By Sonja Likumahuwa-Ackman
This is the second and final part on the lessons learned from using a blog for research engagement and dissemination.
As we described in Part 1, finding efficient and effective ways to widely disseminate research findings is a critical component of accelerating the translation of research into practice. Social media strategies, including blogging, have the potential to augment the reach of research beyond traditional publication venues.1 However, given that many clinicians and researchers are unfamiliar with using a blog as a communication mechanism,2,3 it is important to share ideas and lessons learned.
Lessons Learned to Ensure Research Blog Success
- Identify funders willing to support enhanced dissemination activities (i.e., a blog).
Because our research study focused on a rapidly unfolding demonstration project in Oregon, we were committed to finding a way to disseminate findings quickly so that stakeholders could begin to learn from our work in real-time. We looked for funders who also understood this need. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)4 funded a $200,000 grant to conduct the research and create a blog as a vehicle to expedite dissemination and broaden impact.5 The cost of developing and maintaining the blog was approximately $50,000 over two years.
- Build a multi-disciplinary team to plan the launch.
We discovered early on the importance of engaging a multi-disciplinary team in the development and launch of our blog, including researchers, OCHIN stakeholders and OCHIN’s Marketing Department. This collaborative team held formative discussions to decide the tone of the blog and its layout and branding. We also received advice and guidance from the RWJF team and RWJF’s social media consulting firm (MSLGROUP). Although the blog was created initially as a mechanism for reporting on a specific research project, we intentionally chose a name that would enable us to use the blog as a forum for disseminating information from a wide range of projects.
- Incorporate dissemination activities into the overall project plan and ensure adequate funding and staff time.
A successful blog requires frequent output of timely and high-quality material, and it is important to maintain a pipeline of material by planning for regular posts and investing time to recruit a diverse group of bloggers. Our bloggers included patients, students, academic researchers, CHC leaders, and policy makers – these were recruited through the research study.6-9 The time required to solicit materials, draft posts, edit and revise content, and master the tone and writing style was considerable (approximately 1-3 weeks per post); we found the work more intensive than expected. Sometimes, this required conducting a key informant interview and creating a first draft; at other times, the blogger submitted a near-final post that needed only minor edits. In addition to managing blog content, we found that ongoing technical expertise from our marketing staff was needed to make adaptations to the blog.
- Devise strategies for diversifying audiences and increasing traffic.
We wanted our blog to be more accessible to non-academic community partners than peer-reviewed publications, and we learned there is a lot of work involved in cultivating a diverse blog readership. We worked with MSLGROUP and OCHIN’s Marketing & Communications team to devise a dissemination strategy that would maximize reach. With help from RWJF, we established a relationship with the Health Affairs blog and they published four of our posts on their site. The first—“Origins in Oregon” —was one of the top 10 viewed posts of the month and drove significant traffic to back to our blog. This kind of cross-connecting is critical to building a readership for a new blog.
- Aim for bidirectional communication and be creative in encouraging it.
The Frontiers of Health blog was envisioned as a venue for bidirectional communication, with the goal that conversations would occur based on published content. This doesn’t happen organically and it takes at least one dedicated staff person who can be creative in encouraging and facilitating conversations on the blog via comments. For example, we needed to develop a process for quickly reviewing comments, which came first to an email account that was not always monitored consistently. We recently developed a plan to increase bidirectional communication by using complementary social media (Facebook™, Twitter™, etc.) to drive audiences to the blog and by regularly writing comments on related blogs and posts with links back to the research blog.
- Develop a plan for maintenance and sustainability.
We discovered that blogs need to be touched and nurtured almost daily; they definitely are not a “set it and forget it” tool. As we got more experienced with blogging, we realized that we needed regular (at least twice-monthly postings) to stay fresh and engage readers. We also needed to invest significant time to cultivate relationships with content experts and people with interesting insights and perspectives who could contribute to the blog. Finally, we grappled with the issue of how to sustain the blog after grant funding ends. We addressed this by including the blog in the dissemination plan in our grant applications. We recommend thinking strategically about how to maintain continued funding for producing ongoing quality content as well as for continued troubleshooting and technical support.
- Carefully monitor what findings get reported when and where.
The research team was careful to ensure that blog content remained interesting and timely without ‘scooping’ findings that we wanted to report through publishing in academic journals. In fact, this was a major concern for our team when we started the blog and we expected to carefully monitor study findings to determine what could be reported when and where (i.e., in the blog or submitted for peer reviewed publication). We learned that it is more complex, with the team thinking carefully about finding stories for the blog that complemented the scholarly publications being written, and using blog posts to communicate findings about recently published papers to broad community and patient audiences.
- Measure impact and plan to modify your approach based on what you find.
We tracked hits to the blog using Google Analytics. We recommend choosing an analytic tool that can determine which Google searches or whose specific social media links drive visitors to the blog. This can be used for Search Engine Optimization (helping to move the blog higher on the search engine results page), understanding referral sources (on what page visitors to the blog were when they clicked on the blog link), and the “click-through rate” of how many visitors click through to other content off of the webpage they started from.
- Hoang JK, McCall J, Dixon AF, Fitzgerald RT, Gaillard F. Using Social Media to Share Your Radiology Research: How Effective Is a Blog Post? J Am Coll Radiol. 2015;12(7):760-765.
- Grande D, Gollust S, Pany M, et al. Translating Research for Health Policy: Researchers’ Perceptions and Use of Social Media. Health Affairs. 2014;3(7):8.
- Grajales FJ, 3rd, Sheps S, Ho K, Novak-Lauscher H, Eysenbach G. Social media: a review and tutorial of applications in medicine and health care. Journal of medical Internet research. 2014;16(2):e13.
- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. About RWJF. 2015; http://www.rwjf.org/en/about-rwjf.html. Accessed Dec. 22, 2015.
- Frontiers of Healthcare. About. Frontiers of Healthcare. Vol 20152015.
- Cottrell E, Arkind J, Likumahuwa S. The alternative payment methodology in Oregon community health centers: empowering new ways of providing care. Health Affairs Blog. Vol 2014: Health Affairs; 2014.
- Hostetler C, Sisulak L, Cottrell E, Arkind J, Likumahuwa S. Origins in Oregon: the alternative payment methodology project. Health Affairs Blog. Vol 2014: Health Affairs 2014.
- Steiner E. This is Not Your Mother’s Payment Reform Model: Reflections on the APM Pilot. Health Affairs Blog. Vol 2014: Health Affairs; 2014.
- McConnell JK. How Do Alternative Payment Models Fit in with State and National Reform Efforts? Health Affairs Blog. Vol 2014: Health Affairs; 2014.