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IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme

Yesterday, my manager commented that he didn't understand social media, and that got me thinking. Over recent years, IEAGHG have grown into social media usage, but in many ways we are still very young in this new communications medium. The question addressed by this blog is what does social media achieve that conventional press releases and publications don't?

The answer... well, that's debatable. I think that they actually achieve different things, but that's because they are aimed at different audiences. Also, the different social media options each have their own distinct advantage; if we are looking to disseminate a new report, then LinkedIn would probably be the best option. If we were sending out a reminder of a conference or network deadline, then Twitter would be more appropriate. If we wanted to facilitate discussion between a specific interest group, then setting up a group on FaceBook would be the option of choice. That said, LinkedIn hosts a lot of discussions too, but in my experience these tend to be between more informed experts, whereas FaceBook hosts more discussions involving less informed but equally interested members of the public.

So why should we use social media? Well that's a much simpler question. In this day and age, we need to embrace all the options available. As CCS becomes more 'mainstream news' and the public become more aware of the intricacies of this science, then we need to be more publicly visible; we have a lot of information and without using social media, IEAGHG is not going to become well known as a valued source of information.

IEAGHG is impartial, we include an expert review of all of our work, and make these reports freely available after a period of members exclusivity. We are therefore well placed to occupy a space as an informed, yet impartial source of information for the general public... but not if we are not known. Social Media is often a first stop for people wishing to find out about a topic – you hear there is a CCS project being proposed in your area, you take to Twitter to find out what people are saying about it, or you go to FaceBook to see if there are any groups discussing the project. If IEAGHG are on these sites, openly discussing CCS, and facilitating access to our information, then we will become known, we will become useful to a greater number of audiences, and we will gain a reputation for reliable, impartial information and because of this, IEAGHG occupies a unique situation whereby we can make a difference to the public acceptance of CCS, and by actively engaging the public, it has been shown that acceptance is more likely.

This doesn't sit well with some; in the scientific community, the more traditional method for communications is to not communicate until things are certain, defined, and results confirmed. Unfortunately, opponents to CCS do not share these values, and will take to social media, conventional media and any other means with un-supported claims and miss-reported facts and this is what will be found and read by interested parties. By remaining silent, the scientific community appears to have no answer to often false accusations by opposition groups. A lack of communication can be more damaging than anything else; look at Barendrecht in the Netherlands, a lack of early communication led to a large public opposition that ultimately acted as a show-stopper for the project. The knock-on effects for CCS in the Netherlands have been drastic and far-reaching.

By proactive early public engagement, this situation can be avoided. Looking at the QICS project in Scotland, where a planned release of CO2 underneath the seabed was undertaken, early communications and engagement actually resulted in the local community positively supporting the project, and using it to local advantage as a tourist attraction. This type of engagement matters, and can really make a difference.

So Social Media is important, getting information out there is important, and IEAGHG and other groups should take heed and learn to communicate by any and all means if we want to see CCS deployed at a commercial scale.