant to click "like" because there's cognitive dissonance in "liking" an image that relays bad news. Many still clicked "like" because they found our image effective, but the high number in shares possibly indicates that users would rather spread the message than just click "like" as you would on a cute cat video (or a really handsome picture of David Beckham). 

This hypothesis begs the question: do people share more when there's a negative message? If so, does this matter? It would be interesting to figure out whether major organizations use social media outlets to take advantage of this type of dissonance, its effects, and how we at Upwell could work with negative messages (but in a totally non-evil way).

3. Sharkinar - Living Every Week Like It's Shark Week

Only 9 more days until Shark Week is here! In honor of the longest running television cable program, Upwell is busy preparing for our Sharkinar on August 7th, 2012. It will be a virtual gathering of shark advocates to bring attention to conservation efforts online. 

The prep work required to make this event sharktastic is incredibly time-consuming, but our prep work for this event is a great example of Upwell's unique role in the ocean conservation world. Because we are working outside the structure of a normal organization, we are able to identify and hopefully fill gaps that could be useful to ocean communicators. 

We've curated some great content and Matt, Aaron and our interns Liana and Paulina have been consumed with gathering the data which will all go towards delivering an insightful and fun Sharkinar for you all! We don't know which direction our campaign efforts will go in, but what we are seeing is a real opportunity -- this is a big conversation and we want to amplify it.

We shared some teasers for the Sharkinar in our email invitation and Tide Reports this week - check them out. 

In case you were wondering, here's a list of organizations that have already signed up for our Sharkinar. Don't forget to sign up yourself!
Humane Society
Ocean Portal
Project Aware
Mission Blue
Ocean Conservancy
Pew Environmental Group
Shane Research Institute

Speaking of sharks, it was my birthday on Tuesday and I got a jawsome shark backpack - don't get too jealous! 

4. No One Dished to the Daily Beast!

In Monday's Tide Report, we shared recent coverage in Andrew Sullivan's blog on the Daily Beast about sharks, and asked our readers to ask the Daily Beast to continue to cover ocean issues.  We were hoping to get a crew of ocean advocates to thank them for paying attention to the important issue of shark finning. We sent our own pitch over to the Daily Beast as well. We got a favorable response from the Daily Beast, but none of our readers followed suit.

We are wondering why our readers didn't jump on the bandwagon. Some theories we're throwing around include:

  • It's a big ask to have our readers do traditional pitching, compared with asking them to share pre-made material on social media channels.
  • It's possible that many of our readers aren't used to pitching blogs, and do not do that in their everyday work.
  • The piece about the Daily Dish was buried in our Tide Report and had few clicks - perhaps people just didn't read it.  

We'll be trying this again in the future, perhaps with a different angle. If you've got some ideas, send them our way


5. #S(h)aveTheWhales and Bruno Mars

Talking To The Moon... and now about whales? Singer-songwriter Bruno Mars tweeted this week with a curious hashtag: #ShaveTheWhales. Yes, shave. It comes from a clever t-shirt on Threadless featuring a sperm whale rocking a luscious brown beard. 

We aren't exactly sure why Bruno Mars decided to start spreading this hashtag on Twitter, but it's gotten more people to talk about #SaveTheWhales, the actual whale-loving cause. 

This odd phenomenon taught us yet again that a celebrity with such a large social media platform can make real difference around a conservation cause, even inadvertantly. It brings into question the power of the celebrity and what great things can come of it. Ultimately, the boost in the #savethewhales hashtag came not from Bruno Mars, but from his fans. Did Bruno activate some level of latent whale-love in the pop-loving masses? If so, how can this be leveraged again, potentially for sharks during shark week? 

Matt Fitzgerald's picture

Attention Lab Digest - Week of July 23

on July 27, 2012 - 5:45pm

With our intrepid Rachels on a Southern California sojourn down to visit our friends at One World One Ocean and the Waitt Foundation, Upwell’s Team Interns pulled on their red beenies and stepped up to the helm.

Can You Spot the Interns

Can you spot the interns?

Equally Evil Meets Socially Awesome, Again

Here at Upwell HQ we listen to and engage in online ocean conversations on a regular basis in order to amplify the best content and increase engagement. Since we happen to have some rather specialized tools at our disposal, we also jump in and do conversational analysis at times where we think we have something important to add.

A couple weeks ago we wanted to better understand the impact that the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) had on the overall coral reef and ocean acidification conversations online. After doing a data dive, Aaron wrote a post, "Equally Evil = Socially Awesome," about differences in news media and social media coverage, as well as how the conference drove the biggest spikes in online mentions of coral and ocean acidification of 2012. 

We recently updated the data to reflect the post-ICRS conversation -- including subsequent commentary collected by Andy Revkin over at Dot Earth (here and here). Worth paying attention to, particularly for ocean communicators, is how the original Op/Ed fares in comparison to the subsequent contextualization and debate.  

Between July 13th and 20th, the "World Without Coral Reefs" Op/Ed received 1,384 online mentions. This is nearly exactly as many as Jane Lubchenco's "equally evil twin" quote received the week before (1,398), and a useful illustration of the "social liquidity" of emotional content. As is often the case online, controversy moved faster than context. 

Thanks to Living Oceans Foundation for helping us share the ICRS data dive on twitter.

Self-identified or aspiring #datanerd? Suit up and swim deeper into Aaron’s world, here.

London Calling.. Tuna

After the Nature Conservancy posted a slideshow of Olympic athletes versus awesome animals we got in touch and then created a Michael Phelps vs Bluefin Tuna infographic. We pitched it to a few science-y and fun pages on Facebook like “I f*****g love science.” The impressive reach and engaged fan base of those facebook sites make them a great ally for sharing and finding slippery visual content.

Give a Sh*t about Nature” posted the image to their Facebook and received 38 “likes”, 12 shares, 4 comments, and 13,186 impressions. “Give a Sh*t about Oceans” posted the image to their Facebook and received 3 “likes” and 1 comment. “Boycott Bluefin Tuna” posted it and received 10 “likes” and 2 shares, one of which had 4 more likes and one more share. 

On twitter, our Phelps tweets got 8 retweets thanks to tweeps like David Shiffman, SeafoodWatch, Ken Peterson, Twilight Greenaway and others. Your twitterings garnered a collective 28,644 impressions!

Pop-up Shark Video

To continue our promotion of Kool Kid Kreyola’s awesome shark rap, we helped annotate the YouTube version of the video with some of the comments from RapGenius. We then shared the new video on Twitter. So far, the video has 245 views and 19 likes. Share it with your friends!    

Other Tide Report Stuff

Is it Really All Over for Coral Reefs?

Our friends over at Seamonster Blog, specifically our besty of the week, Clare Fieseler, put together a great video clip of Jeremy Jackson’s rebuttal of ‘zombie ecology’ and his words of genuine hope for coral reefs. We watched the initial version of the video, and offered some suggestions to Clare on how to make it even more captivating, including music. Clare worked into the late hours to make edits so we could feature it in Thursday’s Tide Report.

The video is short, punchy, and a terrific example of how multimedia can be used to connect with an audience beyond an original audience. 

The video and blog post were tweeted over 15 times, including by our friends Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the Ocean Portal at Smithsonian, with over 25,000 impressions. People are still talking about it. 

The video is “evergreen,” meaning it’s good to share any day, so keep on sharin’ on.

Manta Rays

In our Thursday Tide Report we featured a story in the Guardian UK about the mass murder of manta rays for Chinese “medicinal” purposes. We asked our readers to tweet about it, and several of our readers, including Miriam Goldstein and Jen Savage, helped spread the word. 

Miriam’s tweet was retweeted 18 times, including by Ed Yong, who has more than 20,000 followers. In total, the tweet had over 34,000 impressions. Thanks Miriam, for spreading the word!

Pitch Time

Upwell has been pitching more media and blogs recently, what with the success of last week’s Guardian story on Kool Kid Kreyola and the social liquidity of the coral reef conversation on the New York Times. This week, we pitched some writers on a few stories we thought could use additional attention. 

We pitched Julia Whitty of Mother Jones, Peter Hanlon of Ecocentric and bunch of coffee blogs about the “Caffeine in our Ocean” story coming out of the Pacific Northwest. No luck so far, but we’ll continue to keep an eye out.

We also reached out to Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Beast after he featured two shark stories in his blog, to try to bring his attention to additional ocean content. We sent the Kool Kid Kreyola video and offered to continue to feed them awesome ocean-y content. We’re now in touch with the editor of the Daily Dish and look forward to building a relationship. The Daily Dish has over a million unique visitors a month!

We found this short and easy to understand “guide to the sustainable seafood guides” on EcoCentric. We sent it over to Ask Umbra at Grist and Maria Finn (a freelance journalist who covers sustainable seafood for USA Today, Sunset, and other outlets). So far, no response, but even a single win with one of these efforts will help elevate and simplify the issue of sustainable seafood with a large audience. 

In shark art news, we continued our outreach around PangeaSeed’s Great West Coast Migration Tour this week, reaching out to San Francisco blogs and event websites to get them to promote the San Francisco event, happening this weekend. So far, the event has been featured in missionmission, sfist, funcheap, brokeass tuart, and more. 

Looking ahead, we also started to brainstorm activities for Shark Week. We’ll be kicking off with a conference call with our shark friends to share strategies and ideas to make shark conservation issues go big this year. We’re working hard to pull together metrics about the shark conversation from times past so that we’ll have a good idea of what the baseline is.

Aaron Muszalski's picture

Unpacking Social Mentions of Mission Aquarius

on July 27, 2012 - 11:49am

Mission Aquarius has taken its bow, after several aquanauts spent a week from July 14th to 21st underwater at the Aquarius Reef Base off the Florida Keys. The project received plenty of major mainstream media attention, from NPR to the Washington Post to Fox News and even The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

But how did it fare in online social mentions?

Upwell tracks social mentions because they're a concrete action. Creating a blog post, retweeting or posting a video is a bigger deal than just viewing content. We track ocean content makers. These makers drive the online conversation," says Rachel Weidinger.

Note that our tracking of social mentions is different from the more common metric of tracking impressions, like views on YouTube videos. We count social content as it is posted online, tracking posts with keyword searches. This social mention metric has more in common with the metric of media hits than it does with the metric of impressions.

To kick things off, here's a graph that shows overall online social mentions of Mission Aquarius from June 1-July 26:

Social mentions of the Mission Aquarius keyword set June 1-July 26, 2012 developed by Upwell

The grand total: 12,559 social mentions of Mission Aquarius. That's 12,559 times an individual took the time to create online content specifically mentioning Mission Aquarius.

Now, let's break that down a little.

Two Influencers Created Half the Attention

Many people and news outlets were speaking about Mission Aquarius. But online, the bulk of these social mentions were the result of just two sources: @ReefBase, the official Mission Aquarius twitter account (4,375 mentions since July 1st), and ocean tech journalist (and former Gizmodo Editor) Brian Lam (2,514 mentions since July 1st). This graph shows the contributions of these two sources to the overall spike:


Social mentions of the Mission Aquarius keyword set by Mission Aquarius (blue line), ReefBase (purple line), Brian Lam’s posts (orange line) June 1-July 26, 2012 developed by Upwell

Total social mentions for Upwell’s keyword groups for Mission Aquarius (blue line): 12,559; ReefBase (purple line): 4,375; Brian Lam’s total posts (orange line): 2,514.

The Wave Crests

As the close of the Aquarius base drew nearer, social mentions steadily increased. The largest wave of social mentions began to rise on July 8th (with tweets from @ReefBase, @SylviaEarle, @blam, @1World1Ocean, @MissionBlue and others) and crested on July 17th (with a story on NPR’s “Morning Edition”). Here’s a graph that breaks out (or “unpacks”) a selection of the contributors to that wave:


Social mentions of the Mission Aquarius keyword set by main influencer July 8-July 26, 2012 

What this graph shows is the contributions of a number of different sources. We can see that @Reefbase and Brian Lam's Gizmodo posts scored a high number of social mentions, as did One World One Ocean and BoingBoing. Among traditional outlets, NPR and the Associated Press had notable spikes. In particular, there is one big spike on July 17. But how does that spike compare to overall social mentions? Let's take a look.

Continuing Engagement Beats Short Spikes

Social mentions of the Mission Aquarius keyword set for ReefBase (magenta) and NPR's Morning Edition (green) June 8-July 26, 2012 developed by Upwell

That spike came as a result of an item on NPR's "Morning Edition" - which generated 897 online mentions,the most of any single event. Note, however, that the spike is just that: a spike. It doesn't last, not even a little bit. In contrast, @ReefBase mentions continued steadily throughout the month, with an overall total of almost 3,500 more than NPR. Why? Because @ReefBase engaged with their audience throughout the month, building an audience -- and a conversation. Conversations are engines of attention: add content and engagement and they generate social mentions, often at a far more steady state that news media stories, which tend to spike quickly and then vanish, with little trace and even less impact on the ongoing baseline of social mentions.

So What Have we Learned?

1. Online mentions come from online sources: Of the 12,559 mentions of Mission Aquarius we measured, more than HALF of those were directly attributable to two savvy sources only: Brian Lam, and @ReefBase. The nearest traditional media source was NPR, which had fewer than 1,000 social mentions. It may seem obvious, but the way to drive online conversation is through online sources, rather than traditional media.

2. Putting the effort into one or two major online sources pays off: Mission Aquarius made the effort to invite Brian Lam to be involved closely with the project for a lengthy period, and it paid off. It's an important lesson for ocean communications professionals: Whenever possible, find a blogger or writer at a major online source, particularly if that blogger is predisposed to ocean issues, and sell them on your story, as early as possible.

3. Keep the conversation going: By maintaining a lengthy conversation in the build-up to and during Mission Aquarius, Reef Base showed that engagement beats spikes, even big spikes from major media outlets - and beats them by a significant degree. It is further evidence that it isn't enough any more to simply issue press releases or post links. For a sustained online 'bulge', we have to engage readers and others in an ongoing conversation.

Aaron Muszalski's picture

Equally Evil = Socially Awesome: Unpacking The ICRS 2012 Spike

on July 21, 2012 - 2:38pm

Update: A Look At The Ensuing Conversation

On July 13th, the New York Times posted an Op/Ed by Roger Bradbury, an ecologist at the Australian National University. Entitled "A World Without Coral Reefs", Bradbury advanced the view that a total collapse of coral reefs was all but certain, and proposed that we should reallocate funding to account for this reality. In his words:

 They have become zombie ecosystems, neither dead nor truly alive in any functional sense, and on a trajectory to collapse within a human generation. [...] But by persisting in the false belief that coral reefs have a future, we grossly misallocate the funds needed to cope with the fallout from their collapse. Money isn’t spent to study what to do after the reefs are gone — on what sort of ecosystems will replace coral reefs and what opportunities there will be to nudge these into providing people with food and other useful ecosystem products and services. 

With its alarming title and controversial assertions Bradbury's editorial immediately received a burst of mentions online. The New York Times doesn't enable commenting on its Op/Ed posts, so the discussion of this post took place largely in social media, as you can see below:

Total social media mentions for Upwell's keyword groups for the Bradbury Op/Ed (purple line), Revkin's 7/14 post (orange line), Gaskill's 7/16 post (pink line) and Carl Safina's 71/7 post (green line), from July 13-21, 2012

Several noted science and conservation journalists were quick to respond, including The New York Times' Andy Revkin ("Reefs in the Anthropocene – Zombie Ecology?" and "More on Coral Reefs and Resilience or Ruination"), Melissa Gaskill ("When Coral Reefs Recover"), and Carl Safina ("Life Finds a Way -- But Needs Our Help"). These posts each received their share of online attention, though none approached the number of mentions of the Bradbury post.

However, since these responses were made as comment-enabled blog posts, a good portion of the resulting engagement took place in the comments. This was especially true for Andy Revkin's two posts, which have (as of July 24th, 2012) received 79 and 43 comments respectively. This is likely attributable, at least in part, to Mr. Revkin's active use of social media sites such as Twitter, where he has over 37,000 followers.

To better place the post-ICRS conversation in context, here's what it looked like relative to ICRS itself, and the accompanying bump in online mentions for both coral reefs and ocean acidification that ICRS generated:

Total online mentions for Upwell's keyword groups for Coral Reefs (green line), Ocean Acidification (blue line), AP ICRS article (red line), Lubchenco's "equally evil twin" quote (light green line), the Bradbury Op/Ed (purple line), Revkin's 7/14 post (orange line), and Gaskill's 7/16 post (pink line), from July 7-21, 2012

Between July 13th and 20th, the "World Without Coral Reefs" Op/Ed received 1,384 mentions. This is nearly exactly as many as Jane Lubchenco's "equally evil twin" quote received the week before (1,398), and a useful illustration of the "social liquidity" of emotional content. As is often the case, controversy moves faster than context, even online.

[Update concludes here. What follows is the original ICRS unpacking post.]


ICRS - The Big Picture

The 12th International Coral Reef Symposium took place earlier this month. Coral reefs and ocean acidification were two of very first ocean conversations that we began monitoring here at Upwell, so we were understandably interested to see what impact, if any, ICRS would have on these topics.

What we found was both encouraging and informative, and we’d like to share it with you. 

Total online mentions of Upwell’s keyword groups for Ocean Acidification (blue line), ICRS (magenta line) and coral reefs (green line) from April 20th - July 20th, 2012

ICRS was responsible for the single largest spike in online mentions of both ocean acidification and coral reefs in 2012 (thus far). For example, ocean acidification typically receives between 200-300 posts per day. But on July 9th, the first day of ICRS 2012, ocean acidification was mentioned nearly 3,000 times.

The impact of such large bumps in attention can not be overstated, especially for a topic like ocean acidification, which has yet to firmly establish itself as part of the mainstream dialog. (At least not in the way that say, climate change has.) By boosting their profile beyond small, core groups of scientists and activists, these conversations can reach the new audiences that are crucial for raising the ongoing baseline. That ICRS was able to generate such a marked increase in both the coral reef and OA conversations is a laudable accomplishment, and a promising sign for the future.  

Unpacking The Spike

Total online mentions of Upwell’s keyword groups for Ocean Acidification (blue line), Coral Reefs (green line), ICRS (pink line), the AP article on ICRS (red line) and the Huffington Post’s ICRS article (light blue line), between July 7th and 13th, 2012

What generated this burst of attention? By far, the bulk of the online attention surrounding ICRS 2012 was the result of a single event: NOAA Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere Jane Lubchenco’s plenary address, and the resulting Associated Press article, “Science official: Ocean acidity major reef threat”. This story was quickly picked up by many other news outlets, including USA Today and the Huffington Post, and was widely tweeted about and shared online. 

Equally Evil = Socially Awesome

The popularity of this article also illustrates the power of succinct, impactful messaging. In her address, Lubchenco vividly described ocean acidification as “climate change’s equally evil twin”.

Effectively bridging the gap between science and emotion, such statements are ideal for social media, where the decision to share content is made in seconds, driven as much (or more) by the heart than by the head. We can see this effect particularly well in the following comparison. 

The first graph shows online mentions of both Jane Lubchenco (orange line) and her “equally evil twin” quote (blue line) from news media outlets only. During ICRS, Lubchenco received 144 mentions in news media online. In comparison, her quotation was mentioned only 98 times.

Online mentions (news media sources only) for Upwell’s keyword groups for Jane Lubchenco (orange line) and her “equally evil twin” quotation (blue line), from July 7th - 13th, 2012

Turning to social media however, this relationship becomes completely inverted. During the week of ICRS, the “equally evil twin” quote received 1,298 mentions in social media, while Jane Lubcheno was mentioned by name only 394 times.  

Online mentions (social media sources only) for Upwell’s keyword groups for Jane Lubchenco (orange line) and her “equally evil twin” quotation (blue line), from July 7th - 13th, 2012

This is a vivid reminder of people’s inclination to care more about the sentiment of a quote than the accuracy of its source. At least when it comes to their initial decision to share content online.



Certainly attribution and context are important, but online, where such deeper knowledge is only a click away, the more easily people can communicate the heart of a story—the essence of why this is important and you should care about it—the more likely that story is to be shared. By intentionally providing them with such handles you drastically increase the likelihood that your content will receive the widest possible attention.

Don’t be shallow. Don’t resort to exaggeration or baseless hyperbole. And certainly don’t lie. Rather, simply remember that the river of online news is endlessly asking people to understand, to care, and to act. (Even if that ask is “merely” a share, or a Facebook like.) The easier and faster you can make that process, the more liquid your content becomes. Encapsulating a difficult issue like ocean acidification as effectively as Jane Lubchenco did at ICRS is an excellent example of doing this right.