Knowing your audience

Connecting and engaging with research audiences through social media

By 12 June 2012

Earlier in April, we met in DFID for the third R4D Peer Exchange session – a series of meetings to discuss issues related to social media and engagement in and around development research.

‘Special guest’ in this session was Joel Bassouk, Digital Communications Manager at Oxfam International. It was a great pleasure to hear Joel’s experience first hand, understanding what is the social media mix and strategy that Oxfam International is using and discuss the results these efforts are bringing to the organisation.

Joel’s presentation is embedded here below, and a summary of his talk and a video interview with him are available in this post on Euforic Services blog.

While the activities that Oxfam International focuses on are quite different, from campaigning to advocacy to development work, the area that is probably of most interest for our work and the reader of this blog is the policy research that Oxfam produces.

What are the key lessons for using social media to connect and enable conversation with Oxfam’s huge international audience? I think three key points are worth mentioning here.

Research papers can often be very solid and not easy to grasp immediately: producing supporting content such as infographics, images, blog posts, short videos, ‘twittable soundbite’, help the research travel further on the social web and makes it more interesting and digestible for a wider audience. In other words, putting your research out on the web is just not enough – you need to use a mix of different outputs and cross-promote them through different channels.

By the same token, the policy team in Oxfam is increasingly more aware of the value of social media to promote their research; likewise, they are also more open and willing to engage in conversation with audiences online at a personal level. As I experienced in other context and with other organisations, I think this is probably one of the most challenging results to achieve – not every researcher is ready for this mind-shift.

Finally, with some 20-30% of communication time is shifting towards social media, it is clear that this is less and less and ‘add on’ but is becoming and integral part of the broader communication strategy of the organisation.

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