Scholarly article on topic 'Digital Communications: Status and Potential Applications for CCUS Public Outreach'

Digital Communications: Status and Potential Applications for CCUS Public Outreach Academic research paper on "Media and communications"

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{"CCUS outreach" / "digital communications" / "communication tools" / "social media."}

Abstract of research paper on Media and communications, author of scientific article — Sarah Wade, Martha Cather, Lydia Cumming, Dan Daly, Gary Garrett, et al.

Abstract The use of digital communications has created a fundamental shift in how information is distributed and consumed. Digital communications hold possibilities for cost-effectively engaging larger numbers of stakeholders while promoting better public understanding of science. This paper evaluates the status of digital communication use for CCUS and explores its potential to improve the outreach efforts of the Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships. The paper includes a background on digital communication tools, a benchmark assessment of current use by the RCSPs and other carbon sequestration websites, a brief literature review examining the rationale for digital outreach, best practices, evaluation, and special considerations.

Academic research paper on topic "Digital Communications: Status and Potential Applications for CCUS Public Outreach"



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Energy Procedía 63 (2014) 7070 - 7086


Digital Communications: Status and Potential Applications for CCUS Public Outreach

Sarah Wadea, Martha Catherb, Lydia Cummingc, Dan Dalyd, Gary Garrett6, Sallie Greenbergf, Rich Myhreg, Marian Stoneg, Lindsey Tollefsonh*

aRCSP OWG / WADE LLC, Outreach Working Group/WADE LLC, 1784 Lanier PL NW, Washington 20009 USA bSWP / New Mexico Tech, 801 Leroy Place, Socorro, 87801 USA, cMRCSP / Battelle, 505 King Avenue, Columbus, 43201 USA, dPlains CO2 Reduction Partnership / UNDEERC, Energy & Environmental Research Center, 15 North 23rd Street, Stop 9018, Grand Forks, 58202-9018, USA, eSECARB / Southern States Energy Board, 6325 Amherst Court, Peachtree Corners 30092 USA, fMGSC / University of Illinois, 615 East Peabody, Champaign, 61820 USA, gWESTCARB /BKi, 1000 Broadway, Suite 410, Oakland, 94607 USA, hBig Sky Partnership /Montana State University 2327 University Way, Bozeman, MT 59715 USA


The use of digital communications has created a fundamental shift in how information is distributed and consumed. Digital communications hold possibilities for cost-effectively engaging larger numbers of stakeholders while promoting better public understanding of science. This paper evaluates the status of digital communication use for CCUS and explores its potential to improve the outreach efforts of the Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships. The paper includes a background on digital communication tools, a benchmark assessment of current use by the RCSPs and other carbon sequestration websites, a brief literature review examining the rationale for digital outreach, best practices, evaluation, and special considerations.

© 2014TheAuthors.Publishedby ElsevierLtd.This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license


Peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of GHGT-12

Keywords: CCUS outreach; digital communications; communication tools; social media.

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-202-250-4670 E-mail address:

1876-6102 © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license


Peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of GHGT-12

doi: 10.1016/j.egypro.2014.11.742

1. Introduction

The U.S. Department of Energy's Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (RCSP) initiative was launched in 2003. To carry out this work, the RCSPs have diverse research teams that include many of the world's experts on CO2 capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS). Public education and outreach is an important charter of the regional partnerships. Accordingly, each of the seven RCSPs has established an outreach team with a designated coordinator, identified regional stakeholders, developed audience-tailored educational materials, and conducted traditional public outreach (e.g. factsheets) as well as informational stakeholder engagement programs.

As part of their outreach efforts, each partnership developed and maintains a public website. At the time of the RCSP's inception in 2003, the Web was a little over a decade old and would soon be experiencing major changes. In 2003, Mark Zuckerberg was a college sophomore tinkering with the precursor to Facebook; today Facebook boasts more than one billion monthly users [1]. In 2003, Apple was beginning "Project Purple," which was an effort that would ultimately deliver the iPhone, the first "smartphone." Today manufacturers estimate that more than 50% of adult Americans rely on smartphones [2]. In 2003, Twitter didn't even exist as a concept; today it reports more than 230 million users and more than 500 million tweets per day [3]. While it took 38 years for radio to reach 50 million listeners, it took only four years for the Internet, and just 50 days for the app "Draw Something" to do the same [4]. Today, digital communication, including social media, is becoming the dominant source of news and "keeping in touch" for increasing numbers of people. With new tools, digital communication holds the promise of enabling cost-effective engagement of a larger number of stakeholders while promoting better public understanding of science.

The RCSPs and their outreach programs have been active throughout these changes in the digital communication landscape. Over time, the RCSPs have begun to use digital communication tools and are considering next steps. Thus, the RCSP Outreach Working Group decided to assess the current uses, opportunities, tactics, and expectations of the RCSPs as they consider the fit and value of digital communication for the types of activities and projects they undertake. One question to be answered is whether the benefits of using social media outweigh the cost and time involved in adeptly implementing and sustaining social media "campaigns."

This paper provides a digital communications benchmark and explores the potential role of incorporating new digital communications strategies to improve overall outreach efforts. The first part of this paper includes a background on digital communication tools and the ways in which social media can amplify their reach. The second part of this paper benchmarks the current status of digital outreach by the RCSPs and a small number of other carbon sequestration websites. The third part of the paper is a literature review that examines the rationale for engaging in digital outreach, best practices for implementation, evaluation of its effectiveness, and special considerations. This paper concludes with a discussion on ways in which expanded digital communications advances in social media might be applied to support existing and new outreach programs for CCUS and some of the practical considerations that arise.

2. Background

For this paper, the authors considered digital communications tools to include websites, mobile phone and tablet applications, email blasts, video and photo sharing sites, blogs, and other social media applications. Furthermore, digital communications strategy is viewed as the coordinated implementation of digital tools in an effort to enhance communications effectiveness.

Table 1 describes the tools, applications, and social media platforms considered in this paper in order of increasing degree of interaction. Many tools can be used for multiple purposes, for example, Facebook accounts are like mini websites, but one can also use Facebook functions to engage in social networking.

Table 1. Overview of Digital Communications Tools to Enhance Public Engagement.




The Bottom Line...


Website Analytics

Search Engine Optimization [SEO)

Telephone / Mobile / Tablet applications

Email blasts

Rich Site Summary (RSS) Feeds


Video sharing

Image sharing "Macro" blog "Micro" blog

News share


Specialty Social



A document / group of documents formatted for serving to the Internet

Tools used to generate statistics about a website's traffic and traffic sources.

Process used to appear higher in the list ofwebsites retrieved by search engines

Computer programs that allow web-based sites, programs and platforms to operate on mobile devices

Emails sent to large distribution lists that have usually been set up through a subscription process. Software is generally used to manage email blasts

Format that allows hosts to syndicate content

Common [unity) Web-based bookmarks

Video sharing, comment, and rating

Image sharing and comment

Journals and comment

Limited text and feedback; website links often shared

Communitysubmits news items and feedback

Work together toward a mutual goal such as a document, webpage, or presentation

Build and maintain relationships within an interest area; share

Website URL [uniform resource locator)

Google Analytics, Bitly, CoreMetrics, Open Site Explorer

Coding photos and videos, labeling pages, strategic content, hyperlinks, links to social media

Mobile versions of popular URLs and applications

Large distribution emails for marketing, news releases, etc.

Requires RSS Feed Reader application

Diigo, Google Bookmarks

YouTube, Blip, Vimeo, Vine

Flikr, Pinterest, Instagram, Picasso

Blogger, Tumblr, Wordpress


Reddit, Digg

Slideshare, Wikipedia, Zohodocs,

SurveyMonkey, Google Docs, Prezi

ResearchGate;; Orcid; Mendeley

Can be a set oflinked pages. Atits core, it facilitates rapid, broad one-way dissemination of information, but features can be added to increase level of user interaction.

Provides data on the number ofvisitors, webpages viewed, and for how long. Challenging to derive subjective information from these statistics.

Aimed at making it easier for search engines to find a URL and to list it closer to the top of a search response; can also be linked to social media platforms in effort to increase site traffic.

Can be modified to optimize viewing on small screens

When paired with subscription functions and software to manage distribution, can be a cost-effective way to distribute newsletters and alerts.

Enables re-posting; for example, a host could post the content from RSS feeds on their site; allows users to automatically receive updated information

Allows users to identify a set of useful sites and then share, compare, and contrast with other similar offerings

Shares TV shows, movies orvideos; enables viewers' commentary, compiles viewer ratings.

Shares photos with optional caption and location and allows for viewer ratings.

Host-regulated opinion and commentary; readers can review and comment.

Users create brief postings with commentary, headlines, links, photos; tracks number of "follows" to external links and number of reposts.

News item and opinion shared; others give their opinion or their news item about the same event; member voting establishes prominence of story.

Enables content sharing and editing by multiple parties; over time the document, assessment, presentation, or other product arises from consensus.

Share papers, ask/answer questions, find collaborators.

Social Networking

information, papers

Share images, video, news; build and maintain relationships

Facebook, forums, Google+, instant messaging, Linkedln

Ongoing "broadcast" exchanges/conversations about news, views, and events.

There are different levels of social interaction inherent in these tools:

One-way communication enables the host to provide consistent, timely information to many users (e.g. websites); Two-way communication increases the degree of interaction by enabling users to provide individual feedback to the host (e.g. email); and,

Multi-user communication increases the degree of interaction even further, enabling users to communicate individually with each other and the host (e.g. Facebook).

The diagram in Figure 1 attempts to map the options in Table 1 to these different levels of social interaction.

Fig. 1. Spectrum of Digital Communication Tools and Level of Social Interaction

It is important to note that as the level of social interaction increases, the host begins to lose control over the use of their content. As this shift occurs, the intent of the content provider may be subsumed by the interest of the users

as they begin to frame the content and drive communications pathways. In Figure 1 above, this is represented by the two zones of control: 1) in the bottom left, Low/Low corner, the host has the most control over information posted on their website; and 2) in the upper right, High/High corner, users may have reposted or otherwise made use of the website content through social media - in other words content has gone viral.

3. Benchmark of Current Digital Communications Tools

The RCSP Outreach Working Group (OWG) members developed a questionnaire in the spring of 2014 to benchmark which digital communication tools were being applied to support CCUS outreach. It was distributed to individuals responsible for overseeing the content of the RCSP websites and five other major CCUS project and research sites. The questionnaire and follow up interviews covered six topics: a) the project(s) and intended audiences, b) the extent to which there is an integrated digital communications strategy, c) the types of digital communications tools being used, d) information about the process for evaluating effectiveness, e) how communication tools are maintained and updated, and f) program-level digital communication milestones and future plans. Eleven responses were received, representing the seven RCSPs and four other CCUS project groups. The process was designed to ensure responders anonymity in "the public square." Responders are numbered # 1 through 11 for purposes of data presentation and discussion. Responder #11 stands out from the others in several important ways, and is often separated as an outlier as further described below.

3.1. Findings

Key findings include the following:

• All eleven responders operate websites; eight of the eleven cover field projects and three cover a broad array of CCUS research.

• Sites #1-10 are well established: two launched in 2003, three in 2004, three in 2005, and two in 2006. Site #11 launched in 2014, but is part of a larger set of websites for which the "umbrella site" was launched in 2003. All of the sites have been maintained and updated continuously.

• Responders #1-10:

O Self-identified the purpose of their websites as information .sharing;

O Nine of the ten use graphics (photos, videos, and images) to enhance their website; the tenth uses a map to

locate data points but does not use other graphics to illustrate concepts. O Six of the ten reported using at least one social media tool (dominated by Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram).

O Nine of the ten indicated that they started with primarily outbound or one-way communication; one provided limited opportunities for user feedback (two-way communication) but eventually stopped the practice because of limited response; none of the ten attempted multi-user communication. O Six of the ten utilize some form of analytics for website evaluation; four use data from Google Analytics to

assess traffic and two rely primarily on feedback from members to evaluate their website. O When asked about the importance of digital communication for their existing outreach effort, two indicated it was very important, five indicated it was important, and three indicated it was somewhat important. This shifted when they were asked how they viewed digital communication for future CCUS projects, with seven responding very important, two indicating important, and one indicating somewhat important.

• Responder #11 is an outlier with respect to purpose and the degree of social interaction. This relatively new site is a dedicated social media site that aims to engage people on the topic of climate change solutions including CCUS. The site is described as part of a "digital ecosystem" that includes other websites with different goals. Responder #11 reported:

O It self-identified the purpose of their websites as information sharing plus interactive communication and social networking.

O It uses a full array of digital tools and enhances the website with images.

O It uses several social media tools.

O It started with a full suite of interactive tools and approaches to engage its audience in multi-user communication.

O It utilizes analytics for website evaluation including data from Google Analytics and Bitly to assess a range of website statistics.

O When asked about the importance of digital communication, #11 indicated very important for their existing outreach effort and for future CCUS projects.

Select results are presented in a more detail below.

3.2. Project Information

Eight responder websites cover projects that range in size from one small (<300,000 tons), five large (300,000 -1,000,000 tons), and two commercial-scale (>1,000,000 tons). Five projects are injecting into saline formations whereas three are enhanced oil recovery (EOR) projects. All of the injection projects are located in rural areas, but three responders indicated that some of their sponsored research is also taking place in urban areas.

Responders were asked to indicate their core intended audiences for general outreach and for digital outreach. For responders #1-10 both audiences were the same and included the general public - in other words there was no special targeting for digital communications than for general outreach. Further, all ten indicated the general public as a core audience. Nine of the ten also claimed the academic/RD community, and state/federal policymakers. Eight of the ten also claimed the local community around the project and industry/trade associations as core audiences. And, seven of the ten claimed regulators as a core audience. Responder #11 indicated a complete overlap between core audiences for general and digital outreach, but since they only engage in digital outreach, it is a moot point. They had the most targeted audience indicating that they were focused on audiences that could have an impact on CCUS, namely "project developers and tech-savvy members of the public," in addition, they self-identified state/federal policymakers, the academic/R&D community, and regulators as core audiences. A future version of this questionnaire could address if/how digital communications were tailored to the identified segments.

3.3. Digital Communications Strategy

The results suggest that for ten of the responders, digital outreach is used to complement traditional outreach but that it is not a core element in their outreach efforts. Responder #11, in contrast, operates a dedicated social media site and does little non-digital outreach. Responder #11 stated its strategy is to increase the number of users and to draw them deeper into the site's information.

As part of the information-sharing goal, ten of the responders' websites have a place for member-only access to share information, although two of these responders have not activated that access; Responder #11 does not have a members-only webpage.

Responders were given a choice of three statements to best describe their digital outreach strategy: One responder selected the statement, "we do not have an explicit digital communications strategy...." Nine selected the statement, "Our digital communications strategy includes a website and a few other materials to reach target audience. ." Only one responder, #11, selected the statement, "We have an explicit integrated strategy."

Nine of the eleven responders rely on one person or a small communications team to oversee the website's content, but obtain input from many people. In contrast, two responders indicated that one person has full responsibility for the website include developing and posting of content. Only one of the responders currently allows users to post comments or interact with the website. Eight responders have used specialists to help with web design and optimization.

Because the use of a variety of communication tools is considered to be a proxy for a de facto digital communications strategy, the responders were asked to indicate the types of tools in use. The responders all use a select variety of tools: 100% use a website, with 90% incorporating video/photo images; 80% create electronic newsletters or email updates; and 60% use some information sharing/social media tools. With the exception of Responder #11, no one reported using more than one or two social media tools, with the most common being Facebook, video sharing (e.g., YouTube), and image sharing (e.g., Instagram) and they appear to use social media more to announce new content than to engage in two-way communication. Interestingly, despite the large number of experts involved in the RCSPs, only one of the responders (a non-RCSP responder) utilizes academic citation sites such as ResearchGate or And finally, only one responder uses a news-sharing site.

3.4. Digital Communications Materials / Tools

The majority of responders use videos, video clips, and photos to illustrate CCUS, but only three of the eleven shares these images through YouTube. In terms of sourcing these images, seven responders capture material in-house from the project team, three procure images, and four employ in-house or external experts to help develop the materials.

Six of the eleven responders use animations or cartoons to illustrate CCUS, and three of them post these images on YouTube. Regarding sourcing, five responders capture material in-house from the project team, three procure images, and four use in-house or external experts to help develop the materials.

Seven of the eleven responders indicate that they publish an electronic newsletter, of which all but one has an open subscription policy. Eight responders publish electronic fact sheets, but only one publishes these on its information sharing sites.

Six of the eleven responders also use social media to help push traffic to their website; the most common platforms are networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn (six), video sharing sites such as YouTube (five), image sharing such as Instagram (four), and microblogging such as Twitter (five). The other social media platforms such as collaboration sites (wikis), macro blogs (WordPress), news share (Reddit), RSS feeds, and academic citation sites are rarely used.

Eight of the eleven responders indicated that they actively try to get other sites to link to their sites and also try to link to other sites as a way of generating interest and higher ranking in search engine retrievals.

3.5. Evaluation of Digital Communications

There is some evaluation under way, but it seems to be in its infancy within the group of responders, with the exception of responder #11 as indicated in the key findings summary. Those who track increases in traffic note that they are driven by notice of new content (four), in response to social media (two), when CCUS is in the national (two) or local (one) news, when hydrologic fracturing (fracking) is in the news (one), or when they have meetings (one). Seven responders have criteria for evaluating digital outreach effectiveness; two indicated subjective evaluation criteria only.

When asked why users visit their websites, ten of the responders suggested that the primary purpose was to obtain injection project updates (five) or to download technical reports (two). Responder #11 indicated that the main purpose seems to have shifted from obtaining technical information to accessing the blog entries sponsored on the site.

When deciding what to add to their digital tool box, one responder indicated that they do not look to add new tools because of budget limitations, nine responders do their own research and explore other similar sites to get ideas for new tools, and one responder adds tools as requested by their research partnership members.

3.6. Process for Updating Digital Communications

One responder indicates that there is substantial updating on almost a daily basis, two responders update significant portions of their website content on a monthly basis (21-30% in one case and 41-50% in the other), and six responders update less than 10% of their website content on a monthly basis. On an annual basis, seven responders estimate that they update 20-50% of their website content.

Eight responders actively plan for digital communication materials to complement their new traditional outreach materials. Three responders developed communications tools that are specifically designed for digital use only.

Nine of the eleven responders indicated that they started with simple websites using mostly one-way communication; one responder used limited interaction tools but has since dropped them because they were seldom used; and one responder started with a full suite of interactive tools. The first major expansion of the websites included addition of videos and photos (seven), an email signup function (three), and social media (four). Of the six using social media today, four report that they recently added this tool. Six of the responders have brought in digital communications experts to help plan future iterations of their website, and six responders are actively considering developing and implementing a more comprehensive digital communications strategy.

3.7. Importance of Digital Communication

The responder's view on the importance of digital outreach seemed to shift as the focus went from their existing to projects to future projects, the sense of importance increased somewhat (see key findings in 3.1). This suggests that responders view digital communication as increasingly important for CCUS project outreach.

Responders were also asked to share their potential concerns about expanding digital outreach. Three points were raised across the group:

• Many voiced concern that increasing digital outreach would be costly both in terms of economic and human capital. Comments suggested that increasing digital outreach would not be simply a matter of hiring people to implement the communications but would also require input from existing staff who are already over-committed.

• Several voiced concern that the process for reviewing new content in a multi-member project is cumbersome; therefore expanding digital outreach would either require a shift in policy for review or could become a burden.

• One responder offered the concern that there is "too much unfiltered information" online (perhaps meaning too much misinformation).

• One responder indicated that "CCS needs to be more open and engaging."

4. Literature Review

A companion literature review consisted of online searches and identification and review of key papers. The online literature survey used multiple searches of sites including Google, Google Scholar,, ScienceDirect, ResearchGate, Elsevier, Wiley, and select academic journal search engines. Key words included digital communication, social media communication, online outreach, digital tools for environmental/climate change communication, and online information sharing. Of the thousands of recently published articles, 350 titles were considered relevant. Approximately 40 articles and blogs with a direct bearing on informational websites— including those dealing with energy, climate change, and environmental technology—were cited in preparation of this paper.

There were no preconceived expectations guiding the search for relevant literature; rather the intent was to conduct a broad survey to identify relevant assessments of digital communication and social media in the context of information sharing. Although the search located many articles about digital communication, only a small number appeared to be relevant to this paper because they were about information sharing, especially for CCUS or the related topics of energy, climate change, and the environment. In contrast, there were large numbers of articles about

the effectiveness of digital communications in environmental advocacy (e.g., mobilizing opposition to a project or legislative action), personal action in public health (e.g., how to sign up for health care, combat drug addiction, lose weight), and public safety (e.g., emergency response). Two of the literature reviews noted this lack of research into the effectiveness of online information sharing and outlined additional areas of valuable research [5,6].

Four themes of interest emerged from the literature review:

• Rationale for embracing digital communications

• Best practices for implementing digital communications

• Evaluating the effectiveness of digital outreach

• Special considerations for managing digital interactions

4.1. Rationale for Embracing Digital Communications

The literature indicates an ongoing debate about whether digital communication is a useful or effective means to increase public knowledge on scientific issues [6]. As described below, the spectrum of views covers the range from the negative to the positive.

At the negative end of the spectrum, there is concern that attempting to communicate effectively online now can be ineffectual effort, much like putting a finger in a dyke to try to hold back a flood; there is too much misinformation to counter and there are better ways for scientists to spend their time. A review of online climate communication found the debate to be dominated by groups such as NGOs, who often have an agenda or bias for or against a technology or project. To wit, the study found that "on average, online media and blogs paint a picture of climate change that deviates significantly from the scientific view" [6]. Since scientists typically engage online with the goal of sharing or discussing fact-based information with proper contextual notation, finding themselves in the blogosphere where "diverse positions and heated debate can be found, but where climate science is far from dominant" [6] can be viewed as unproductive. The reluctance of scientists to engage in digital communication is recognized by many [6,7,8,9,10,11,12]. This appeared appears to be a concern that may recede over time, as several articles implied that new applications and websites were creating spaces for sound and scientific discourse

For a more moderate view on the spectrum, the shift to digital communication may seem as inevitable as the shift from typewriters to word processors in the 1990s [7]. This position is backed by several trends. First, people are increasingly seeking information online. A Pew Research Center poll showed that the percentage of responders who used the Internet to get most of their news rose from 20% in 2005 to nearly 40% in 2010 [8]. Second, and more importantly, the poll showed that this increase was much greater in responders younger than 30, where it went from just over 20% in 2005 to nearly 70% in 2010 [8]. This finding is consistent with anecdotal references to millennials' increasing reliance on online sources of information [7,8,9,10,11,12]. Third, the shift to online sourcing appears to be especially true for scientific information, where studies show that people increasingly get the majority of their science news from online sources [8]. Fourth, companies are investing in their online presence and beginning to require employees to participate in developing content and brand image [7]. And finally, the tools available to assist in "going digital" are more numerous and easier to use than ever before [7,8,9,10,11]. According to this view, digital communication is becoming a standard—if not the standard—form of communication.

Moving to the positive end of the spectrum, many point to the benefits of 'going digital.' Chief among these is the lower cost of reaching stakeholders [5,6,8,10,12]. In some cases, it was suggested that digital communication provided an approach for building stakeholder relationships in the face of tightening budgets. Another cited benefit is the ability to reach much larger numbers of stakeholders online relative to using traditional outreach methods [6,7,8,9,11,12]. Using online tools, communicators can identify numerous stakeholders and develop multiple forms of messaging tailored to specific groups. With traditional communication, investment in physical communication materials and travel costs for meeting with stakeholders can limit the range of messaging tools and the number of interactions.

The reluctance of scientists to engage in digital communication is recognized by many [6,7,8,9,10,11,12]. This appeared to be a concern that might recede over time, as several articles implied that new applications and websites were creating spaces for civil and targeted social interaction. Some believe that the discipline entailed in conforming to many digital protocols (e.g., tightening messages, developing interesting visual depictions, engaging in real-time discussion) makes scientists better and more accessible communicators [8]. Further, there is a growing chorus of scientific communicators making the case for the need for the increased presence of scientists and technically-sound information on the Web and in social media as part of the responsibility of scientists to accurately disseminate the process, results and context of their work. [13,14]

The positive end of the spectrum is characterized by the belief that digital communications supports interactions that can lead to better science. This is outside the area of outreach per se but does support the sound messaging critical in outreach. Scientists report using online tools to find other researchers doing similar work, to share papers and ideas, to collaborate on projects, and even to conduct research [7,8,9,10,11]. The number of tools to facilitate communication among scientists and those interested in accessing scientific information has increased [8,9,10]. Twitter is being used to bring in online audiences in real time for technical conferences, helping speakers reach new audiences and leverage information sharing. Numerous science blogs, wikis, and other social media platforms encourage thoughtful discourse on science. Academic citations sites, such as ResearchGate,, Orcid, and Mendeley aid researchers in finding and sharing information and resources such as papers related to their field of study. And some scientists use an approach called "crowd sourcing" to generate online donations to fund research. As a result of these innovations, there are new approaches, such as Altmetric, to evaluating the effectiveness and reach of a scientist's work [8,10].

Whether one views digital communication as a necessary evil or a transformative tool, statistics show that it is quickly becoming a critical communication channel. In sum, as climatologist Dr. Kim Cobb described her journey into digital communication: "it doesn't matter how right you are if nobody is listening to you" [9,15].

4.2. Best Practices for Implementing Digital Communication

Several sources describe best practices for digital outreach. Many of these practices echo the essential best practices for any communications effort: identify stakeholders and goals, map goals and stakeholder needs, select/develop communication tools, evaluate the effectiveness of efforts, and revise as needed [8,9,11,16]. Differences are found in how to apply those steps to digital communications.

Setting Goals

Arguably, setting goals for online communication is not a straightforward task. As a first caution, several sources observe that "going digital" implies—or relies on—a certain willingness to become more transparent and to actively engage stakeholders. The president of a professional association for communicators cautions that entities seeking to introduce digital communications should first identify a senior executive to champion the effort and then identify their goals and their capacity to achieve the cultural change that may be necessary to achieve those goals [17]. This point is underscored by the observation from McNutt: "in digital environments influence is earned through social reputation, not bureaucratic authority" [18]. If an organization or entity is not committed to making the cultural changes necessary to introduce a digital communication strategy, digital goals may need to be modified so they are more responsive than proactive. The expectation that digital communication signals change is illustrated in the results of Salt Lake City's assessment of current digital communication practices and aspirations: It found that the majority of participants looked to digital communication to expand outreach to include a bigger, more diverse group of stakeholders and to increase "trust in government" through interaction and transparency [19].

Some suggest that instead of moving directly to engaging in digital outreach, a first step could be to listen to the online discussions in one's field of interest. One can join social media platforms without participating in order to learn more about what is being said and how topics are discussed [7]. This listening approach can help one gauge the potential opportunities for digital outreach while allowing time to identify a network of social media contacts

and sites that appear to be conduits to stakeholders [8,10,17]. Armed with an understanding of how the Internet is currently being used in one's field and the range of participants involved in the discussion, it may be easier to identify practical goals.

One finding from Schafer's literature review of online climate discussion suggests that different types of users are commonly aligned with specific types of goals. For example, scientists appear interested in educating the public, advancing scientific discussion, and collaboration [6]. NGOs appear interested in providing unfiltered information to the public, responding to the media, building external support (e.g., fundraising), changing behavior, and motivating individuals to action [6].

An informal review of abstracts addressing corporate use of digital communications suggests that a majority of corporate websites are dedicated to building brand image, making sales, and providing customer service. Project developers may find themselves wearing all three hats as they seek to provide scientific information about CCUS, incorporate views from NGOs that support the technology or project, and project developers work to secure permits while building awareness stakeholder relationships. While these goals are not mutually exclusive, neither are they are necessarily mutually reinforcing—and their relative importance may change over time. Developing well-thought-out goals helps lay the groundwork for an effective online presence and for guidelines to ensure that one doesn't inadvertently undermine goals.

Mapping Audiences and Digital Tools

The online collaboration vendor, Kahootz, publishes blogs about digital communication strategy that concisely outline an approach to segmenting online stakeholders using a matrix with the traditional axes of level of influence and level of interest [20,21]. On the low end of both spectrums, a goal might be to keep stakeholders informed. In such a case, digital communications might consist more of one-way, mass communications and updates (e.g., Twitter and Facebook posts). With either increased interest (but low influence) or increased influence (but low interest), there might be an effort to target information and increase two-way communication (e.g., moderated discussion forums or consultation). With stakeholders who have high interest and influence, options for online collaboration might be warranted (e.g., risk registers).

The American Institutes for Research published a report for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services identifying five major methods for online stakeholder engagement including:

• Software driven online collaboration - this provides a feedback loop for stakeholder input

• Online challenges - these can be in the form of contests that solicit ideas and input in exchange for prizes

• Online communities - these provide a platform that allows stakeholders to communicate with each other as well

as the host

• Mobilization efforts that seek endorsements or "likes" as a means of input into something like a public hearing

• Collaborative research that seeks stakeholder feedback at key junctures [22].

Each of these methods entails a deeper level of engagement with stakeholders and the use of different digital tools. The key takeaway is the importance of matching the strategies, methods, and tools to the target audience.

Optimizing Digital Tools

Some reports provide insight into the benefits of integrating tools to reinforce communications. A key finding is that social media acts as a driver to online information sources [8,11]. Each new tool develops a new group of users. Thus, using multiple channels (e.g., email blasts, Twitter feeds, Facebook postings, and uploads to information sharing like YouTube or SlideShare) will have a greater impact in driving traffic to a website than simply using one channel. There are numerous tools and vendors that can help increase the visibility of a website through changes in the coding, content presentation, and labeling as well as marketing and linking to influencers and influential sites [4, 23]., a company that facilitates public sector use of digital communication including social media, posts a blog for government agencies. Recent posts have highlighted the value of developing multiple forms to

deliver single messages [24,25]. This concept of reinforcing communication through multiple platforms is a common theme [4,8,10,11,18].

4.3. Evaluating the Effectiveness of Digital Outreach

Several papers describe different approaches for evaluating a variety of digital outreach efforts.

Digital outreach is suggested as a means of helping people become better informed regarding scientific issues. Greenberg presents a study that evaluates the impact of classroom-based social media in enhancing the effectiveness of an education program [26]. The experimental method of the study allowed for a comparison between the response of two groups of students to the same course material about climate change, with and without a social media component. Specifically, the study looked at changes in "(a) content knowledge, (b) attitudes toward climate change, and (c) public engagement actions and intentions to act" [26]. The instructor implemented a Facebook page and communication strategy for students in one class. At the end of the semester, it was found that while there was no difference in content knowledge, there was an impact in attitudes about climate change and intent to act [26]. This study suggests there may be a benefit from intentionally using social media to complement active learning.

Digital outreach is suggested as a means for enhancing existing and building new stakeholder relationships. Hersberger provides a framework for developing criteria to evaluate efforts to form online relationships. The author asserts that virtual communities share characteristics with "face-to-face" communities [27]. This insight informs a framework for translating the concept of relationship building, a concept that is central to the traditional outreach best practices [16], to the online setting. In this translation, communities form around shared interests, such as a CCUS project, and the strength of relationships are based on both the number and quality of interactions [27]. This suggests that one could develop criteria for reviewing the effectiveness of an effort to build an online group of stakeholders based on an evaluation of the number and nature of communications with those stakeholders.

Digital outreach is suggested as a means for doing better science. Hoffmann proposes an approach, using altmetrics, for evaluating the impact of scientific information that considers the "relational dynamic" of scientific information within social networks [28]. Hoffmann presents a case study that relates the altmetrics assessment of some scholarly work to the more traditional indicators of impact. In essence, Hoffmann asks how offline indicators such as academic position and the number of publication citations relate to online measures of impact. Online measures of impact are considered to be interactions with social media platforms including tweets, retweets, "Facebook likes," paper downloads, and hyperlinked citations [28]. The concept behind altmetrics is to use social media data as a complementary tool for evaluating the impact of scholarly work. Hoffmann indicates that altmetrics may add richness to our understanding of scientific impact; however, the findings are heavily caveated because of the study's small sample size [28]. An alternative use of altmetrics might be to use it as an indicator of the likelihood that scientific information will be considered trustworthy or credible, although that is not discussed in the Hoffmann article.

Digital outreach is viewed as having the potential, especially through social media, of changing the way the public engages on issues. As the number of people who get their information from online sources increases, the role of social media in shaping opinion becomes increasingly important. Two studies explore the impact of social media on opinion. Porter uses a multi-determinant framework to explore the role of YouTube in the case of "climategate" [29]. Yamamoto offers a study that explores how social media influenced political disaffection among college students in the 2008 election [30]. Both studies note the need to contextualize research using social media data. For example, Yamamoto found that consumers of social media information on campaigns were more likely to become cynical and disaffected; however, those consumers who also expressed themselves online tended to be skeptical and ended up becoming better informed because they pursued additional information. Both Porter and Yamamoto present findings that underscore the need for further study to better understand the dynamics of how users perceive online information. In other words, the studies show that one-dimensional indicators are insufficient predictors. Insights from these studies could be useful in helping to design website content and features.

4.4. Considerations in Managing Digital Interaction

Some have expressed concern that the anonymity and open access of the Web can lead to problems associated with unfiltered information and the influence of a mob mentality.

Anderson explored the impact of online incivility in polarizing public attitudes toward risk [31]. The study created a neutral newspaper blog story about a new nanotechnology and then planted comments that were increasingly uncivil and tested public response [31]. The authors found that "much in the same way that watching uncivil politicians argue on television causes polarization among individuals, impolite and incensed blog comments can polarize online users based on value predispositions" [31]. This research might help inform the selection or design of interactive digital communications and could also inform the goals for sharing information in anticipation or response to uncivil discourse related to CCUS. Just as it makes sense to have a crisis communication plan, it may make sense for developers to consider "rules of engagement" and their response to uncivil discourse.

Hughes explored another aspect of negative online discourse: character attacks. Specifically, the study examines the impact of different tactics for discrediting a proponent in a message board environment [32]. The experiment focused on a message board about the death penalty in which a user posted comments aimed at discrediting the expertise and/or trustworthiness of a death penalty proponent. The study suggests that the impact of such tactics depend on several factors, including the credibility of the discrediting messages and the manner in which they are presented. Discrediting comments served to reduce the credibility of the death penalty proponent and, when attacks on expertise and trustworthiness were combined, made users less inclined to act [32]. This research is being used in conjunction with addressing online recruitment into organizations such as gangs or terrorist groups, but may have implications for preparing response plans in the event that CCUS projects or scientists become the subject of coordinated discrediting efforts by project opponents.

In a corollary to the McNutt observation ("in digital environments influence is earned through social reputation, not bureaucratic authority"), Westerman notes that as social media become more heavily used for information, "the gatekeeping function of that information also falls more into the hands of the page users, rather than the page creators [33]." The article describes an experiment, using a mock heart association information webpage and associated Twitter feed, to assess the impact of social media posts on perceived source credibility. Results indicate some impact on source credibility; however, study limitations leave room for further work. This research might help in planning involvement in, or response to, social media strategies.

Westerwick examined the impact of "website sponsorship, website design appeal, and search engine ranking on online information credibility [34]." The results showed that users considered the credibility of the website sponsor in assessing information but paid less attention to the website design. Interestingly, search engine rankings influenced the perception of sponsor credibility [34]. This suggests that users may develop perceptions of information credibility based on their perception of the search engine—for example, Google could become a trusted gatekeeper. This has implications for valuing the impact of search engine optimization strategies.

Li added another dimension to the trusted gatekeeper concept by conducting a content analysis of the information obtained about a nanotechnology in the top-ranked and lower-ranked Google search results. Lin reviewed the content of materials receiving high and low ordering in Google search retrievals. The findings, however interesting, are not conclusive in that they find "skew," but do not assess cause [35]. This study may have interesting implications for planning SEO activities or taking other actions to increase search rankings.

5. Discussion

5.1. The majority of Responders use a basic set of digital communications tools with primarily one-way communication to reach a very broad set of audiences

Responders # 1- 10 define their digital communications goal as information sharing, mainly about CCUS projects, and predominantly use their websites as the primary tool to meet this goal. In these cases, the website and related activities to promote the website serve as a reasonably static digital backstop, available to continuously compliment and supplement information sharing through other outreach activities such as face-to-face meetings with stakeholders, site visits and open houses, printed and physical communications materials, and articles in print media. For responders #1-9 the focus of digital communications is localized and project focused; the Web content echoes and reinforces the information provided by other information sharing activities. The literature suggests that websites utilizing primarily one-way communication provide the host with the most control over content, technical accuracy of content, maintaining presence, and cost. Given that responders #1-10 self-identified their primary goal as information sharing, their primary reliance on websites for digital communication is consistent with the literature.

5.2. Responder # 11 uses a diverse set of digital communications tools with multi-user communication to reach a more targeted audience

Responder #11 is seeking to have users learn more about climate change-related technical solutions, including CCUS and defines their digital communication goal as "building an online community." In contrast to the one-way communication of the information sharing model of Responder #1-10, Responder #11 is attempting to integrate interactive social media capability with its core website with the aim of helping visitors dig deeper into the information on the site and provide a richer experience intended to boost the number of visitors. It should be noted that the site is not stand alone like most of the others but instead is one of several related sites hosted under an umbrella site. Second, the audience is not the general public but a defined audience segment expressed as tech savvy users who are interested in CCUS projects and the policy behind the technologies. Tracking indicates that the social media site is receiving approximately 400,000 pages views per month and have 50,000 "Likes" on Facebook (numbers continue to grow). The host is now trying to assess their success in drawing users deeper into the website. Even though many of the visitors to the site come to obtain particular products (technical reports) it appears that interest is growing in the blog-style pieces posted on their site and it should be noted that Responder #11 is actively recruiting contributions to these blogs. The group has not experienced the down sides of negative language or viral misuse of their content. Responder #11 indicated that they have internal protocols for removing posts that are offensive however they have not exercised this option to date. They did mention that they get detailed posts criticizing some of the technology covered on the site but that criticism tends to be thoughtful and respectful. The site moderators have posted responses to such comments when they feel that clarification or pointing to additional information could address the concern.

5.3. Considerations for Expanding Digital Communication including Social Media

The literature review identified four major benefits to social media use in digital communication:

1. Social media is the major source of news and information for younger audience cohorts and these audience cohorts will likely continue to look to social media as they age and that the potential reach of social media is on the increase.

2. Social media lends itself to community building (including self-reinforcing communities) and feelings of involvement and empowerment.

3. Social media is not a monolith - certain applications may fit individual project situations and so case by case review is warranted. This is borne out in the survey results indicating that groups may use some types of media but not others (the survey did not pursue the reasons behind these decisions in detail).

4. Monitoring social media can give the project personnel a real time view of public sentiment regarding the project, the technology overall or even recent outreach events, and therefore could be used as an added source of information for input in to near real time and in evaluations of activities, positions, or products.

However, social media is not cost-free. In fact, some evidence suggests unexpected costs: those that pertain to the more transparent culture of digital communication; opportunity costs associated with having subject matter experts take time to interact with online stakeholders; the amount of resources necessary to establish, monitor, and update social media sites; and, potentially, the need to respond to the negative (or overwhelmingly positive) online reactions that could arise from social media efforts [10,17].

Given this consideration, it is not surprising that responders #1-10 indicated they were maintaining and periodically updating a website and that within this mix interactive capabilities (use of social media) were nonexistent or minimal. Follow-up with responders and the literature provide two significant insights regarding the practical reality of social media use.

Social media requires dedicated resources on an ongoing basis for the life of the website. For example, responder #11 identified that is undertakes the activities of blog recruiting and blog moderating - such actions require time, funding, and management oversight. They also require approval in the budget process and are in competition for limited project resources, which in many cases call for decisions made on a quantifiable cost/benefit basis (which calls for the use of accepted methods and familiarity among project personnel for tracking and recognized protocols for use of tracking input in cost/benefit analysis).

Social media requires buy-in regarding the value and coordination among all parties represented by the website and websites related to multi-party projects have concerns related to coordination and ensuring accuracy of content. The complexities of project management in such projects may result in a fall back to a basic website as a compromise that still provides for information sharing.

Expanding digital outreach to include social media may seem like an important facet of any outreach effort. It is becoming an important means for disseminating information and there are numerous, easily accessible, seemingly low-cost tools, applications, and approaches available to projects. A primary issue is whether a CCUS project wants what social media can deliver and, if so, what are the best ways to use social media to achieve those goals. Further, - to what degree is the project prepared to engage in one-way, two-way, and multi-user interactions?

5.4. Quantifying use and value of Digital Communications

The literature called out the importance of tracking to gauge use, value and relative importance to outreach efforts. The survey identified the use of multiple tracking packages including Google Analytics. At present, no dominant tracking software was recognized among the 11 responders. Further, there is no mutually agreed upon standard operating protocol for tracking to allow direct comparison among the sites maintained by the RCSPs. Follow-up with responders indicated this was a reflection of the evolution of the Web program, including the availability of tracking software as well as differing importance placed on digital communication within each outreach effort.

5.5. Digital Communications as an aid to facilitating outreach development activities

Outside of direct outreach to the public, here may be a role for digital communications in facilitating interaction between project and research personnel who inform outreach practitioners as well as between outreach practitioners themselves. Nine responders reported "members only" portions of websites that featured outreach materials that were available for use internally for project outreach but also reported in only one case that the members only site was frequently used. With respect to social media, blogs among researchers can have value but also pose risk of

misinterpretation or misquoting if accessed by outside groups. In this regard, project personnel did not report using science social networks or sites like Slideshare to post vetted images for the use of others. On the other hand, these sites may be more appealing to the individual researchers since they seem geared more towards helping individuals to demonstrate the impact of their work rather than informing a wider audience. In addition, some of these sites require users to be affiliated with a research institute, which in itself may be a barrier to access for interested parties and toward the value as a sharing and dissemination tool.

6. Conclusion

The options for digital communication are continually expanding as the medium's importance grows in standing with respect to traditional communication venues. This paper attempts to: (1) list and categorize digital communication tools by level of stakeholder engagement in order to better understand their potential fit and uses; (2) benchmark the use of those tools by the RCSPs and other CCUS websites; and, (3) review the insights from literature related to digital communications. There is much written about digital communication that asserts its promise of enabling cost-effective engagement of a larger number of stakeholders while promoting better public understanding of science. However, the academic literature does not clearly indicate that those with the primary goal of information sharing are realizing these benefits.

The benchmark study shows that the RCSPs are using websites supplemented with graphics and use only a minimal mix of social media tools to promote website content. This selection seems to be appropriate given their late stage of project implementation and the primary goal of information sharing. The other project sites queried and one of the general research sites is following the same path.

The benchmark study identified two consistent concerns about social media: the potentially high labor cost associated with actively engaging users and the potential for unintended consequences if RCSP content is used in unanticipated ways by online visitors. As a point of comparison, responder #11 has the one website that actively seeks to build social networks and is trying to use an ever-increasing range of tools, in effect experimenting with the success of using those tools to target select audiences. Responder #11 has planned to staff and manage a social media effort from the outset. It has instituted several measures to help ensure that reaches productive public engagement. These measures include designing a website that targets a very interested and tech savvy audience, and also includes using adequate staff and having policies in place to enable those staff to manage the site in real time. It will be instructive to further study the effectiveness of this website and consider lessons for other outreach.

As the RCSP Development Phase is completed and multi-year results are synthesized into reports, digital outreach may offer a useful approach for information dissemination. Further exploration of social media options that include a larger social media presence and postings to academic sites could also yield useful insights.


This work is partially supported by US DOE NETL under Cooperative Agreement No. DE-FC26-0NT42589. The Authors give a special thanks to the non-RCSP members who responded to the questionnaire and shared their insights for the development of this paper.


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