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Communications Committee

Vincent Racaniello

Chair, Communications Committee


The Department of Communications and Marketing Strategy, formerly the Department of Communications, is in transformation due to changes in personnel, expansion of scope and strategic planning. 


The focus of the department has expanded from public outreach and media relations to include the overall coordination of marketing functions across the Society. As part of this change the central marketing staff member, who had been in the executive office, was moved into the Communications Department.  The new marketing functions include already centralized items like branding and e-marketing.  Additionally, the department is making an effort to coordinate website and video communications across the Society.


A new Director came onboard in August.  Dr. Erika Shugart earned her Ph.D. in biology from the University of Virginia.  Over the last 15 year she had held a variety of positions in science communication including Director of the National Academy of Sciences’ Office in Public Understanding of Science, Deputy Director of the Marian Koshland Science Museum and has run a successful consulting business on science communication.

Strategic Planning

In 2012, the task force on ASM Communications requested the development of a strategic plan for Communications. The Communications Committee will hold a strategic planning retreat on March 12th – 14th in order to begin the development of this plan.  In addition to members of the Communications Committee, ASM members, volunteer and staff leaders and communication professionals will attend the retreat. Cygnet Strategies LLC will facilitate the retreat.  They have also prepared two background documents. The first is recommendations on approaches the Society can take in the area of social media.  The second is a summary of telephone interviews of a wide range of groups including early career scientists, ASM leadership, funders, and other staff from other associations.


ASM Website

In the era of the internet, having a website that is informative, attractive and user-friendly is essential for basic communications.  ASM has a wealth of information available online, but it is distributed across 26 or more separate sites.  Recent reports, including the IS audit by ITAG, interviews of members for the Communications strategic planning retreat and Navigation Arts’ User Experience brief, have highlighted the difficulty of finding information across the ASM web properties.  Communications is working to develop a website that is comprehensive, searchable, accessible from mobile devices and user-friendly.


As a first step in this process, Navigation Arts was hired to conduct a user experience analysis of the ASM websites.  Their major recommendations were:

  1. Provide a cohesive brand and easily navigable structure between main ASM site, sub-sites, and sister sites.


  2.  Define a taxonomy for dynamically presenting content.


  3.  Address the user experience pain points of target audience groups.


  4.  Implement a technical framework and content governance structure that facilitates a cohesive user experience.


  5.  Implement personalization.


Currently, Communications is working with IS to develop an overall response for proposals for firms to work on creating a comprehensive website for the Society.


ASM Video

The Society is increasingly using video to reach audiences in order to promote our products and provide professional development and educational opportunities.  The department has been working across the organization to support these efforts, to create standards, and to identify collaborative opportunities.  Additionally, we are partnering with IS to identify technical solutions to make the production and use of videos as simple as possible.




Interim Branding Guidelines

In order to maintain consistent branding across the Society, the department issued interim branding guidelines for both print and online materials.  These guidelines allow for more flexible co-branding and specify the online-specific brands.


Social Media Reach

In this day and age of interactive social media it is to not enough to maintain a website that passively provides information.  It is also important for organizations to engage with their members and constituents online.  This engagement often occurs on social media outlets.  ASM has a robust reach in a number of social media outlets.  We are particularly strong on FaceBook, where most of our followers are between 18 and 35 years old. On this platform we share information about new products, press releases and other information about ASM.  Consistently the most sharable content is the weekly Picture of the Day.  Because of the popularity with visuals we have also started an Instagram account.  The Society has several Twitter feeds aimed


at different audiences.  A summary of our major social media outlets and the current reach can be found in the following table:


Social Media Outlet


ASM Facebook Fan page


ASMicrobiology Twitter


ASMNewsroom Twitter


ASM YouTube

1,276 subscribers

ASMicrobiology Instagram


ASM LinkedIn Group (Member only)

3,895 members

mBio Twitter


MicrobeWorld Twitter



Media Relations

The Communications Committee met on November 4th to discuss guidelines for ASM news media response.  Vincent Racaniello (chair), Ron Atlas, May Chu, Jim Hughes, and Stan Maloy were in attendance.  Jeff Miller and Lynn Enquist participated by phone. The committee:


  • Recommended that ASM take a more proactive approach to news media on the following topics:
    • Microbiome/Microbial Diversity
    • Antibiotic Resistance, and
    • Environmental Microbes.
  • Provided comments on draft procedures for response to media inquiries.
  • Identified experts to serve as potential spokespeople.


ASM Communication staff have begun to monitor the proactive topics in order to refine potential talking points for the proactive topics. 

Press Releases, Journals and Society

Communications manages media relations for journals.  Eleven of the journals issue press releases after the article is released publically online, but before it is issued in print. mBio, the open access journal of the Society, issues press releases under embargo several days before public release.


Time period

Number of press releases issued

Online news articles referencing ASM or one of its programs/products

March/April, 2013



May/June, 2013


399 (this does not include GM coverage)

July/August, 2013



Sept./Oct., 2013


740 (this does not include ICAAC coverage)

Nov./Dec., 2013



Jan./Feb., 2014



Many of the press releases we issued were covered in a variety of news outlets.  The following is a highlights list of some of the releases that received notable coverage.


March/April 2013

May/June 2013

July/ August 2013

  • The New York Times ran a feature piece on safe drinking water, which included a reference to an Academy report demonstrating the value of continually looking for opportunities to promote evergreen content from across the organization.

September/October 2013

  • We had a number of stories receive moderate coverage during this period, but the majority of the news coverage was from ICAAC.

November/December 2013

  • The press releases issued received modest coverage during this period.

January/February 2014

We had two stories receive significant coverage during this period:


Additionally, we had notable coverage of:

Meeting Press Functions

In addition to providing press functions for journals, Communications also runs the press room in three ASM meetings.  Unfortunately, we continue to see a decline of press attendance at the meetings – a trend that we hope to reverse in the future.  At the General Meeting and ICAAC, we hold live-streamed press conferences called ASM Live, in order to provide access to reporters who cannot attend the meetings.  We started this several years ago in response to declining press attendance in this age of tightening budgets and reductions of dedicated science journalists. We have seen an uptick in views for the ASM Live broadcasts both during and after the meetings.  An archive of previous ASM Live sessions can be found here: http://www.microbeworld.org/podcasts/asm-live/asm-live-archives.


General Meeting

A total of 12 reporters attended the meeting representing publications such as Nature, Smithsonian, Cell Press, Nature Reviews Microbiology and Trends in Microbiology.  This is a significant downturn from years past.

We  identified 157 online clips highlighting research presented at the General Meeting from such publications as Nature, UPI, Advance, Scientific American, Nature Reviews Microbiology, Time Magazine and the popular science blog io9.



A total of 66 reporters registered for the meeting, though all did not show.  Attendees included representatives from Bloomberg News, Medpage Today, Physicians Weekly, The Lancet, Medical Post Toronto, Medscape, and La Lettre d’Infectiologue. We identified 1,573 media clips from the meeting.  Highlights include Bloomberg News,  National Public Radio, and The Huffington Post.  



For the 2014 Biodefense and Emerging Infections Research Meeting we registered 8 reporters including representatives from Science Magazine, Nature Magazine and the Associated Press.  We identified 36 articles online featuring research at the meeting including Science Magazine, New York Daily News, and NBC News.


Outreach to Public Audiences


The Communications and Marketing Strategy Department has a variety of approaches to communicate to science-interested public audiences. Our most robust and established approach is the online site MicrobeWorld.  Additionally, we conduct a number of live events.



The MicrobeWorld website is a clearing house of user-submitted content about microbiology from around the web. It also serves as a location for videos, podcasts and blogs on microbiology. The site receives abour 100,000 visitors per month and has over 4,000 registered users.  The following is a sample of the rich content that is available on this site:

In addition to the website, MicrobeWorld has a mobile app, which has been downloaded over 3,000 times.


Microbes After Hours

In collaboration with the Academy and International, Communications produces a series of live presentations in the DC area called Microbes After Hours.  The events are also live streamed and are available for viewing on MicrobeWorld.  The 2013 calendar included the following events:


  • The Microbiology of Beer, September 18, Dr. Charles Bamforth, University of California, Davis and Rebecca Newman, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, presenters.
  • Shutting Down the Government,  July 8, Dr. Marshall Bloom, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and Dr. Douglas Beecher, Federal Bureau of Investigation, presenters.
  • The Microbiology of the Bioeconomy, June 3,  Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Dr. Joy Doran Peterson, University of Georgia, presenters.
  • West Nile Virus, May 6, Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, CDC, and Dr. Roberta Lynn DeBiasi, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine, presenters.