The power of social media to improve knowledge translation and research accessibility #LTUacwrimo (Dr Christian Barton, SEMRC)

Social media and research dissemination |
Researchers who seek to deliver accessible writing and research must embrace social and multimedia innovations. The consumer demands it. There will be no ‘one size fits all’, with resource needs likely to vary depending on the individual, type of knowledge, and the context it is to be consumed. New innovations to facilitate knowledge translation are also inevitable. Academic journal publishers must watch for their emergence and embrace them. 

Social media allows two-way communication between the researcher and audience. In my field of Sports Medicine, having this open communication between health professional and patient is crucial. This is not possible via traditional academic journal publishing platforms. Additionally, social media addresses access to information barriers resulting from journal publisher pay-walls, and disseminates knowledge across geographical borders in a time efficient manner. 

More than 80% of health professionals use social media professionally, and 95% believe it plays a role in knowledge translation and making research accessible. The majority of health professionals using social media believe they have changed their practice and incorporated more research evidence as a result. Yet despite the potential value of social media to facilitate knowledge translation, only 15% of health researchers use it to disseminate their research findings, and I am sure the number would be even lower in other fields. 

The number of social media platforms is growing rapidly, with of course Twitter and Facebook being the two most commonly used. When used to provide education, both Twitter and Facebook have been reported to effectively promote change in clinical practice for the treatment of tendinopathy. Both can also help researchers or a journal draw attention to newly published work with immediacy. With their use, two key things must be considered:

1. How many people are you posting too?
2. What content are you actually posting?

In regard to content, the limitations of traditional academic journal article formats were discussed in last week’s post. It may serve little purpose simply posting links to these journal articles on social

media. So what else can we do?

Write blogs
Blogs remove the jargon, and are more engaging and efficient to obtain knowledge from than a journal article. They also allow commentary from experts on key issues that would be of interest to the general public (for example, in my field a great post on Tiger Wood’s low back injury and its associated misconceptions was written). Leaving such commentary to traditional mainstream media platforms can lead to miss information, and the general public developing many misconceptions related to best practice, which is why academics need to be contributing to this space. 

Developing trustworthy accurate blogging sources is vital if this medium is to be used to improve research translation. Academics, professionals and patients read them already so academic journals must embrace them in order to optimise knowledge translation. If they do not, there is every chance that their content will be miss-represented by other parties, and in Sports Medicine that compromises patient care. 

The power of the image: Complement written content with visualisation
Most Human Beings are visual learners. Therefore, ensuring you have images, graphs, and other visual representation of your key messages is essential to optimising knowledge translation and retention. So what type of visual content is best? As a starting point, infographics and video provide appealing options.

An infographic contains key information in clear visual formats. Impactful infographics typically contain less than 400 words, take just 2-3 minutes to read, and are an engaging and easy way to deliver new research findings concisely and clearly. In fact, people are 6.5 times more likely to remember new information from an infographic compared to reading the same information in text only. 

Video may be even more effective than infographics at engaging people. Videos are 6 times more likely to be retweeted than images. By 2018, it is estimated that video will make up 79% of all consumer internet traffic. How many journals have a YouTube channel, or if they do, use it well? Highlighting the likely importance of video to the future of knowledge sharing, Facebook and Twitter (via periscope) have recently embraced live video streaming in an attempt to engage more users. Facebook currently prioritises both live and replayed video feed in their algorithm created to determine which content is displayed. Researchers, institutions and journals must embrace video production if they are to improve knowledge translation of their content.

What about podcasts?
Academics and health professionals generally lead incredibly busy lives. Podcasts allow knowledge translation in a format conducive to consumption during a walk, run, or daily commute. Clearly, if ‘time constraints’ is a major barrier to obtaining new knowledge, podcasts may help.

Similar to blogs, podcasts allow for expert commentary and concise summaries of key information stemming from research. In general the most engaging podcasts appear to approximately 20 minutes. This reflects two key considerations: (i) previous research indicates concentration reduces sharply after 15-20 minutes; (ii) and most commutes, walks or runs are all at least typically 20 minutes. The British Journal of Sports Medicine’s podcast channel has more than one million listens, highlighting the potential of podcasts to translate knowledge. Which journal will be next to come to the party?

Individual needs
My colleagues and I recently surveyed the online learning preferences of 400 physiotherapists and physiotherapy students completing a MOOC on physical activity via ‘Physiopedia’. Our unpublished data highlights the individual learning preferences amongst this group. Video and infographics seem to be more commonly preferred than formats such as written pieces and audio podcasts, however, rankings were hugely variable across respondents. Learning preferences do not necessarily ensure optimal knowledge translation though, and research indicates that active educational approaches are more effective at improving knowledge than passive learning tools. Considering variation in individual preferences and learning styles, efforts must be made to create multiple forms of content so that each potential viewer is tailored for. 

Excitement aside, the burning question remains. Who pays for the creation of required content? I don’t have an answer, but someone will have to. Particularly if we are serious about effective knowledge translation.

This is part two of a two-part blog exploring the accessibility of academic research and writing. You can check out part one of Christian's blog, which explores the limitations of academic journal writing for knowledge translation and making research accessible here

Dr Christian Barton is a post-doctoral researcher at La Trobe’s Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Centre (SEMRC), where he is the Chief Editor of their research blog. Dr Barton is also an Associate Editor at the British Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy in Sport, and has a strong passion for research translation to clinicians and patients.