Social media is changing the way people communicate and connect regardless of whether we choose to embrace it. Practitioners and companies can use this to their advantage to increase their visibility and connect to professional networks. We should be connecting with the world, informing people to utilise human factors and ergonomics (HF/E) knowledge, inspiring young adults to pursue HF/E careers, and impacting beliefs and actions. We need to keep conversations about HF/E alive both within and outside our community. There are different levels of public engagement benefit from societal level, to discipline, to project, and individual level. Outreach work takes time and effort, but there are many forms of public and social media engagement to suit different people. The chapter reviews HF/E engagement, identifies gaps and provides examples for inspiration via a smorgasbord of approaches.
“HF/E has traditionally had little contact with the public as a profession…there is a cultural shift towards more outreach and public engagement…through social media and Web 2.0. HF/E practitioners and our discipline can benefit from this new world.”
“We use social media and do public engagement because we think it has some impact and value, and we enjoy it.”
“The discipline as a whole needs more outreach and public engagement; this needs to involve researchers and practitioners in order to represent the fullness of the discipline.”
I love that this chapter exists. Like the author, I don’t think I would have met or even explored the work of a few social-media savvy researchers, including Steven Shorrock. Unsurprisingly, I’m the choir that this chapter preaches to, and I am a huge proponent of using social media / Web2.0 / “new” media to further share knowledge, and I very much appreciate the cited works that support it from a scientific standpoint. I will follow those threads. I very much like the approach the author’s taking, by exploring the influence and potential in layers of society, subject, project, and individual practitioners; the result is a much more systems-thinking approach to the topic.
The use of social media (Twitter and Facebook, in this case) has been absolutely essential in not only introducing HF/E concepts to practitioners in my field, but also in making cross-domain connections. These brief online discussions have lead to deeper-dive dialogues between people who wouldn’t have ordinarily met, resulting in more fruitful collaborations across the planet.
Most of us probably have an experience (or several) that inspired and attracted us to the profession. Personally, it happened when I serendipitously came across an HF/E practitioner who spoke passionately, informed and interestingly about people at work. It was exciting to gain a perspective from which the world made better sense, and where improvements could come from helping people at work. While every social engagement by HF/E professionals do not need to result in recruiting people for the cause, every social engagement have the potential of conveying ideas and practices that can help people see and be in relation to work in a more functional way.
While working in an engineering design firm a few years ago, I was frequently engaged in discussions about safety, about ways that could help the organisation to produce more innovative designs that were easier to build, operate, maintain and dismantle. One day, my colleague suggested that more people could and should be part of the conversation. I agreed. As HF/E professionals we have a different perspective. We may ask a different set of questions, and provide answers that strike a more functional chord, than what is for example portrayed in media. In this day and age with internet and social media at our finger tips, the solution was to create a website. safetydifferently.com was born in late 2012. The first posts were circulated amongst past and present co-workers, and friends. I remember the joy of having 10 subscribers. Soon, a couple of colleagues asked if they too could share something. A Facebook and Twitter account was added, and the reach continued to grow. Now, in 2015, has in average 5000 views per month, but on some days the traffic reaches 1000 views. It’s no longer possible to know how people find their way to the website, and predict where it’s going to go.
While the traditional scientific information channel with its peer review process may warrant higher quality outputs, this knowledge may never get outside the scientific community. Social engagement necessitates a different language, an innovative format, and probably a more digestible content as well. Since the start of the safetydifferently website, more than 100 posts have been published from almost 20 different authors. Some of the posts are based on scientific theories and research, but other posts take on a more playful form drawing on experiences and insights from fields well outside traditional HF/E, such as animal control, education and love. This format seems to open up the discussion and invite a broader group of people to be part of the conversation. While HF/E needs to be firmly based in scientific research, I believe it’s important to remember that it is also a perspective that can be applied quite freely.
Social engagement, via social media or through a conference presentation, is an undertaking with uncertain return. It’s like calling into the night without knowing if anyone hears or cares about it. However, when we invite to a conversation about a topic that we ourselves care about, chances are that there are always a few people that the topic will strike a chord with. And when the conversation gets going it takes on a life of its own. The interconnectedness of social media allows ideas and questions to spread exponentially based on little more input than readers hitting a like button. Suddenly, what was a personal reflection may inform a global audience. But there is no way of knowing this outcome beforehand.
Social media is a modern phenomenon that is here to stay, you can chose to be in or out, but if you’re out you’re probably in danger of being out for good. Amongst my own teenage children, the next generation of decision makers, far more conversations revolve around what they’ve seen on social media than on TV. Students in secondary education today will rarely research using a book. Social media provides a very quick ability to search and research.
The CHFG has used social media for a number of years, in fact we have more followers on Twitter than we do supporters on our website. This means that to get a message out we can potentially influence more people more quickly using social media. We can also share photos easily to provide examples of poor design, often provided by our own followers. What we don’t know yet is how effective these tools are.
Over the past 8 years we’ve tried to influence human factors understanding from the Board of the NHS to frontline staff. Social media can directly reach people at the frontline, but it’s also opened doors for us to reach the top of the tree as well; sometimes directly, sometimes through the media.
Society has so much to gain from understanding good design, but ergonomics is still considered an unknown science. It certainly was almost unknown across the majority of healthcare 8 years ago; now it’s talked about commonly, although often misunderstood. Using one method to reach out to the public leaves too much to chance, a range of methods gives you much greater chance of sharing the magic that ergonomics can deliver.
Being passionate about human factors and ergonomics I embarked on my ergonomics blog, ergonomi.uk with the aim of reaching those both within the ergonomics community and those outside. My aim was and still is to disseminate the ‘ergonomics message’ with the hope of engaging the public and inspiring the next generation. However I did so, without fully realising the commitment I was taking on, maintaining a regular blog takes a significant amount of time and effort. I am also constantly looking to ways to improve my blog from content through to its design. As far as making money from my blog, I don’t actually make any money, in fact after the cost of hosting, domain name services etc. I am worse off, but that said I’m not in it for the money. I have found that it has given me invaluable experience in the design and development of websites and has expanded both my network and my ergonomics knowledge.
I have been recently thinking on how to expand my readership base, learning how to do that is tricky and have not yet found an answer! I currently utilise a number of social media platforms from twitter, facebook, reddit, pinterest, voat through to linkedin, digg and stumbleupon. So where next for me? Well, I will continue my blog for as long as I have the time, I am also thinking of exploring other media platforms, learning about keyword strategies to improve search engine visibility and using my existing network to explore other avenues of public engagement. I am also always open to consider guest authors, so if you have an idea for an article why not get in touch!
Of course what has not been mentioned in the article is that there is a dark side to social media, care needs to be taken as members of the public can easily share and spread sometimes unfounded negative views about a topic, which can very quickly get out of hand. This can result in a negative impact on you personally or your companies profile. This is why it is important that a social media strategy is developed, especially as a company or organisation, including thinking on how to deal with such events, should they occur.