Follow Friday: The New England Aquarium

Learn about how the NEAQ runs its social media, as well as their penguin "bombshell that rocked the Internet."

new england aquarium front

New England Aquarium / Photo by Margaret Burdge

Follow Friday, At a Glance
Connect with the New England Aquarium on social media:

facebook Facebook
twitter Twitter
instagram Instagram
youtube YouTube
tumblr Tumblr

As the New England Aquarium, a hub for marine research and education, the NEAQ doesn’t need to do much to sell itself. But that doesn’t stop the aquarium from consistently sharing fun facts and photos with audiences on social media. And for every penguin chick pic posted, we are grateful.

Here, the aquarium’s editorial director Jeff Ives talks favorite audience interactions, the penguin “bombshell that rocked the Internet,” and that time Lorde visited with a baby seal.

How many people run the New England Aquarium’s various social media accounts? How do you manage all of them?

Social media is nobody’s full-time job here at the aquarium—it’s something several people spend some of their time doing. The biggest portion of posting duty lives with the editorial team, which is in charge of sharing each new photo, video, and story so it finds the widest audience possible. The vast majority of posts go up live as they are created. Occasionally some posts are scheduled in advance to make sure our fans have a consistent stream of cute animal stories.

What are the goals for the aquarium on social media, and where does your content come from?

Gathering all the eye-catching content is a combined effort from the diverse people who work throughout the aquarium, including aquarists, penguin biologists, marine mammal trainers, researchers, and conservation experts. We are also very fortunate to work with some very talented photographers who share their work with us, including our Explorer in Residence, National Geographic photographer, Brian Skerry. We also get some great photos from aquarium visitors, especially shots of their kids interacting with our animals. Depending on the day, we could be sharing Myrtle the 550-pound green sea turtle eating her Brussels sprouts or two tiny male seahorses wrestling to impress a female.

Our content tends to be extremely dynamic—baby seals!—and we are in a unique position as a Boston cultural institution, because our staff members travel around the world for research expeditions, so we can share posts from a variety of habitats like Fiji, Antarctica, Belize, and Saudi Arabia.

In three words, describe the voice and tone of the aquarium’s social media.

Irresistible animal banter. Or: smart, engaging, and entertaining.

Which social media account—Facebook, Twitter, etc.—is the strongest channel for the aquarium? In other words, if you had to pick, which one is the “must-follow”?

We can’t pick our babies! Each one has something different to offer. Our Facebook page has become a great place for ocean fans to comment and interact about their favorite animals as well as to follow up with visits to our website to learn more. The Tumblr page is a hub for students and aspiring marine biologists. Google+ has given us the opportunity to do some great Hangouts on Air from behind the scenes. Fortunately we do cross-post most of our content, so if you wanted to keep track of everything in one place, the Twitter account is probably the quickest way to follow it all.

Which animals at the aquarium are the “most shared” on social media?

neaq penguins have knees

The NEAQ dropped a “bombshell that rocked the Internet”: Penguins have knees! / X-rays via NEAQ

A few years ago penguin biologist Andrea Desjardins posted that penguins have knees. This was a bombshell that rocked the Internet, landing on the front page of Reddit and spreading throughout the other networks. I guess most people thought of penguins as waddlers, and knees didn’t fit into that equation. The post has an x-ray photo of an African penguin skeleton with the knees clearly visible. That is probably the most shared image we’ve put out so far, and continues to be a go-to source when people Google: “Do penguins have knees?”

neaq kitovi baby fur seal

Hello, cutie Kitovi. / Photo via NEAQ

A very close second is an adorable photo of Kitovi, a newborn fur seal. She was born overnight at the aquarium last August, and we got a quick photo of her massive head with even more massive brown eyes looking up at the camera. That photo had a huge impact on our networks. Kitovi is now out on exhibit romping with the rest of the frisky youngsters in the marine mammal center.

What’s the weirdest, most surprising, or most outspoken feedback you’ve gotten via social media?

We run contests from time to time for free passes or IMAX movie tickets that ask ocean conservation-themed questions. In the past we’ve been pretty blown away with the outpouring of quality responses from our fans. For example, common wisdom is that people are afraid of sharks, and that makes them less likely to support shark conservation. In 2011, our Facebook fans blew that theory out of the water with a wave of positive shark conservation ideas during a ticket giveaway contest for an IMAX movie about sharks. Not only were their thoughts about shark biology on point, but they also shared some touching personal stories about their connection to these animals.

Another unique moment in social media for us was when Lorde came to visit this year. She stopped in to say hi to Kitovi, the newborn fur seal pup, and we got this photo:

neaq lorde baby fur seal

Proof the aquarium knows what people want, here’s Lorde visiting a baby seal. / Photo via NEAQ

The singer even Instagrammed a lovely review of her visit with a moody photo of the sea jellies exhibit.

Some of the unsolicited comments we’ve gotten on the social channels have been pretty inspiring, too. Take the very personal pieces of artwork that folks have shared with us, for example. After receiving quite a few, we ended up reaching out to those folks and asking them a few questions so we could compile a blog with their pieces and commentary. It’s just an example of the positive dialogue we have with our friends, fans, and followers through social media.

Since you’ve been with the aquarium, what has been your personal favorite story to share on social media?

Of course we love sharing happy news about fur seal pups and penguin chicks, but there have been some other stories that we’ve shared over the years that were really special. When we posted about Myrtle the turtle returning to the Giant Ocean Tank after the aquarium’s renovations in 2013, we were giddy. The exhibit was just gorgeous and we couldn’t wait to share that. Plus Myrtle herself seemed happy to be back.

neaq halloween lobster

The Halloween Lobster. / Photo via NEAQ

Other stories that come to mind: One year a bi-colored lobster arrived in October. It was half orange, half dark brown—obviously we had to share that for Halloween. We also shared some underwater video that was shot with a GoPro strapped to one of our harbor seal’s back. How many people have interacted with Chacoda through the glass in his exhibit on the front plaza? Now we could share that experience from his perspective!


Responses have been edited and condensed.