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Upwell’s unique model of “community management”

on March 12, 2015 - 3:10pm

One of the goals of Upwell was to empower the influential voices in Team Ocean to create and share content that would increase attention to the crisis the ocean is facing. While much of our time was devoted to creative campaigning and all-consuming research projects to meet that goal, there’s one important element we talked less about: community management.

My job was as much about communicating within the network of ocean influencers as it was about the ideas they communicated about with the world. Without a strong network, our campaigns would be like a fancy car with no fuel - they’d look nice, but they’d go nowhere.

In our pilot report of 2013, we detailed how we built our community from the ground up (page 54). Here’s just a selection of the community building activities we detailed in that report:

We attended conferences like the Blue Ocean Film Festival, Oceans in a High CO2 World, and Science Online. We provided in-depth feedback and data to groups like The Ocean Project and Conservation International on efforts like World Oceans Day and the Ocean Health Index. We sent our most loyal Tide Report subscribers postcards on a weekly basis, thanking them for being part of Team Ocean. We conversed with our peers on Twitter and retweeted their content when we couldn’t feature it in a Tide Report. We also did some strategic work to better connect the lingerers and lurkers in our network. We analyzed our Tide Report subscriber list against our Twitter followers and Facebook fans to understand how to more deeply engage people that were only aware of some of our activities.

When we asked people to sign up and join us, it wasn’t a one-time thing. Our welcome email, sent to new subscribers of the Tide Report, told them we were asking them to make us a commitment:

Our goal is to increase the number of social mentions about the ocean issues we all care about. To do that, we rely on you. 

We know you care about the ocean, but it's not always easy to find great content

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Top six ways to ensure your conservation content gets shared

on March 11, 2015 - 1:04pm

In three years at Upwell, we’ve played a lot with content. We’ve remixed, rewritten, repackaged, curated, and amplified. We’ve looked for the most shareable content - the most captivating videos, the powerful images, the inspirational quotes - and tried to get more people to see and share. We’ve also looked for the content that was important and groundbreaking, but not yet shareable - the scientific studies, the policy papers - and tried to find ways to make it shareable.

Over the years, we’ve told you what we've learned about how to package your content so it’s the most shareable. Here are our top tips.

1. Always appeal to high energy emotions

Videos that merely educate are less shareable than those that tell a story that will captivate. There are a wide range of emotions you can appeal to, from awe to humor to fear to schadenfreude. When crafting your content, whether it’s a blog post, an image, or a video, think about what emotion you are trying to inspire.

Last year’s controversial Facebook experiment, which manipulated the emotions of Facebook users, showed that the emotions of your peers on social media influence your own. While we hate to use the findings of an experiment that toyed with basic notions of privacy, we did take away that if we want to inspire hope for the ocean, we should communicate hope. And, indeed, we have read that high energy emotions (like awe and excitement) are more likely to be shared than low energy emotions (like sadness or contentment), and positive emotions are more engaging on social media than negative emotions.

In our research into the online conversation about California’s marine protected areas (MPAs), we learned that social media posts that conveyed love and a call to protect MPAs were more engaging than those that merely educated audiences about MPAs. This is why we’ve invested so heavily at Upwell to promote the theme of #oceanoptimism, and we hope Team Ocean will carry this on. 

2. Make sure your visuals not

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How an email strengthened a community

on March 9, 2015 - 4:46pm

From Anchorage on the 12th of October 2011, Kieran Mulvaney emailed this to Rachel Weidinger:

“I keep coming to the idea of a weekly or bi-weekly email newsletter, sent to as wide a mailing list of researchers, bloggers, journalists, foundation folks etc as we can pull together, with links to stories, videos etc, summaries of the major stories, and even a little editorializing. And while this may seem inside baseball, another case of the community speaking to itself, it’s a means to an end, a way to a) help ensure that we get sent latest news and info and included in the proverbial loop; and b) help our work be retweeted and forwarded by others with a sympathetic and interested audience.”

It was Kieran’s idea that would, with the visionary help of the Waitt Foundation, become the Tide Report. But we made one significant tweak to Kieran’s proposal: rather than being written for an audience of professional ocean wonks, our primary audience for the Tide Report was this: subscribers who would drive more attention, in measurable ways, to the crisis the ocean is facing.

It’s been nearly three years since we sent our very first Tide Report on June 5, 2012, and, as you can see, much has changed. As Upwell’s flagship missive, it’s the primary way we’ve kept in touch with ocean influencers and run our distributed network campaigns. It was never just an email newsletter, it was so much more.

What is the Tide Report?

The Tide Report’s primary purpose is to drive spikes in online attention to critical ocean issues. It was built to supply influencers who love the ocean with shareable content and easy pathways to amplify that content so that we could transform the conversation about the crisis the ocean faces.

While it was intended as a campaign tool, the Tide Report also served another important purpose - it helped ocean communicators see the work of their peers and understand how they fit into a broader movement.

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How can ocean conservation get more news coverage?

on February 23, 2015 - 1:38pm

A conversation with Lindsay Abrams of Salon

This was originally published at Medium. Read the full interview there.

NGOs and journalists don’t have to act like oil and water, despite what individuals in each industry say when they get a chance to air their gripes. As my organization, Upwell, prepares to shut its doors, I wanted to make an effort to bridge the gap between the ocean conservation community and the news media. I reached out to a few journalist friends of Upwell to get their perspective on what makes a great ocean story, how ocean scientists and advocates can better work with them, and what drives engagement from their audiences.

Today I share the first of those conversations, with Lindsay Abrams of Salon.

Lindsay has a pretty broadly defined sustainability beat at Salon. In just the new year, she’s covered ocean topics like the long-term effects of the BP oil spill, Arctic drilling, ocean warming, mass extinction in our oceans, and more. As far as climate and sustainability reporters go, she’s one of the few giving the ocean its fair shake amongst other environmental topics.

A little background on why I approached Lindsay: For three years I have been leading campaigns for Upwell. By playing in online conversations for years and doing in depth conversational analysis, we’ve learned what drives attention to conservation issues. Time and again we find that news coverage is the primary driver of attention to lesser known ocean conservation issues. While topics like shark conservation and plastic pollution frequently garner attention in the absence of news coverage, more unfamiliar topics like ocean acidification or deep sea trawling need attention from journalists and bloggers in order to spark conversation.

People aren’t talking about ocean acidification of their own volition, at least not in droves. Not yet.

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Bittersweet news: Upwell is shutting down.

on January 12, 2015 - 12:16pm

“It's time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I'd much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure.” - Ernie Harwell, broadcaster. 

Happy New Year to all of you on Team Ocean. We hope your holidays were restful and delicious, and that you’re excited for a 2015 of #oceanoptimism.

It’s hard to believe, but 2015 marks the fourth year of Upwell's existence. The Tide Report first fluttered into your virtual mailboxes in June 2012, and as you can see, it’s evolved a lot since then. We’ve covered a lot of ground: from ocean plastic cleanup schemes to ocean acidification warnings to Gangnam Style (remember when that was a thing?) on the Rainbow Warrior. Plus, of course, there have been plenty of random but necessary pictures of sea otter cuteness:

Yes, exactly like that. And outside of the Tide Report, Upwell has sharkinared and attention lab-ed, and oystered New York, and oh so many things, and none of it would have been possible without all of you, and it’s been wonderful which makes it so difficult to write this next sentence, but here goes.

Upwell will be closing up shop this spring.


We know, we know. We feel the same way. But, while we are sad to deliver this news, we are also filled with hope.

Here’s the honest truth about how and why we’ve made this decision. 

After two years of exploring a variety of funding options and models, we’ve been unable to secure dedicated ocean funding that is sufficient to maintain our core ocean programming. In partnership with our major funders, we’ve made the difficult decision to close down our program, with a likely end date of March 31.

We really tried to find a way to sustain Upwell, promise. Upwell has been interesting, fulfilling work for all of us. And it was worth fighting to keep this project alive - up to a point. Now, closing down is the right path for us as individuals and as an organization. While bittersweet, this is the right thing to do.

We were fortunate to be able to do this

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How to talk about California's marine protected areas online

on September 4, 2014 - 12:02pm

It’s been 15 years since passage of California’s Marine Life Protection Act, and two years since the completion of California’s new network of 124 underwater parks. Nonprofit organizations in California were critical players in achieving passage of the law and worked steadfastly to design the network in partnership with fishermen, scientists, and recreational ocean users.

This year, Upwell researched how people talk about California's marine protected areas online to learn what drives conversation and understand how to better engage Californians in paying attention to protected ocean resources.

While conversation volume about California's marine protected areas is relatively low, there is a big opportunity to increase attention and impact through creative and targeted communication strategies.

Daily social mentions for Upwell’s California MPAs keyword group (Radian6, 12/1/12-1/31/14).

Our findings show that most conversation about marine protected areas is educational in nature, but the content that drives conversation is celebratory and connects humans to marine resources. Talking about wildlife, explaining how MPAs work, and connecting with recreational and tourist activities helps increase attention.

In 2013, there were three reasons the conversation spiked:

  1. Celebratory events, such as Underwater Parks Day or the birthday of California's MPAs
  2. News coverage - most often about how MPAs are working
  3. Meetings and conferences, such as the #MPAsWork Twitter chat in November 2013 and the California Central Coast MLPA Symposium in March 2013

We also learned, through conducting case studies on five specific marine protected areas (Farallon Islands, Anacapa Island, Point Reyes, Elkhorn Slough and Point Lobos) that there is a big opportunity for advocates, ocean managers and educators to tap into local conversations to curate content, find new audiences and connect with local businesses that can serve as brand ambassadors for marine protected areas and marine

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The Official Upwell Toolkit for Saving Sharks During Shark Week 2014

on July 23, 2014 - 4:51pm

// This Toolkit is in progress.
// Have suggestions for what should go in here?
// Get in touch

Welcome to your home for shark-saving resources to help you defend, protect and celebrate sharks online during Shark Week (starting Sunday, August 10 at 9pm ET)!

There's a lot in here, so we've packed all the action-y goodies at the top, and pushed the background information to the end.

I. Being a Super Engager

II. Background Information

III. Even More Sharky Resources!

Where to find good, public domain and creative commons images (be kind to your content creators, always credit images!)

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Shark Week Twitter Influencers

on July 23, 2014 - 4:43pm

Can you hear the BAAAAH-dum-beats of summer? Shark Week is coming! August 10 marks the beginning of the biggest spike in the online ocean conversation all year. To get you prepped and pumped for our Sharkinar, we’ve compiled the best, most influential users driving the shark discussion on social media. This time we’ve got a double dose of awesome, with our continuously updated list of “Shark Saving Influencers” and a new feature for this year, our list of the “Shark Week Super Tweeters”, those who led the pack in mentions and retweets from Shark Week 2013.

Subscribe to Upwell's "Shark Saving Influencers" and “Shark Week Super Tweeters” lists on Twitter to keep tabs on these influencers from the comfort of your own Twitter feed. We recommend setting up a column for each one in your Twitter monitoring tool of choice (we use tweetdeck) and keeping an eye on it starting now, and going all the way through Shark Week. Retweet, respond, and engage.

Some of our favorites from “Shark Week Super Tweeters

Some of our favorites from “Shark Saving Influencers

Ian Somerhalder - @iansomerhalder


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I'll be in at noon, because sharks.

on July 3, 2014 - 11:12am

We keep going on and on about how important Shark Week is - "It's the Super Bowl of the ocean," "It's an unparalleled opportunity to connect with a massive shark fan base," "Sign up for the Sharkinar already," etc. - but don't think we haven't noticed one important detail.

Yeah, Shark Week happens at night. It's when you want to be vegging out, or having dinner with your family, or taking a long bath, or getting your groove on at the local club (ok, that one's for me). You may not necessarily want to extend your working hours so you can livetweet and make memes during shows that promote fake science. Or maybe you do, but you aren't getting the comp time or the overtime pay for all your awesome shark campaigning.

Well, Upwell's got your back. Send this letter to your boss, and if they have any questions, you can direct them straight to us.


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It’s Sharkinar Time: Are You Ready?

on June 26, 2014 - 7:20pm

The Sharkinar is an annual meeting of shark loving ocean loving online influencers who want to use Shark Week to promote science and conservation. Hosted by Upwell. Register now!

UPDATE: Watch the Sharkinar!

Back in 2012, we told you that Shark Week is the single biggest moment for the online ocean conservation. Team Ocean heard the call and jumped in the #SharkWeek waters, and helped increase the volume of conservation and science in 2012 and again in 2013.

On a typical day, we measure between 30,000-50,000 online mentions of sharks. In 2013 the first day of Shark Week pushed shark mentions close to a million. As we never tire of saying, Shark Week really is the Super Bowl (or World Cup) of sharks.



Shark Week 2014 is approaching faster than a scalloped hammerhead: it starts August 10. We want you to be ready for the ultimate ocean outreach event, so it’s time for Upwell’s third annual Sharkinar!

Our Sharkinars are online meetings that bring in scientists, activists, bloggers, journalists, tweeters, and nonprofits to share data, plot strategy, and complement each others Shark Week campaigns and grow the online conversation together, in a way that benefits the ocean.

Unsurprisingly, the strategies we shared for Shark Week are quite similar to those that Google just encouraged its affiliates to use during the World Cup.

What Google wrote about the World Cup: basically what Upwell has been saying about Shark Week for years. #win

Our first Sharkinar is Thursday, July 24 at 11 AM