This infographic is based on findings detailed in Science in the Social Media Age: Profiles of Science Blog Readers, a paper by myself and Lance Porter which was accepted to the AEJMC 2016 annual conference. If you happen to attend the conference in Minneapolis, our paper presentation will take place on Sat. Aug 6, 2016. The paper has been awarded the Top Faculty Paper award in the Communicating Science, Health, Environment and Risk Division of AEJMC. (The paper was peer-reviewed for acceptance into the conference).
Download a PDF here.
Science blogs have exploded as mainstream media have cut science coverage. They are a key way for readers to access information they cannot find elsewhere. But who are these readers?
In 2015, Lance Porter and I conducted an online survey of the readers of 40 randomly selected science blogs. Based on 2,955 survey responses (average response rate = 12%), we used readers’ motivations to use a given science blog (Kaye, 2010) to create profiles of readers. We used a two-step automatic clustering algorithm (Schwarz’s Bayesian Criterion) to group readers according to how strongly they rated four motivation factors for using a given science blog on a scale from 1 to 5 (5 = strongly agree).
Three distinct groups of readers emerged from our data, each with distinguishable blog use patterns and demographic characteristics, and we were able to create profiles of science blog users.
1. One-Way Entertainment Users
One-way entertainment users read science blogs predominantly for entertainment and ambiance. They were the largest group of readers in our survey, with the highest percentage of users with non-science degrees (23%) and those not interested in a career in science. However, they had similar levels of education as the two other user groups.
Entertainment users were least likely of the three different user groups to create their own science-related social media content or to share content they read via social media. For these reasons, they might fly under the radar of science bloggers who aren't often if ever going to hear from these readers.
Entertainment users were also significantly less likely than the other user groups to describe blog(s) they read as overly technical. They may be reading slightly different types of science blogs, or different posts on the same blogs, than the two other user groups. In fact, subsequent analysis (from data we are analyzing now) suggests that blogs included in our survey that are hosted on a popular blog network (Scientific American, Popular Science, Discover Magazine, and Science Blogs) attract a greater proportion of one-way entertainment users.
But just because these readers use science blogs for entertainment doesn't imply they are less knowledgeable about science. In fact, this user group scored highest on a general science knowledge quiz.
2. Unique Information-Seeking Users
These users read science blogs primarily for information they can't find in traditional media venues, to keep up with current events and as educational tools. This is the second largest and oldest group of science blog readers in our survey. This group contains the highest percentage of users who’ve already pursued a career in science (for example, current and retired scientists).
Science bloggers may cater to these readers by highlighting the uniqueness of the information their blogs offer, and by hyperlinking to more information as an educational resource.
3. Super Users
The third group of science blog users is the smallest in number but the most active. This is the youngest group of readers with the highest percentage of students. They read science blogs for a variety of reasons, but are unique from the other user groups in reading out of motivations to be involved in an online community, get advice and find content for their own blogs / social media accounts.
Super users read a significantly greater number of science blogs than entertainment or info-seeking users, and they are also significantly more likely to create their own science-related social media content. They are more likely to share content from the science blogs they read, making them valuable users for science bloggers seeking to expand their reach via social media. Bloggers may appeal to these readers’ community-seeking motivations to help spread content.
Super users also rate scientists as significantly more trustworthy. And while they are very knowledgeable about science, they score lowest on a general science knowledge quiz. While the reason for this is unclear, it could be due to their younger age or specialization in a particular area of science as opposed to breadth of general science knowledge.
Overall, science blog readers are highly scientifically literate, answering an average of 6.11 out of 7 (SD = 1.16) general science knowledge quiz questions (from Pew, 2015) correctly. The greater number of blogs readers follow, the more knowledgeable about science they are, even when controlling for education, age, gender and media use.
In summary, we found three distinct types of users, characterized by their motivations to read science blogs. Overall, readers are coming to science blogs to find unique information, but also and to various extents coming to be entertained, to be a part of an online community and to experience bloggers’ perspectives on science.
More data and a link to the paper associated with this infographic coming soon!