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.


Lots of Twitter communication about science communication

Before the year of 2011 came to an end, I did a few posts about science communication and the challenge of communicating science communication. This was inspired by various talks I had had with friends, colleagues and the planning of a masters course in Public Health Science Communication.

And as one of the first things in 2012, the #hcsmanz weekly Twitter discussion group on Health Care and Social Media in Australia and New Zealand decided to base their first chat of the year on some of my reflections. Unfortunately, I was on a plane when the discussion took place, so I couldn’t participate myself. But luckily transcripts are made of these discussions and thus also for this one!

Since I couldn’t join the discussion, I thought I’d share some highlights from it here. First of all, it was great to experience that something I put out there in cyber space triggered others to start discussing. And people whom I would have been unlikely to discuss this with otherwise. It is a great example of how sharing thoughts and views in the process can be beneficial to the bigger project/research study!

The #hcsmanz discussion was structured around five elements, which I in my blog post had highlighted as important to communicate in a course on science communication. They were converted into the four questions/statements below:

  1. Communication should be considered as an integrated element in the research process.
  2. Communication can be beneficial to the research process.
  3. Who should researchers be communicating with and what channels can utilised?
  4. What is the secret sauce of communication that generates feedback/reaction?

These four questions (refered to as T1, T2, T3, T4 in the chat) generated a lot of interesting tweeting, not just from people in Aus/NZ but also participants from Canada and the Netherlands. Some of the interesting things that were brought forward I’ll try to summarize below supported by 23 tweets (out of hundreds) – I should probably also have used the cool tool Storify for this, but that will be next time 🙂

  • Communication is an integrated part of research, but requires that researchers are trained and the necessary support is available – both to give guidance but also to support the prioritization of spending time and effort in communication activities.

  • Communication also of non-news material is important.

  • Social media provides new opportunities for science communication, but is not yet well-regarded and knowledge is still limited among many researchers.

  • Science communication is beneficial to the research process – if you communicate with the right ones and in the appropriate way depending on who they are. The importance of making feedback easy and quick is not to be underestimated.

  • One thing is to communicate and the best ways to do that, but to communicate so that you engage your audience is an additional challenge. A keyword is to provide efficient feedback opportunities for the reader and the researcher. Social media such as Twitter and blogs provides forums for this (but does not solve the engagement challenge all together).

I could have highlighted lots of other tweets, and would as said have loved to participate in this, I hope however to join next time and continue to share thoughts and reflections with the rest of you. And big thanks to Kishan Kariippanon (@yhpo) for taking up this topic!


Still communicating about how to communicate science communication

Even though I have been blogging for almost half a year, I can still be amazed by the experience of other people reading my posts, reblogging them, commenting and retweeting them and contacting me directly to express their thoughts. I must admit that it gives me a kick every time. It is not a snow avalanche, but it is enough to increase my motivation and very often it is interesting comments that gives rise to further reflections that again feeds new posts.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about the challenge of communicating science communication. This particular post has resulted in a few comments on Twitter that I thought I’d just share with you:

And questions:

I have had a great discussion by Gmail-chat with a friend from university about the challenges of communicating research and turning research into practice. And about the lack of acknowledgement of communication activities, if it has to do with anything other than  the publishing of articles in peer-reviewed journals. Parallel to the Gmail-chat I had live in-person discussion with another friend also from university, who had a present challenge of how to communicate the results from an infectious disease epidemiological study to staff at health clinics. Very inspiring discussion – for both of us!

All in all really inspirering. I look forward to more of this and hope that everyone who has inputs, views, reflections etc, that I should integrate into a course on Public Health Science Communication will not hold back.

All the best wishes for the new year to everyone and see you in 2012!


The challenge of communicating science communication

How do you communicate the relevance of science communication to a fellow public health person? Can I make a convincing argument for why things such as Twitter can be a useful tool in the communication of research?

In the days leading up to Christmas, I was challenged by these exact questions, when I after dinner had an interesting discussion with a good friend and skillful researcher in public health sciences. I am not sure that I gave the best arguments for science communication or for why Twitter could be useful for his research, but it made me reflect on where the scepticism, which many researcher have towards communication of research, comes from.

Based on my own experience, both as a public health expert and in talking with friends and public health colleagues, it is my feeling that most of us, through our university studies have indirectly been taught that communication is something that comes at the end of a research project. It is to a large extend perceived as a separate element that is added as the final phase of a very often long process. It sort of becomes a sometimes troublesome appendix which can be prioritized  – if time and money permits and if the communication department will take much of the responsibility on their shoulders (although they are worried that the communication department will simplify every thing too much and they’d therefore almost rather that they didn’t communicate it at all).

Another source to the scepticism against the communication element of research, is that communication is often considered in its more narrow form, meaning that it only covers communication to the general public. It is very much one-way based and it is about making simple messages which, seen from the researcher’s perspective are oversimplifications.

My basis for the above is purely my own experiences and conversations with different researchers in various fields. However, it is my impression that I’m not alone in suggesting that the issues above mentioned are two important barriers for researchers enthusiasm for science communication.

I have the last couple of days been working on a description for a short course on Public Health Science Communication, which most likely will be offered to students of Public Health Science at University of Copenhagen in the fall semester of 2012. My pre-Christmas conversations have been useful for this work. What was it that didn’t work in my argument? Did we talk past each other? Could awareness of the role of science communication earlier on in our public health training have made a difference? All these questions and more are buzzing around in my head.

Some of the things I feel will be important to communicate in a course on public health science communication are:

  1. Communication should be considered as an integrated element in the research process
  2. Communication can be beneficial to the research process.
  3. Communication is broader than explaining your research to a general public, but also involves communicating with fellow researchers, researches in the periphery of our area of our research and from completely different fields (actually public health has an advantage here, because we are by definition interdisciplinary and used to working with people with very different educational backgrounds)
  4. Communication is not equal to dissemination. Communication is two-way based – a with contributions and response from both sender and receiver.
  5. The person best equipped to know what is of relevance to communicate and to whom is the researcher him/herself.

I’m sure I’ll think of lots of other messages and luckily there is still plenty of time to prepare. All inputs of things to cover in a course on public health science communication are more than welcome, suggestions on good background reading material etc. likewise.