Benefits of Becoming Involved in Social Media

January 29, 2015

About two-and-a-half years ago I began engaging in social media, including LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Google Plus – and about six months ago, I started using Tumblr. Engaging in social media has helped me find new information and research, exposed me to different opinions, and has allowed me to connect with new people.

Engaging in social media can benefit scientists, health and wellness professionals and the public by making scientific findings more accessible. Health professionals who engage in open dialogue with scientists may be better prepared to translate scientific findings into actionable information to help people make more healthful lifestyle choices. I will never go back to my non-social life, and I am not alone among scientists.

Scientists and academic researchers are turning to social media more and more as a means of sharing their work, according to Dominique Brossard, professor of Life Sciences Communication at the University of Wisconsin. New research from the UW showed that interacting with reporters about their work and getting mentioned on Twitter, actually enhanced the scientist’s visibility and amplification of the information. The paper’s authors used a measure called the “h index” to quantify the scientific impact of a multidisciplinary group of university-based nanoscientists.

Contrary to the view that involvement with social media is a waste of a researcher’s time and compromises his or her integrity, the paper provides the first comprehensive empirical evidence that these outreach activities can help advance a scientist’s ability to get the information out on a broad scale. According to the paper, “almost half of the public turns to online sources to follow developments in scientific fields,” providing an opportunity for scientists to play an active role in communicating directly with various audiences, including health and wellness professionals who directly counsel patients.

That scientists and journalists can work together to bring science to a broader audience, was a message communicated by a panel discussing Engaging with Social Media at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago early last year (February 2014). The speakers talked about how and why scientists can use social media for science communication and how to find the right voice and audience, and how to define success, sharing best practices and the lessons learned from their own experiences. A recap of the session is available here.

Today, boundaries between scientists, journalists and the public are becoming blurred. As scientists make themselves more accessible on social media, health and wellness professionals have the opportunity to follow them and share new findings on their own social channels — which may facilitate the delivery of evidence-based recommendations to their patients. I welcome your thoughts and invite you to connect with me at @drdairy50.