How to support community engagement through social media: A case study

By Laura Crane,  Social Media Editor at Autism @LauraMayCrane

AUT 20(4)_Covers.inddThe journal Autism decided to expand and invest in its social media presence in 2011 when I was taken on as Social Media Editor. Our key aim was to use this ever expanding medium as a way to engage directly the autism community (autistic people and their families, clinicians, educators) in both an accessible and clear way.

The need for this was highlighted in a recent study exploring community involvement in autism research.  This study found that whilst autism researchers felt that they were effectively engaging with the autism community, the community themselves (especially autistic people and their families) did not share this view.  In this blog post, I’ll share details of our approach to community engagement at the journal through social media.

Social media channels

The autism community is very active on social media and one of the first – and really simple – things that we did was to set up our own Twitter and Facebook accounts.  Along with SAGE’s own channels (e.g. @SAGEHealthInfo @SAGE_News) through which we often promote the content of the journal, we felt that having our own dedicated feeds would be helpful to those interested in autism specifically. The @journalautism channel was set up in June 2011 and since then we have grown to over 5,000 followers.

Making research accessible

Whilst we post links to our published articles (especially those that are free to access), it is important to be mindful that many non-academics may struggle to read academic research articles, which are often fairly technical and include a lot of statistics.  To try and overcome this, we launched several important initiatives.  First, we publish freely available lay abstracts at the end of every issue, which are short, accessible summaries of each article.

Complementing our lay abstracts, we have also launched a podcast series, in which authors are interviewed about their research.  As well as promoting the journal’s content, this is also great publicity for the authors. More recently, we have trialed video abstracts, in which authors prepare short (three minute) videos describing their research and the key findings.  This is a great way to visually engage people with the research and is a fantastic opportunity to allow the community to hear directly from researchers.  All of these new initiatives ensure that our social media content is diverse and, most importantly, accessible for our audience.

What have we learned along the way?

  1. Knowing what to share – As our goal is to help the autism community learn more about the research currently taking place, we avoid discussing details regarding subscriptions or journal-business information and just stick to the contents.  We also ensure we only promote content published in our journal.  Whilst we are frequently asked to retweet details of ongoing research studies, or autism-related blog posts, we feel it is risky to appear to endorse material we have no control over.
  2. When to post – We are careful to ensure that whilst we post content regularly, it is manageable and that we post at times when we are available to respond; there is nothing worse than getting people to engage with your tweets and then not having the time to reply to them!
  3. Trial and error An important paper published in our journal highlighted that there needs to be greater involvement of the autism community in research. One of the things we are looking to do now is to consult with the autism community about our outreach activities – finding out what works well and what we need to do better.  Only then will we genuinely be able to address our aim of making the autism research we publish more accessible.

Social media engagement is not easy and we still feel there is more we could do as we look to grow and reach even more members of the autism community globally. Watch this space!

Laura can be followed on Twitter @LauraMayCrane. Find out more about the journal Autism

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