First Comes Publication, Then Comes Dissemination: The Use of Social Media to Spread the Word!

By: Amy S. Oxentenko, MD, FACP, FACG, AGAF | @AmyOxentenkoMD

After an investigator comes up with a novel research idea, completes the necessary data collection, then successfully gets the work published, there is a natural sense of accomplishment.  However, the real impact of one’s research lies in the ability to disseminate it so that others can read and further cite the work.  To date, people have relied on news media, email blasts and recognition at national meetings to have the fruits of their labor shared widely.  With the evolution of social media, an entirely new way to disseminate research has become apparent. 

How can social media be used to disseminate one’s research?  See how this group did it!

A recent study by KA Cawcutt, et al, was published in the Journal of Women’s Health, entitled “Use of a Coordinated Social Media Strategy to Improve Dissemination of Research and Collect Solutions Related to Workforce Gender Equity.”  The investigators used a 1-hour Twitter chat that was sponsored by Physician’s Weekly (#PWCHat) and hosted by one of the authors (JK Silver) to present eight journal articles.  The articles were each selected based on their focus on gender equity issues.  Data on each (e.g., Altmetric Score, Altmetric Rank, shares, downloads, impressions) was collected baseline before the Twitter chat was advertised, and then again right before and in subsequent days after the chat.  In the advertisement for the chat, the articles to be discussed were listed, with links provided.  During the hour-long chat, one question was posed for each article, asking participants to come up with proposed solutions for the gender equity issue raised by the article. 

What did the study find?

  • In the 16-hour period that followed the start of the chat, there were 1500 tweets from 294 participants, more than 8.6 million impressions, with a reach to >500,000 Twitter users.
  • The Altmetric Attention Score increased for each of the articles presented by an average of 126.5 points.
  • Within each journal from which the individual articles had been published, the Altmetric Rank of 7 of the 8 articles improved (range of 3 to >19), while the 8th article remained at number 1.
  • For one article, share and download data were available.  There was an increase by 729% in shares from posts before the chat, and another 113% after the chat, with an overall 1667% increase in shares.  For downloads there was an increase by 712% in downloads before the chat, with 47% more after the chat, with an overall increase in downloads by 1093%.
  • In addition to the demonstration of increased dissemination, there were 181 potential solutions proposed to help address the gender equity issues raised in the articles and through the chat.

What does all of this mean? 

  • Many individuals view social media as being used for social purposes.  However, this study shows the true scholarly and academic potential that lies in social media.   The ability to track metrics from social media use adds to its power.  Some institutions have begun to use social media as criteria for academic promotion, with Mayo Clinic being a leader in this regard. 
  • This study demonstrates the rapid nature that information can be spread on social media, given the spider web-like effect that happens when something is liked, retweeted, and then spread among followers, and then followers of followers, and so on.  The reach is global and the dissemination is swift. 
  • Social media represents a novel way to reinvent journal club, where traditionally groups rely on finding a time to meet (often early in the morning or after hours) to vet one to two articles.  Using a social media chat, it allows a journal club style format with the ability to present any number of articles. Rather than spending time reviewing the evidence-based medicine validity criteria, it allows a richer experience where participants can simultaneously share ideas for how to integrate the concepts into practice or come up with creative solutions. 

What are my take-home points?

  • Consider social media as another tool in your academic armamentarium.
  • Social media allows rapid and global research dissemination, faster than traditional means.
  • By reading this post and clicking on the referenced article, it helped to further disseminate it to more readers (see how incredible that is!).

How are you using social media to spread the word of your academic portfolio???

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How can social media be used to disseminate clinical research? See how this group did it!
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Another key point here was the combo of Physician Weekly and Julie Silver. Julie Silver is a Harvard MD who had a strong social media presence and is a yearly course founder and director for women in medicine. She is a nexus, a linchpin, or, in network theory, a node with multiple degrees of freedom. To me, I think the key point is to identify and nurture these nodes (ie people 😀) within one’s organization years prior to dissemination.

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