Sharing research via social media by pain-focussed and general medical journals

I recently looked at whether scientific journals are using social media – particularly medical and pain journals – and presented what I found at the recent Australian Pain Society conference. Here’s a version of that presentation. Before looking at what the study found it might be useful to define what social media is. Wikipedia came up with:

‘Social media are media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable communication techniques. It is the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue’

What does that mean? I would suggest social media is a way to reach a specific audience, like researchers and clinicians with targeted information on a variety of platforms such as twitter, or facebook or youtube, or blogs through different devices (laptop, mobile phones, tablets).  Why is this relevant to research journals?

A recent paper in Nature talks about the fact that researchers are undergoing trial by twitter ‘Blogs and tweets are ripping papers apart within days of publication, leaving researchers unsure how to react.’ It potentially represents shift in the way we communicate and disseminate research. It lead me to wonder whether Scientific journals are using social media? Does social media have any relevance for dissemination of research and clinical practice?

The background to this study is that we know that the application of evidence based medicine to clinical practice obligates us to keep up to date with research progress. Journals are the most important means of doing that, but rely on their audience ‘pulling’ relevant findings from the wider pool of literature.  The role of social media in connecting information to users presents an opportunity for journals to ‘push’ the relevant findings to their audience in a targeted and time-efficient manner.

The aim of this study was to determine the use of social media by medical and pain  journals to ascertain whether they had a SM presence, if they did, how they used it, (participation), and whether they hand any influence.  What did we do?  We selected the top 10 general medical and the top six pain-focussed journals according to their impact factor. Whether those journals had a social media presence of a blog, facebook, YouTube or twitter streams was determined by Google search as well as searching on Journal websites individually, and separately on facebook, youtube and twitter.

Why did we chose these platforms? Nielsen indicates that facebook, youtube and  twitter are the three main social media platforms used, and these are often linked to a blog.  For participation in social media we counted the number of posts over a one month period (Jan 2011) and for influence we used hubspot’s twitter and facebook grader to provide a measure of how the social media presence might be ranked.  We did not have an algorithm to measure YouTube influence and simply noted presence for this social media site.

What did we find? Several high-impact general medical journals had a strong social media presence, 9 out of the 10 had twitter accounts that were regularly participated in.  For example the BMJ has a twitter account, and posted 81 times in the month of January and has 97.6 percent influence.  Influence was measured in a number of ways based on number of posts, interactions, number of times the information was shared as well as follower/following ratio.

What else did we find?  Eight out of 10 top medical journals had facebook accounts and 5 out of 10 had a blog, but only 3 had a YouTube account.  Looking at the data it would be interesting to do a correlation to see if a higher impact factor corresponds with greater social media presence.

What did we find with pain journals? One brave soul – Molecular pain, had a twitter account.  However, I would be hesitant in calling this a presence, on closer examination of their twitter account they have no logo, no url to direct followers back to the website and only one post in January (the second was in April – so clearly there is no dialogue or regular posting to followers). In contrast you can see some the medical journals with an active twitter presence – in this case here you can see NEJM, the Lancet and PLoS on twitter, facebook and blog pages.

What can we conclude? The top general medical journals use social media to disseminate their content. By so doing, they push their information to thousands of audience members each week. In contrast, pain-focussed journals have no social media presence and as such miss out on this opportunity.

However, the impact of social media-based dissemination on clinical practice remains to be investigated, but these preliminary data suggest that social media could be better used to disseminate new findings in the pain sciences.