The magical world of blogging

I love blogging. It surprises myself, because I really hadn’t predicted that having a blog would be something I’d get hooked on – or even less did I expect all the things it would bring with it. Extensive networks, new opportunities, great connections and new horizons.

Especially the last couple of weeks have shown me the potential of what a blog can do. I have been contacted by people who through my blog have found me and have thought that my perspectives on science communication were worth a direct contact. Thus I have recently had a super interesting discussion over the phone about online collaborative tools with the man behind www.irrationalscientist.com and communication expert at Sanofi-Pasteur, I have met a kindred spirit in science communication, herself a blogger on the topic on www.signsofscience.org and with a passion to connect people interested in science communication and last been contacted by the University in Lund, Sweden asking if I’d be able to do a lecture on Science communication to a class of master students in Public Health. To this comes the people who comment on the blog, send me emails or tweet me.

Every contact has been super interesting and every time I am amazed of what only one year of blogging can lead to. Its is truly amazing.

Recipe for success?

Maybe it is due to my recent very positive experiences that I earlier this week decided to walk out (and I really rarely do this) of a seminar entitled ‘How you get success with your blog’ organized by the Danish Journalist Association. Okay, the key speaker was a beauty blogger, so not exactly the same blogging topic as mine, but nonetheless still a blogger and the seminar was described to be focused on blogs more generally. So what provoked me so much that I in end decided to leave? Well, first of all I must say the blogger’s presentation style gave me red spots. I felt she had an ability to trash everyone that wasn’t her or didn’t do like her – both on blogs or in the general media. Maybe it was her personality and presentation style that made me leave, but at the same time I must admit I disagreed with her on so many issues, issues she presented as the absolute truth about blogs.

The power of the right ones and oneself

My mayor point of disagreement was that the objective of a blog is not always to get as many readers or page viewings as possible. Of course it is motivating to see that people are reading your scribbles but I’d much rather prefer have a few of the right readers rather than masses of people. The beauty blogger was however obsessed with number of page viewings and unique visitors. This is of course of great importance if you’re trying to sell ads (which she was) but the presenter generalized this to the extreme and made it seem like it was the ultimate goal of any blog to have thousands of readers, likes etc. She almost stated hat if you couldn’t get high number of readers you might as well quit blogging. I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, I like that I have readers, and I do get a kick out the days when many have clicked their way through to my blog, but it is not the soul success criteria. To have contacts like the ones mentioned above is to me the real success. As well as all the things I learn as I am writing and sharing my thoughts and views with the world. The power of the blog is in my view not the number of people who read it but that it is the right ones and that you get so tremendously a lot out of writing it (regardless of it ever being read).

I look forward to my continued scribbling on this blog, on further developing the contacts I have made and explore new ones. The world of blogging really is magical!


Some challenges of social media as a tool for public health science communication

Social media presents several advantages to public health science communication. But it would be wrong not to acknowledge that there are also challenges to the media. Below I have listed some of them. As with the advantages, I am sure there are many more challenges than those below, so please do add to the list or disagree if you think what I have put down is incorrect.

Values, opinions, feelings and politics

As with many other social sciences, research in public health exists and operates in a political context where values, opinions, and ethical considerations play a big role. In addition, health is not only owned by doctors and researchers, but is a topic and condition that is relevant to all human beings, which means that almost everyone have an opinion or personal feelings entangled into it. Health is a mayor topic in politics, economics, human development etc. The multiple number of stakeholders challenges communication of public health sciences. Few people would be outraged by a scientific debate among mathematicians, but in public health the story is another. New research projects or findings can quickly turn into debates influenced by other stakeholders in health and by non-scientific arguments. Open platforms like social media used to present and discuss public health sciences may open up for such debates with potential inputs all segments of the population. Such debates can be time-consuming, problematic both politically and scientifically and in the end not benefit neither the scientific process or the researcher.

Fear of drowning and loosing time

“I don’t have time to be on Twitter.”, “I’m already behind in reading reports and journals”. These are some of the worries many researchers and public health specialists raise when they are confronted with using social media in their academic practice. And although their fear of time consumption and information overload may be exaggerated, it is true, that especially in the beginning it does require time to get acquainted with social media for scientific purposes and to build up an online network. Since social media does provide new information, it will often be an additional information source, which requires time. Proper introduction in how to use social media for research purposes could overcome this however. And in the end I would argue that it can actually save time (and money). For example time and money saved on following a conference through Twitter rather than physically being present at the conference. In addition, social media can actually be a way to filter all the available material through its search functions and by following people who are interested in the same area as one self.

Lack of control with the media

Many research institutions have social media policies setting out rules for what kind of media can be used and for what purposes. Some of them are pretty strict and leaves it to the communication departments to be in control of what goes out on social media. Due to the openness and interactive characteristic of the media it does of course open up for risks such as scooping of research findings, false accusations and irrelevant or perhaps harmful communication. Avoiding these situation depends to a large extend on the users responsible behavior when communicating through social media and proper guidance on how to use it.


Some advantages of social media as a tool for public health science communication

The other day I blogged about some of the similarities I see between public health sciences and social media. Similarities which makes social media particular relevant for public health science communication.

Apart from the similarities, I have been trying to put together a list of other advantages of social media for science communication, which I can hopefully use in a report on Public Health Science Communication & Social Media. I am sure there are many more than those below so please do add to the list or disagree if you think what I have put down is incorrect.

A flexible media

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are social networking platforms set up and created by web developers.Despite the preset features in for example Facebook, social media is characterized by its high level of flexibility. The users create the content, and new functions are constantly developed in response to the needs from the users. Blogs can for example be customized according to the requirements of the individual user and can take many different forms. In relation to science communication this presents a great opportunity to use the different tools according to the specific needs of a scientific traditions, individual scientists or research institutions.

Giving the researcher a voice

Another advantage of social media for science communication is that it gives the scientists an opportunity to become a communicator rather than leaving that to those in control of established media outlets. When relevant, the researchers can make their own voices heard and not always go through communication employees. This can for example be an advantage when communicating with other researchers where professional communicators do not have the relevant background knowledge. In combination with the great amount of flexibility in social media a communication style that supplements existing communications can be created. With for example blogs a direct relationship between the author and the reader may be established to the benefit of both the reader and the writer.

Network Building

In comparison with journals and reports social media provides the opportunity to connect and interact with the readers. Similar to what happens at conferences, the audience can ask questions directly to the author, and comment or express their views on the communicated. This can be through comment functions and retweeting on Twitter. Just like attending conferences is beneficial for extending and sustaining scientific networks, the same goes for social media. Only this can happen on a daily basis and not be a once or twice per year event. In addition, the potential network is much bigger and not limited to those who had the time or the means to travel half around the world to present a poster.

No time delay and free of charge

Publishing in scientific journals can often be a long and time-consuming process, which means that when eventually published, the study has perhaps already been finalized and closed or perhaps even outdated. The advantage of social media is that in comparison with for example peer-reviewed journals it has a much shorter time delay. This makes the media particular relevant for communicating science-in-the-making where comments, reactions and contributions from colleagues and other recipient audiences during the research process can contribute positively to the research process.

Finally, using social media comes at no extra cost. Most platforms are free of charge or has negligible costs for the users, and does thus not require big investments by neither the researcher, research institutions or the audience.