Friday, August 9, 2013

Jumping the Shark Week Shark

For those who are engrossed with the Discovery channel, pop culture, Twitter or Will Ferrel and John C, Riely movies; Shark Week is an epic frenzy of attacks, blood filled oceans and sexy celebrities. For those in the Ocean conservation and science realms it is a jagged double edge sword.
On one side, for as well intentioned as the Discovery Channel may be, Shark Week presents a situation for the need for fact checking and correcting a lot of the misinformation out there.  This year Shark Week began with an epic movie about the Megalodon. This ancestor of the Great White Shark was a mighty and giant predator which gives fright to the bravest amongst us.

The problem here is that the program presented the Megalodon as a contemporary of present day man when the actual animal has not been alive for million of years. At the end of the program a brief flash of an explanation of truth flashes across the screen. This truth, in hummingbird speed, explains that the creature has been extinct for some time. This outraged Ocean Scientists, internal parties, and opened the door to justifiable criticism. The Daily show pointed out the ridiculousness of the situation and even the current Nerd King (and always Wesley) Wil Wheaton stated that Discovery owed an apology to its viewers.  
This situation brought to a head the question, does Shark Week help the Shark Conservation Conversation or hinder it?
On the other side, Shark Week brings the numbers. Streams throughout the internet are abuzz with activity around Sharks and the ocean like no other time of the year. Millions across the globe are glued to their televisions brought by fear, bemusement or morbid curiosity. This is an audience that can easily be led to actually learning about Sharks and the peril the Ocean is in. 

It is such a landing point that non-profits, such as Upwell have even begun to teach virtual classes on how to maximize on the impact of Shark Week through “Sharkinars.” Upwell also provides tide reports that highlight different spreadable and actionable activities. One shark scientist, most easily found by the Twitter handle @WhySharksMattter, has exploded on twitter for laying down shark truths throughout Shark Week. He is even getting his own “Ask Me Anything” session through the popular internet forum Reddit right now (well, 12:00PM EST 8/9/13).

The point that I would love for all non-profits to realize is that Shark Week is a unifier. During this week, it is relatively easy to join into a massive, global, cross-platform discussion that is instantly engaging to a mass audience. It is a period of time where, for a brief moment, divergent and usually competing non-profits are all participating and adding to the conversation. The lesson we, as those who work in advocacy and non-profits, need to learn is that Shark Week is an amazing example of cooperation and collaboration. It even gives the chance to share a well used infographic showing the gravity of the situation. As much as it may frustrate some, it is important to remember that it is bringing new people to the table. Those new people are important.
We can create other opportunities to work with both likely and unlikely partners to amplify the message of all those involved. Things like "Sharktober" or "World Oceans day" can turn into huge campaigns if the right collaboration and programming were made. Getting a popular, attractive celebrity wouldn’t hurt either, but who is counting.

Happy Shark Week and remember two things; 1. When something brings a new player to the conversation, educate and hope they can be brought on as a partner. 2. By working together, our message amplifies.

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