Science communication: the power of the internet and the day we went viral

On Friday 31st January this year, a mere week ago, but what now seems like another age in our Bogology experience, Tom and I were chatting about the site. Not that we’re obsessed with stats, but we were pleased that January had seen an improvement in the number of page views and unique hits since November and December – still not up to the levels of our first month when the site had the novelty of its release to boost numbers, but growing steadily nonetheless. We talked about what to do in February to keep the upward trend continuing.

The same day, Tom posted a blog on bog bodies. It did really well, snagging over 100 hits on the first day – right up there with the best days we’d ever had. It also did well over the weekend too – 43 hits on the Saturday and 98 on the Sunday! This is excellent, we both thought. We really had no idea. On the Monday, I was on a training course all day so the first I knew of anything strange going on was when Tom texted me: “Erm, have you seen the site stats?”. “Nope,” I replied, “what?”. This was about 10 am and the figures stood somewhere around 500 hits – I forget the exact number. I remember feeling a slight sense of panic at this out of the ordinary occurrence – what had happened?! Had we been hacked or something?!

By the end of the day, the site had received 2615 unique hits and 4924 page views, almost all on Tom’s blog. In one day we had almost doubled the amount of exposure the site had had in the previous four months! The following day had fallen to 677 visitors and 1193 views – now incredulously somehow disappointing! By mid-week, the frenzy had died down and we were back in the realms of normality, less than 100 hits per day. To date, the blog has recevied around 4000 hits; by comparison, our next most popular, on mosses in Antarctica, has 226!

So what happened? It would appear that, maybe to a fairly limited extent (it’s hard to know how to judge these things!), the blog went ‘viral’. Ancient ritual killings, suicides and skull batterings and their long-preserved remains in bogs are apparently an extremely engaging subject. Still, we wondered how it had propagated. Then we noticed – at the bottom of the blog is a ‘like on Facebook’ button – normally clicked say 30 or 40 times for a good performing blog before now. It had been clicked 1600 times! We thought that there may have been one magic bullet, perhaps a famous person with a shed load of followers who had posted a link, but no, this was just social media flexing its apparently very strong muscles.

It underlined how quickly a blog or message can sweep across the internet, indeed the globe (the blog was viewed in 82 different countries from Aruba to Vanuatu) and how whatever the size of your Facebook or Twitter groups or blog followers, you are always writing for a global audience if what you are writing is engaging enough.

Sure, in a blog on bog bodies, we were posting about a subject outside of the core research that we do, but the fact still remains and if we even got one person onto the site who then clicked around a bit and learned some other things about peatland research at the same time, then it can be deemed a success.

Today, our quest to spread the peaty word takes a different tack and I am shortly off to Bridgewater College in Somerset to give an assembly talk on my research in the Antarctic Peninsula to about 100 students in years 10 – 12. Who knows, perhaps I can inspire one or two to go on and study geography at university. I’ll certainly give it a shot.

3 responses to “Science communication: the power of the internet and the day we went viral

  1. I love the passion you all have for bogs and with your blogs going viral it seems you are getting others in on the act too.

  2. Hi Dave and Aleksandra – thanks for your kind comments – it’s great to know you are enjoying the website, blogs and social media posts, we’ll do our best to keep it going. Yes, Aleksandra – that was me with the shameless plug at AGU, in the blogger’s forum! Glad to know it’s had some effect!

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