Feb 6, 2015 — A recent study tested whether social media use would increase article readership and discussion. Dr. John Ryan co-authored the study “A Randomized Trial of Social Media from Circulation.” He talks about the surprising findings of the study and some criticisms it received. Dr. Ryan also discusses how this project is going to evolve into further studying the use of social media to share medical information.

Interview

Interviewer: Will a journal article that's promoted by a social media get read more than one that isn't? We're going to find out next on The Scope.

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Interviewer: What happens when you use social media to promote some journal articles and others you don't use social medium? That's what Dr. John Ryan at University of Utah, who is a co-author of a study that appeared in the AHA Journal Circulation, wanted to find out. It was called a randomized trial of social media from circulation. What specifically were you hoping to find out with the study?

Dr. Ryan: Social media is being used by a lot of different organizations, different celebrities, your Kim Kardashians, Jenny McCarthy's, etc., to promote knowledge and to spread ideas, and we wanted to see if we could use it in a similar way or what the effect of social media was in terms of spreading medical knowledge, most particularly cardiovascular research and discovery through the journal circulation, which is the leading cardiovascular research journal.

Interviewer: Yeah, that's a good thing to do because obviously those people have platforms where they can communicate their message. As physicians and experts, we need to develop the same types of platforms.

Dr. Ryan: Yeah, and the medical discussions are being held in the community through social medias as well, so through your Facebooks, through your Twitters, and really as researchers we want to see if we can be a part of this discussion and how to be a part of this discussion.

Interviewer: Effectively.

Dr. Ryan: Effectively, exactly.

Interviewer: Would be, I think, the keyword. So what did you do, exactly?

Dr. Ryan: So over the course of a year we took every paper that was published in circulation and did a randomized control trial. Half the studies were put up in the website, published in the journal, and that was the exposure that they received. The other half of the papers were included in a social media strategy where at the same time that the paper was published, both online and in print, we would accompany that with a Facebook feed and a Twitter feed in relation to those papers in order to see if more people would read these papers and if there'd be more discussion about those papers based on the fact that they have now a social media presence.

Interviewer: All right, and that was one Facebook post and one tweet?

Dr. Ryan: One Facebook post, one Tweet.

Interviewer: Per article.

Dr. Ryan: Per article, and that was really the strategy. There wasn't, we didn't have journal clubs or webinars associated with this and so it was not a very evolved strategy even by our own admission, but it was a strategy that a lot of journals are using as we're trying to find our feet in this new world.

Interviewer: Yeah, I think that's an interesting point because you did get a little criticism with that strategy which we'll talk about in a second, but you feel that the one Facebook post, one Tweet is what a lot of journals are doing right now and you wanted to actually see if that was effective?

Dr. Ryan: Yeah, and everyone's kind of dipping their toes in the water here but no one's really going all in.

Interviewer: Gotcha.

Dr. Ryan: So in that regard we were mimicking what most other journals are doing.

Interviewer: What did you expect to find? Did you think that the readership would go up or not, or what did you think?

Dr. Ryan: I think we thought we would reach people on the social media platforms that weren't already reading the journals, and therefore we thought that would increase the readership because there would be a new population that we will see. However that wasn't the case over the course of the year. Just as many people read the papers when they had a social media feed versus not having a social media feed, so we don't think we were increasing the scope in terms of who was reading these papers.
And that can be for a couple of reasons. Either our social media strategy was not very evolved, which is one of the criticisms we've gotten. Also, the people who follow circulation, the journal on Twitter and on Facebook, may already be reading circulation in terms of online and in their mailbox.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dr. Ryan: So in that regard it really didn't increase the scope as to who we were reaching.

Interviewer: Gotcha. So one of the . . . I think oftentimes the value of doing and releasing a study like this is a conversation that starts.

Dr. Ryan: Yeah.

Interviewer: What did you learn from that conversation?

Dr. Ryan: People were very surprised because again, most folks felt that we were going to increase our scope, broaden our readership and have large numbers seeing these research articles and discussing these research articles. I think one of the issues that was brought up was that it was a low budget social media strategy and also it's really being run on your phones. I mean, as you know, Scott, most of the time Facebook now is read on your phones and Twitter is read on your phones , which aren't very good platforms in order to read a journal article.
So even for our own paper here, our own paper has, as far as we can see through following and through analytics, has been viewed. The tweets have been viewed by over 100,000 counts. However the number of people who've actually read the paper is still in the 100s or still in the couple of 100s. So although people see the tweets, they get the message, they're not going to the primary data probably because it's on their phones.

Interviewer: Yeah. Is that a problem, do you feel?

Dr. Ryan: Yeah, I think it's a problem. I think the manner in which we deliver our research information in these PDFs that are 10 pages long and in a size 12 font isn't concordant with how people now want to see information, which is either through mini podcasts or through brief interviews or through infographics as well.

Interviewer: Gotcha. What's going to be in the future, because some of the criticisms I saw was there was only the one tweet per article which in the Twitter world isn't really that much. You're basically going 'hello', you know, in a very loud environment, right?

Dr. Ryan: Yeah.

Interviewer: And Facebook posts have very little organic reach anymore, like when you post them not a lot of people see them. What are some of the things that you are going to research and do and how are you going to evolve this strategy?

Dr. Ryan: I think, as you know, the online presence and the social media presence really requires a personal touch to it, and when our Tweets and our posts were going out from the circulation journal, there's a picture of the circulation journal as the image but there's no personal face to it. I think people have a problem with that because it just, again, appears like a corporation kind of giving you information. And that's distinct from going back to your Kim Kardashians, going back to your other celebrities where you feel a personal connection to them because you really see their . . . even if they're not the ones who are running their Twitter accounts, which 99 times out of a 100 is the case, you feel that there is personal connection.
So I think now that we've learned that lesson, at least, bringing a more personal touch to the social media campaign and circulation, be it through our own Twitter accounts, will be important in order to engage conversations. Also, it is all about engagement, right? I mean, when we post a tweet on the Twitter account through circulation and someone responds, we need to then get back in touch with them and say, "Well, what do you think about this," and really engage them. And the way you can do that is through online journal clubs, through Twitter journal clubs which we've had some success doing through the American College of Cardiology and other kind of personal touches like that.

Interviewer: Yeah, and you're also really starting to target your content at other organizations outside of your kind of own ecosystem, so to speak.

Dr. Ryan: Yeah, exactly, and to bring people in, to bring authors in and so on.

Interviewer: Is there another research paper on the way?

Dr. Ryan: There will be. We're just trying to define what strategies to use right now.

Interviewer: But this is something you're going to keep pursuing?

Dr. Ryan: Yeah, I think it's important. I think it's really important that we discuss how to spread research knowledge. We are creating this knowledge. We can't live in a vacuum anymore. We really need the public to be a part of this conversation and we need to be in the conversation with lay people about the discoveries that are being made in cardiovascular health. And that's the ultimate goal. We've millions of dollars in research going to cardiovascular health every year. People are benefiting from us and they just need to know about us and need to be involved in the conversation, and we need to bring that information to them.

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