The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

The Smithsonian's Human Origins Program: Broadening and deepening public engagement with human evolution through social media


Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution

March 28, 2015 , Archview Ballroom Add to calendar

According to the Gallup Poll, while the proportion of American adults who accept the evidence for human evolution without any theistic involvement has risen slightly over the last 20+ years, it still remains below 20%. In 2005, the US scored next to last in a study of 34 countries on acceptance of human evolution, all while new discoveries about human fossils and genetics continue to generate intense public interest and grace the covers of major science research and journalism magazines. Upon opening the Smithsonian’s Hall of Human Origins in 2010, we created Facebook and Twitter accounts with the goal of engaging the public about human evolution through social media. Two of our social media strategies are to broaden our audiences by connecting human evolution content to everyday experiences and popular events, and to deepen our interactions with these audiences by fostering genuine dialogue. We can measure the former by the consistent increase in Facebook fans (>8,600) and Twitter followers (>12,900), and the latter by metrics such as conversation, amplification, and applause rates. I present a case study of a recent Twitter tour of the Hall of Human Origins in July 2014 to exemplify our ability to communicate science content, highlight exhibition objects, personalize scientists, connect to local current events, and interact with our followers using genuine dialogue. This first experiment with a new social media engagement strategy for the Smithsonian produced an estimated reach of over 1.3 million Twitter accounts with over 12 million impressions.