News You Can Use
Blogging About Your Science
Using Social Media to Communicate
KATHERINE BRICCENO, NINDS
Do you blog and tweet for work? NIH Director Francis Collins does both: On his NIH Director’s Blog, he highlights new discoveries in, and fascinating facts about, biology and medicine; you can also follow him on Twitter as he tweets about biomedical research and health. Several institutes and centers (ICs) are also using social media as a part of their overall communication strategy. Have you considered blogging about your research?
The word “blog” comes from a contraction of the term “Web log.” Bloggers provide regular posts—including text, images, and links to other Web pages—on particular subjects and invite readers to comment. Blogs are not the only way to convey information, but can foster interactions with people who share common interests.
If you are thinking of starting a work-related blog, there are a few things you need to know. To start, it is important to contact your IC’s communications office early in the process. For general information about policies, check the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “HHS Blog Guidance” Web site (http://www.hhs.gov/web/socialmedia/getting_started/blog_guidance.html).
“A blog represents the agency, so you need good coordination and consistency,” said Dan Luxenberg, senior advisor for Social Media and Collaborative Technologies in NIH’s Center for Information Technology.
“You need a plan,” said Scott Prince, chief of the Online Information Branch (OLIB) in the Office of the Director. Blogs require knowing who your audience is; identifying your goals; and committing the time and resources necessary to regularly write and edit posts and respond to comments by readers.
NIH already has several blogs. Some are for intramural audiences such as the “OITE Careers Blog” managed by the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE). It provides career development information for postdocs, postbacs, and graduate students at NIH and is managed by Philip Ryan, director of Student Services, and Lori Conlan, director of Postdoctoral Services. Guest bloggers include OITE Director Sharon Milgram as well as contract writers and, occasionally, postdocs.
Other blogs are dedicated to research. For example, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) each have blogs aimed at specific areas of epidemiology. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) blog focuses on research developments in complementary medicine.
The National Institute on Aging’s (NIA) “Inside NIA: A Blog for Researchers” also covers research, with a focus on grants and funding policies as well as on scientific meetings and priorities. The blog welcomes posts from NIA intramural staff discussing career opportunities as well as their research, according to Britt Ehrhardt of NIA’s Office of Communications and Public Liaison, who manages the blog with Robin Barr, the director of NIA’s Division of Extramural Activities.
The National Institute of General Medical Sciences’ (NIGMS) “Feedback Loop” blog—established in 2009, making it one of the oldest on campus—shares funding, research, and other news. Ideas come from a steering committee that meets three times a year and from NIGMS staff. In addition, if a question is asked at least three times on the blog, it deserves a post, making the blog “a forum for discussion and clarification of confusing topics,” said Emily Carlson, blog manager in NIGMS’s Office of Communications and Public Liaison.
Still other blogs cover research funding, NIH policies, meetings, and other topics of interest to extramural audiences. Deputy Director for Extramural Research Sally Rockey’s “Rock Talk” blog focuses on extramural grant policies, programs, and resources.
To learn more about blogs, see the “How to Start a Blog” sidebar.
How to Start a Blog
• Visit the HHS Blog Guidance site http://www.hhs.gov/web/socialmedia/getting_started/blog_guidance.html
• Contact your IC’s communications office because each IC has its own guidance for social media.
• Notify the OLIB (Scott Prince): Although official sign-off is not required, OLIB likes to know about new social media accounts.
• Determine who your audience is and the best platform to interact with its members (blog or Twitter, for example).
• Decide whether to post on certain days or on specific topics.
• Identify your goals.
• Ensure that you have the time and resources to generate and review posts and to moderate and respond to comments.
• Create policies for generating blog content and moderating comments.
You may also want to visit other NIH blogs:
• NIH Director’s Blog (http://directorsblog.nih.gov)
• Inside NIA: A Blog for Researchers (http://www.nia.nih.gov/research/blog)
• NCCAM Research Blog (http://nccam.nih.gov/research/blog)
• NCI Biomedical Informatics Blog (http://ncip.nci.nih.gov/blog)
• NCI Cancer Epidemiology Matters Blog (http://blog-epi.grants.cancer.gov)
• NHLBI Challenges in Cardiovascular Epidemiology (http://nhlbiepi.wordpress.com)
• NIGMS Feedback Loop Blog: A catalyst for interaction with the scientific community (http://loop.nigms.nih.gov)
• OITE Careers Blog (http://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com)
• Rock Talk: Dr. Sally Rockey, Deputy Director for Extramural Research (http://nexus.od.nih.gov/all/category/blog)
• For a more complete list of NIH’s social media and outreach efforts, go to http://www.nih.gov/Subscriptions.htm.