Community-engaged research is defined by the Institute of Medicine as the process of working collaboratively with groups of people affiliated by geographic proximity, special interests, or similar situations with respect to issues affecting their well-being. Traditional face-to-face community-engaged research is limited by geographic location, limited in resources, and/or uses one-way communications. Web 2.0 technologies including social media are novel communication channels for community-engaged research because these tools can reach a broader audience while promoting bidirectional dialogs.
This paper reports on a preliminary program evaluation of the use of social media platforms for promoting engagement of researchers and community representatives in dialogs about community-engaged research.
For this pilot program evaluation, the Clinical and Translational Science Office for Community Engagement in Research partnered with the Social Media Network at our institution to create a WordPress blog and Twitter account. Both social media platforms were facilitated by a social media manager. We used descriptive analytics for measuring engagement with WordPress and Twitter over an 18-month implementation period during 2014-2016. For the blog, we examined type of user (researcher, community representative, other) and used content analysis to generate the major themes from blog postings. For use of Twitter, we examined selected demographics and impressions among followers.
There were 76 blog postings observed from researchers (48/76, 64%), community representatives (23/76, 32%) and funders (5/76, 8%). The predominant themes of the blog content were research awareness and dissemination of community-engaged research (35/76, 46%) and best practices (23/76, 30%). For Twitter, we obtained 411 followers at the end of the 18-month evaluation period, with an increase of 42% (from 280 to 411) over the final 6 months. Followers reported varied geographic location (321/411, 78%, resided in the United States); 99% (407/411) spoke English; and about half (218/411, 53%) were female. Followers produced 132,000 Twitter impressions.
Researchers and community stakeholders use social medial platforms for dialogs related to community-engaged research. This preliminary work is novel because we used Web 2.0 social media platforms to engage these stakeholders whereas prior work used face-to-face formats. Future research is needed to explore additional social media platforms; expanded reach to other diverse stakeholders including patients, providers, and payers; and additional outcomes related to engagement.