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When will researchers wake up to the power of social media?

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When will researchers wake up to the power of social media?

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Academics often have a peculiar relationship with social media.  For instance, a study from earlier this year highlighted how few academic researchers are active on social media.

“Only a minority of university researchers are using free and widely available social media to get their results and published insights out and into the hands of the public, even though the mission of public universities is to create knowledge that makes a difference in people’s lives,” researchers said.

What’s more, the vast majority of social usage amongst those that did use it was of the personal rather than professional variety.

This is especially sad when it comes to sharing research on social media in a bid to disseminate the findings.  A famous study by Russell Ackoff found that scientific papers can often retain exactly the same meaning, and provide readers with exactly the same level of understanding, if they’re reduced in size by over 50%.  In other words, blogs can often do a fantastic job of disseminating findings to a much wider audience.

It’s something that I try and do on this blog, and am regularly hunting research that may aid our understanding of the modern workplace.  And if you think about it, blogs are a significantly untapped resource for many researchers.  Whilst I don’t have insights into academic readership, the professional research reports I’ve been involved in over the years have all struggled to achieve more downloads than the number of people that typically read one of my blog posts (and I’m no heavyweight in that regard).

Someone that does have insights into academic research is Kevin Pho, the clinician behind the KevinMD blog, who says in a recent post that none of his official research papers has come close to achieving the readership of his blog posts.

A recent study highlights just what a wasted opportunity this often is.  The authors surveyed over 200 healthcare related researchers about their use of social media to communicate findings and information pertaining to their research.  The findings suggest that very few are utilizing this channel as a means of engaging with the healthcare community.

“…most health policy researchers are not using social media to communicate their research results, which could be a significant missed opportunity to expose a larger audience to important health news and findings,” explained lead author, David Grande, MD, MPA, assistant professor of Medicine at Penn Medicine.

The study suggests that a big hurdle to greater social media usage is how their institutions perceive social media.  As long as institutions perceive it as a platform with little real academic merit, it will be a challenge to get academics using it to engage more with their stakeholders.

This is underlined by the continued importance of the citation as a means of determining the value of a paper.  As long as the citation remains the key metric, it seems unlikely that researchers will worry too much about the wider impact of their work.  As the saying goes, what you measure is what you get.

Hopefully, over time, the academic world will wake up to the value derived from disseminating their research amongst the social community.  Until that time, I’ll continue to try and hunt down the most interesting pieces I come across and share the nuggets I find within them.

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