Social media is essential for research engagement

Engagement underlies research success. Whether it is engagement with existing or new collaborators, the media, governing and funding bodies, or government, and last but not least consumers (formerly called patients), effective communication and dissemination of research findings is essential. The days of pure, unadulterated science, without the need to justify a disease cure are over. With scientific literature written in a style that is virtually impossible for the layperson to read and interpret, social media provides an alternative broadcasting strategy.

With universities and funding bodies now embracing altmetrics, non‐traditional, alternative metrics for assessing research impact, including ‘retweets’, ‘favourites’, and ‘shares’, it is clear that there is a role for social media in the everyday translation (distribution) of research findings. Take ResearchGate, for example: with over 8 million scientists, 80 million papers, and 1 million science questions shared and answered, as well as a number of high‐profile collaborations developed on the website, it is clear that scientists are embracing social media as a means for scientific engagement. Engaging with fellow scientists, establishing new collaborations that may not have ordinarily had a chance to blossom, sharing negative results that may never have been published otherwise are just a few of the possibilities that exist on a social network such as this. Although these numbers are a mere drop in the ocean compared with the almost 1.55 billion active users on Facebook and more than 300 million active users on Twitter, women and men of reproductive age (18–49 years) dominate the user profiles of these sites, making social media the perfect platform to convey important findings and messages in women's health.

But there is another level of use of social media in science. Traditionally, clinical research has been performed through data collection from patients, often by doctors and hospital staff, followed by analysis and interpretation, with the information and outcome then returned to patients in the form of guidelines and practice. Although there is no doubt that much of what is achieved today has come through this traditional pathway, it is also clear that the system is inefficient, as a result of bureaucracy and a lack of embedding the research in the health system (Al‐Shahi Salman et al. Lancet 2014;383:176–85). Randomised clinical trials are considered too expensive and time consuming, but common barriers include clinicians not informing women about trials and bureaucratic procedures that need to be passed before trials can be started. Social media are powerful tools that may be used to involve potential participants.

When the founder of Facebook announced that he and his partner had suffered three miscarriages before having a successful pregnancy, it accrued more than 1.8 million likes, and was shared more than 50 000 times. There is no reason why these routes of communication cannot be used for research. Indeed, there are already successful examples, such as the photo shared with the Miracle Babies Foundation by a bereaved mother who donated expressed breastmilk for 7 weeks after her infant passed away at 23+5 weeks of gestation. This single post received 194 shares, more than 500 comments, and was viewed by more than 40 000 people in the first 24 hours.

Obviously there might be a price to pay. The risk of social media is that the process of peer review will be ignored, and that information becomes volatile. Risks of bias are probably stronger in social media than in traditional mechanisms for scientific communication, such as peer‐reviewed journals. Social media should therefore be embedded in traditional methods of scientific reporting, with peer review being the cornerstone. With @BJOGTweets, BJOG is one of the journals in women's health that leads this new dimension in medical science. Journal clubs such as #BlueJC on Twitter allow direct and faster interaction between authors and readers. Let's explore how the new media can strengthen our research!

Disclosure of interests

None declared. Completed disclosure of interests form available to view online as supporting information.