Making your research accessible

Researchers need training in social media: Try the coaching approach

By 15/07/2012

By Allison Stevens

While some researchers happily explore social media sites, others are a bit more reluctant. Maybe they have not set aside time to figure out how it works – or maybe they prefer to leave the tweeting to the likes of movie stars – or maybe they have just not had good experiences with social media sites that they have tried to use (even the World Health Organisation has noted that there is a “mixed uptake of social media among public health specialists”).

And yet we keep hearing how important it is to use social media – even journal publishers such as Sage Publications recommend that researchers use social media sites to promote their articles and reach more readers. But when we send out online guides or organise training sessions, some still remain hesitant to explore the social media world.

But here is something that is working for us at the Consortium for Health Policy & Systems Analysis in Africa (CHEPSAA): coaching. Set aside time to sit with the researcher and coach right through the process of signing onto for example Twitter, finding people to follow and making a good profile. Before you meet, find out their research interests and do a bit of groundwork – finding experts and institutions related to their field of research they can follow. This is just to show them upfront how well-connected they could be and how quickly they could find interesting links and the latest news. Eventually, they become so good at it, that they start showing you interesting gadgets they have found – and you will learn from them.

Explain the importance of writing a good bio in their profile page. If they don’t want to use a photograph, then prompt them to use an image that best represent them (or their research interest). Explain to them how the  Twitter Lists work and connect them to a few. Schedule follow-up sessions and find out how they have been experiencing Twitter – any good feedback, any problems? Perhaps they need to know how to block spam, etc.

And now, most importantly, they can see the benefits of using social media for themselves. And some  progress has been made towards mainstreaming social media throughout the organisation. This process is working, the challenge though is how to support researchers in other organisations of our network – especially other parts of Africa – for which giving such support is constrained by geographical distance.

Allison Stevens – Communications Officer, Health Economics Unit & Consortium for Health Policy & Systems Analysis in Africa


2 Responses to Researchers need training in social media: Try the coaching approach

  1. Yes, you are right. Social media training is very important for researchers. As I am a researcher, I know how important it is for a researcher to have a decent idea about social media. I really like the way you have described about the coaching approach. If you want to know more information about social media training, visit

    • Avatar Allison Stevens says:

       Great, thanks for the link, looks very interesting. Coaching those who indicate an interest is helpful for them (saves them lots of time) – but we also have to respect each person’s agency in this process. That is, people have to want to learn it for themselves and the communications officer can help facilitate the process for them. If they are not ready to learn, then we must respectfully step back until they develop agency to want to learn how.