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Social Media and the USGS Nebraska Water Science Center

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Detailed Description

NEWSC Director Bob Swanson talks with Rachael Hoagland about the Center's foray into social media as another means to communicate water science to the public and others.




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Rachael Hoagland: Welcome to the seventh episode of Nebraskast, where we talk to real USGS scientists about the important water resources work they're doing all over Nebraska. My name is Rachael Hoagland, and I'm here with Bob Swanson, the director of the Nebraska Water Science Center, to talk about our own Center's foray into the world of social media.

The Nebraska Water Science Center is now on Twitter. What does that mean for our Center, Bob?

Bob Swanson: Thanks, Rachael. It means that we continue to try to follow this growing wave of The Web 2.0 and the social media revolution, and we really think that this has given us wide and new opportunities to communicate science to the public and to interested individuals who just wouldn't be able to connect with us otherwise.

And this phenomenon--and that's the only thing you can call it, because Twitter's only about three and a half years old now but it's growing exponentially by millions and millions of tweets a day.

Rachael Hoagland: Tell me a little bit about how often we will be tweeting now that we have a Twitter profile. If someone is following us, how often can they expect to get a post from us and what kind of information are we going to be sharing with them?

Bob Swanson: I really expect us to be sending out at least one message daily, and that's because we'll send out information from our own Center, but we'll also be rebroadcasting information that comes from other USGS Twitter accounts. We're not the first Water Science Center to have a Twitter account and there are other disciplines that are using it for other purposes, and so we're going to follow them and send out to the people that mostly follow us or from Nebraska, make sure that they have an opportunity to hear what is going on elsewhere in the USGS, too.

We will use it to make announcements about different hydrologic events related to perhaps flooding. We will use it for perhaps making announcements about drought events as well.

We'll talk about, "Hey, we might be out making a special kind of sampling run that we want people to know about and if you happen to be in the area, come by and stop and watch us work." We'll make announcements about new projects. If we have reports that have recently come out, we want people to be able to know about it right away. Because with this type of communication, we can make announcements on an hourly basis whereas it takes a while to put together a press release or get something in the newspaper.

We'll make announcements about conferences that may be coming up in Nebraska that we'll participate at, may have speakers at. But one of the other things that I thought has just been really fun is that we're documenting some of our outreach activities and including pictures of that event such as the recent cleanup for Earth Day on one of our streams here within Lincoln.

So there's a myriad of ways that we'll be using this, and I expect us to be pretty active on this a daily basis. So it's really a community-based application that just feeds on itself. And these similar communities then will network together and that sort of gives it that power of being able to spread from one person and one voice to perhaps millions of people being able to hear something. And, true, 90% of the messages may fall on 20 to 30 ears, but I'm very pleased to get a message out to those 20 people relatively easily.

Rachael Hoagland: What about people who have responded to Twitter saying that they basically feel that it's babble. They have a hard time following it. What kind of people are going to gravitate towards this particular medium?

Bob Swanson: Well, I really like to use the analogy of a party that you may go to and there may be 10 conversations going on at this party. And five or six of them may be people just talking together, but not really engaging, just asking the usual questions, "How long have you been in this town?" and "Where do you live?" and dadadadada.

And if you look around the room and you see maybe one or two conversations that people are gathering around and you know that they're really engaged in something that's important, well, that's a lot like what Twitter is. You'll hear the babble, but then you'll also be able to hear and listen and key in on the important conversations that are going on.

Like, this was the first place that I learned about the volcanic eruptions in Iceland, and it was the first place that I saw that it was going to start to affect air traffic all of Northern Europe. It wasn't on any of the networks, it wasn't on news, it wasn't on the radio. It was people on Twitter that started sending this information out. 

Rachael Hoagland: What about our own Center with respect to using Twitter as an actual science-gathering tool. Are there any plans for using it in the future in that way?

Bob Swanson: I can't really tell you that there are specific plans, but we are developing ideas all the time. And as Twitter becomes more prevalent--or tools like it, I meant to say, and Twitter may be the end result of this type of social media, but we have a lot of ideas.

So as more people use it, we might be able to use it to document ice jams when the ice goes out here in Nebraska. We might be able to use it to document flooding in areas where we don't have gauges. We might be able to instrument automatic sensors into the field that send Twitter messages by themselves and get more information about hydrologic events that are going on that we currently don't have the capability to do, just because they may not have them very often.

But we've got ideas, and it's exciting to be at the first of trying to use this with some of the other organizations in the scientific community and in the USGS community. 

Rachael Hoagland: And it actually isn't a new idea for us in the state as a water resources agency to start using Twitter. There are other state water agencies that are also using it. Can you name a couple?

Bob Swanson: Yeah. We've been following the Groundwater Foundation, particularly. They've been very active on Twitter. The Nebraska Association of Resource Districts have an account. We expect other agencies to pick up here in Nebraska. There's one that I follow personally down in Kansas. One of their groundwater management districts has a very active account and I found out all kinds of interesting facts about Kansas water science that I wouldn't have found out through the paper.

Rachael Hoagland: Well, Bob, it's been great talking to you about Twitter. Keep on tweeting!

Bob Swanson: Thank you very much. Have a good day.


Rachael Hoagland: If you'd like to follow the Nebraska Science Water Center on Twitter, go to Or to see a complete list of USGS social media activities, go to

This podcast is a product of the US Geological Survey, Department of the Interior.

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