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Social media failing to gain the respect of academics

06.23.2014
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I wrote earlier this year about a study looking at the use of social media amongst academics.  It didn’t paint a particularly positive picture, with usage generally pretty low across the board.

“Only a minority of university researchers are using free and widely available social media to get their results and published insights out and into the hands of the public, even though the mission of public universities is to create knowledge that makes a difference in people’s lives,” the researchers said.

Similar findings have emerged from a second paper, published in the journal Health Affairs, in which social media is presented as a very untapped resource within academia.

The authors surveyed over 200 healthcare related researchers about their use of social media to communicate findings and information pertaining to their research.  The findings suggest that very few are utilizing this channel as a means of engaging with the healthcare community.

“Our study uncovered four central findings,” explained lead author, David Grande, MD, MPA, assistant professor of Medicine at Penn Medicine. “First, most health policy researchers are not using social media to communicate their research results, which could be a significant missed opportunity to expose a larger audience to important health news and findings.”

The study suggests that a big hurdle to greater social media usage is how their institutions perceive social media.  As long as institutions perceive it as a platform with little real academic merit, it will be a challenge to get academics using it to engage more with their stakeholders.

The research concludes by suggesting that younger faculty members are generally more disposed to use social media than their senior colleagues, due in large part to their greater use of these tools in their social lives.  The study suggests that greater use of social media would work wonders in communicating the latest research to those who will ultimately make use of it.

“Historically, there has been a significant communication gap between researchers, on the one hand, and policy makers and the public at large, on the other,” said senior author Zachary Meisel, MD, assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at Penn. “Social media channels are promising tools for closing this gap, provided they are used appropriately and effectively. As a first step, medical schools and health care institutions should help to educate researchers on how to properly use these channels to circulate their research findings and discuss implications.”

The study provides an interesting companion to research published earlier this year that highlighted what it regarded as the four main types of social media user within academia.

Type 1 – Ms Maker

Ms Maker is typified as a research assistant or professor who users social media between once and several times per week.  They’re very concerned by privacy issues online and make selected use of tools, primarily in situations where they make their work easier.

Type 2 – Mr Tech

Mr Tech is typified as a research assistant or professor who users social media to much the same extent as Ms Maker.  Where he differs however is in his general enthusiasm for new technologies and media.  Whilst Ms Maker takes a utilitarian approach to social media, for Mr Tech usage is much more fun based.

Type 3 – Mr Classic

Mr Classic is at the other end of the spectrum entirely.  He is typically older, usually male, and uses social media very rarely, which is reflected in his less than enthusiastic attitude towards it.  This breeds a lack of self-confidence in using social tools, and results in usage being limited to individual applications, often learning based ones that are expected of him in his teaching role.

Type 4 – Mr Nerd

The final type is Mr Nerd.  Mr Nerd is an intensive user of social media and has no qualms about privacy issues.  He jumps into social media with both feet and is generally very enthusiastic about its applications.

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