Increasing engagement across our social media - How are we doing?

Sarah is an expert in patient and public involvement and how to help research findings reach a wider audience. Over the next few months she is working with us to help us plan better ways to get our Cochrane evidence to the people who can use it. In this blog, we asked Sarah to reflect on the work we have been doing to improve our use of social media over the last 12 months. 

Last year, CCMD announced their New Year’s resolution, to increase their engagement across social media. There followed 12 months of experimentation using different channels (Instagram, Twitter, YouTube) to disseminate our work, and trying novel ways to present it, with forays into illustration and photography. Underpinning these experiments was a desire to reach a wider audience, beyond the typical academic borders, with recognition that we can’t just do what we’ve done before and expect new audiences to come to us. Instead, we need to think more creatively about what we communicate and how, and recognise that dissemination has to go beyond a weblink and a lay summary. 

We want to make better use of social media to discuss, not just promote, what we do.

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For me, there remains an unanswered question though about who makes up this wider audience, which is probably several questions about who currently access Cochrane resources and why, who we wish would use Cochrane but doesn’t, and how we think different audiences can benefit in different ways from Cochrane’s outputs. This requires us to move past the comforting myth of “the public” and think much more deeply about who Cochrane is for, who needs it and who it is meant to help. 

Some of this audience data we can collect quantitatively, by taking better advantage of the engagement metrics that platforms provide. For example, we can see that the majority of those on twitter engaging with CCMD are here in the U.K., and we’d like to better connect with the global Cochrane community.  (One unexpected feature that we need to better understand is the lists of audience characteristics that twitter compiles based on interaction with the account. Currently CCMD’s audience is tagged as being more interested in dogs than cats, so please start submitting your #CatsOfCochrane pictures now...)

 My cat, Max: expert in the synthesis of carpet fluff into hairballs. #CatsOfCochrane

Beyond quantitative metrics however, I think there is much to explore qualitatively, about how and why people interact with Cochrane, and what we can learn from them in order to improve. For me, the benefit of social media has always been interaction rather than promotion, dialogue rather than reach. This is a two-way process, and I would like to see how CCMD can do this more, for example by hosting tweet chats or virtual journal clubs.  Particularly in mental health, we need to think carefully about how we best support these kind of conversations, and how to make sure they are respectful and sensitive on all sides. 

For 2020, our ‘upgraded’ New Year’s resolution is identify the kind of impacts we want our outputs to have, for whom, and then think about how the different communication and presentation possibilities of social media channels can help us achieve this. This means we need to take the next step, from playing with different formats to perhaps comparatively testing the impacts of different types of content.  We want to think more systematically about what types of content we produce and why (for example, why an infographic, or a video, or an illustration?), and we need to check our assumptions about preferences and accessibility.  We also already recognise that how we portray mental health, in words or in pictures, needs to be carefully considered. We’ve tried to make sure we’re doing this by ensuring we have input to designs from those with lived experience of mental health problems.  I would love to see more of this kind of cocreation, working with people with experience of mental health problems to find creative ways to communicate findings, and in the process creating a CCMD platform that promotes and celebrates the work of people with lived experience. 

Critically, given we are in the business of communicating an evidence base, we need to address the considerable evidence gap when it comes to communication itself. Comparative tests on the CCMD account could start giving us some data about ‘what works’. There is very little research out there to guide us in how best to use social media platforms, and the handful of studies I could find tended to use very traditional outcomes to measure engagement with these non-traditional channels, for example asking if social media improved the number of citations a paper got. This still firmly considers impact within the limited sphere of “metrics that matter to academic CVs”, and I think we need to explore different impact measures for social media dissemination, ideally ones that capture the potential for two-way learning, rather than just vanity figures such as follower counts or retweets.

So, once again, CCMD is ready to experiment. We’ll be spending the next few months working on our strategy for dissemination, and we want to do this ‘out loud’ as much as possible, to get the views of those who currently engage with CCMD, but also try to reach those who don’t. Most importantly, I’ll be lining up all of my cat pictures. 

Sarah Knowles, January 2020

It’s important to get information out and about so people can access it. 

Follow Sarah on twitter and tell us what you think.