Telling Stories Differently: Using new media to reach new audiences

New forms of media, such as Reddit, offer scientists the opportunity to speak directly to members of the public, expanding their outreach and potential for impact.

Project

Mike Noseworthy on Reddit Ask Me Anything
https://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/355z6r?sort=controversial

Research Lead

Dr. Michael Noseworthy

Director, McMaster School of Biomedical Engineering

Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Case Contributor

Dr. Michael Noseworthy

Director, McMaster School of Biomedical Engineering

Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Monique Beech

Marketing and Communications Strategist

Faculty of Engineering

Research funded by

NSERC, CIHR, CFI, Ontario Brain Institute (OBI), Cancer Care Ontario (CCO)

Impacts

35,000 Reddit readers increased their understanding or awareness of advances in MRI technology, and of MRI as a field of research

Knowledge Exchange Strategy

New media

Goals

Increase public understanding of MRI technology and MRI-enabled medical research

Activities

  • Staff organized a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session
  • Researcher fielded questions online for 2 hours

Keys to making it work

  • Researcher was comfortable adapting language to a variety of audiences in real time
  • The AMA was offered within the science sub-reddit, rather than as general AMA

Resources

To arrange an AMA, message the moderators at Science AMA Series
https://www.reddit.com/r/science/wiki/scienceamaseries

Dr. Michael Noseworthy’s research focuses on how Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) can be used to understand tissue function.

New media, big audiences

Academic science can sometimes seem too far removed from application to be of any benefit to society. This means that traditional media outlets are often not interested in stories of scientific advances which can seem impossible to translate to a non-expert audience.

However new forms of media, such as Reddit, are making it possible for scientists to reach new audiences. In just 2 hours, Dr. Noseworthy’s Ask Me Anything (AMA), offered as part of the science moderated subreddit, reached over 35,000 viewers. He answered more than 50 questions from a broad range of users, including past and potential students, industry, medical and MRI practitioners, and thousands of people simply curious about MRI.

Not everybody will feel comfortable conducting a Reddit session. To engage with this range of audiences required Noseworthy to be highly flexible and immediately responsive. He had to adapt his vocabulary to each individual question, an ability he considers integral to teaching, and he had to do it in real time.

“You should, at the end of the day, be able to talk to anybody, be it a little kid or an esteemed colleague….You should be able to have a conversation and dial it in to the right level right away without blowing them away, or boring them to tears.”
Noseworthy

Why use Reddit for Knowledge Exchange?

For Noseworthy and Beech, the value of Reddit lies in its ability to reach and influence different publics. Beech’s background in journalism motivates her to find new ways to tell stories about science.

There are all kinds of ways to tell stories now, Reddit, Facebook, other media. You can reach a broader audience once you get creative with it…There’s good quality content now on social media. Potential grad students, different audiences can be reached through these new methods.
Beech

Unlike some other social media tools, and very different from traditional publishing, Beech says, Reddit makes science and scientists accessible. Few people would ever email or call a scientist directly with their questions, but this forum means that anyone can have a direct one-on-one with a world expert.

This means that tools such as Reddit AMA make it possible to exchange knowledge with a significantly larger group of people—and to provide the specific knowledge that a knowledge user requests. They can also affect public attitudes about the value of science and scientists more generally.

This is a great tool we all should get involved in, now we can engage in community outreach and tell the public what we’re doing in a forum they’re happy to use. That way they’ll go ‘hey, you know what? We’re spending tax dollars for our Canadian scientists to do this, and we get it and it’s actually really good.”