Thanks to Ed Yong and a number of other very smart people, I was inspired after Science Online 2011 to perform a survey of my readers to figure out who comes here, why they do, and what they'd like to see more of. I enjoy engaging with other science writers, bloggers, and fellow anthropologists, really I do. But I hoped to gain some insight into how I might reach an even broader audience, to increase awareness of the kinds of science I do and that I find interesting. There are political ramifications to having a lay population completely unaware of the basic functioning of the female body, particularly around reproduction, when we have so many strong feelings about it. Feelings will always win in a one-sided fight: put it up against evidence, though, and at least some people will start to operate more rationally.
Science Online 2011 taught me a few other things in terms of how to reach that audience. By bringing in a personal element, showing enthusiasm, or giving the reader more things to look at than a wall of text, I could invite different kinds of people in. As everyone now knows, you can try DMing Ed Yong (hee hee, sorry Ed!). I tried to do those things in subsequent posts. And so, this happened:
|Figure 1. My hits from the first day of #scio11 to yesterday. Eep.|
That said, I think I learned a lot from the survey, so I want to share it with you and see if we can broaden the conversation.
Who are you?
The people who filled out my survey were about my age, were my ethnicity (European), and were mostly women (I suspect the f:m ratio would have been even higher if I hadn't taunted Twitter at one point that the female respondents were beating the males). Here are the graphs (notice that the bars/pie slices represent absolute numbers of respondents, and percentages are listed next to each choice):
I regret the way I wrote the ethnicity question. I was trying to figure out how to ask people's ethnicity from a more global perspective -- that is, I couldn't exactly write European-American, African-American, etc, because I have readers from other countries. These ethnicities also mean something very different depending on where you live. This led to confusion in almost ten respondents, many of whom were white but not all, who just put in the "other" section that they were white/black/mixed race/etc.
Two last questions in this section were about the respondent's education and vocation. Here is what I got.
So... I guess I and my doppelgangers read my blog. This demonstrates a few important things:
- People read people who are like them.
- If you want people who are not like you to read your blog, you probably have to step out of your comfort zone.
This is significant for a number of reasons. More prominent women sciencebloggers, for instance, likely means more female readers. Same goes with more sciencebloggers of color, of different sexualities, different physical capabilities, different countries, different ages. And since sciencebloggers can draw people into science, can excite them, inspire them to stay when they are feeling scared, and otherwise mentor them, having broader representation in scienceblogging is a Very Good Thing.
Conversely, if I want to reach something other than the white-female-straight-middle-class-academic audience, I need to be doing something different than what I'm doing right now. Some of that lies in promotion and marketing, but more of that likely has to do with voice, style and content.
What do you want from me?
Most of this section of the survey was freeform response, but I did have a few graphable questions.
On the one hand, I think I would like to expand my writing a bit to try to write posts that have an anthropological perspective and broad appeal. On the other, if ladybusiness isn't your top priority, readers, you don't know what you're missing!
I'd like to think that's what I demonstrated last week with my iron-deficiency anemia post. If I weren't scrabbling for tenure I could probably write a post a week on anthropological perspectives on women's health like that post. Men and women commented on, and wrote on, that post. It made it to reddit, a few great feminism blogs, and lots of other non-science individual bloggers and livejournalers.
So ladybusiness is here to stay, but I am going to try to expand my reach. Anthropology is a discipline most don't get in high school, so most people know next to nothing about it. It would be a great thing if I could expose more people to how cool the field can be.
What you had to say
I had two open-response questions, one on how I could attract more laypeople, and another that was just open for questions and comments. For the first question, you said:
- Explain more terms, go for a less scholarly tone.
- Many of you found me through Twitter, so continue using that medium.
- Try for less of a wall of text (break it up, use pictures, etc).
- Use more keywords so they get Googled.
- Write "basics" posts that can be referred to again and again by laypeople, teachers and students.
- Use surveys and other interactive widgets.
For the second, mostly you just said really nice things. Several women in academic positions more junior than me said they read me to stick with academia. I wanted to share just one quote, because it demonstrates what I'm aiming for, even if I don't really think I'm there yet (but thank you!):
"...I really enjoy [your blog], and thank you for being one of the voices that makes ongoing work in science into something I feel I can read and follow, rather than some impenetrable ivory tower only accessible through poor mainstream media interpretation. (Even laypeople get tired of saying "They did a study! You know, the 'they' that 'does studies,' whoever 'they' are.") The perspective on women's issues is a particular bonus as well."I think those of us who want to write for a broader audience, if we can inspire this feeling in our readers, even some of the time, we're doing well.
And finally, what I want from you
I didn't write this post to inspire a conversation just about why you read my blog: I don't need more of a lovefest and feel a little like I've reached Internet Saturation anyway! But I'd like to know:
- Why do you come here?
- Why do you read any science blog?
- How do you think we can get your friends to read us too?
If we could inspire people to reach for other connections, with material and people they don't know, instead of the zone of comfort they do know, it would be a marvelous thing.