By: Bonnie Tse, MPS, and Bruce Schackman, PhD, MBA, at the Center for Health Economics of Treatment Interventions for Substance Use Disorder, HCV, and HIV (CHERISH)
In today’s digital and media landscape, there are several ways to disseminate your health economics research after its publication. From our experience, writing social media, news posts, and policy briefs has allowed us to convey study findings from different angles, reach new audiences, and inform key decision makers. As you are preparing your next journal submission or academic talk, also consider the following tactics to extend the impact of your health economics research.
Posting on social media is a great start to reaching a broad audience, especially if you have an account on major platforms like Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, or LinkedIn. An estimated 70% of Americans today use social media to share information, entertainment, and news. While social media platforms rise and fall in popularity, researchers have come to use them as a tool to engage with their colleagues, foster professional connections, and inform the public about their findings. Researchers who tweet about their work have also been found to be cited more frequently. If you don’t have a social media account, most platforms have simple features and tutorials to help you get started.
Things to consider:
- Schedule time to write. Social media posts vary in length and format but take time to craft. While your paper or presentation is pending review, use the downtime to identify a communication goal such as announcing your publication, sharing a backstory to your research, or providing your perspective on a study. Frame each post around one goal to keep you and your reader focused.
- Hone your voice. Imagine your colleagues, a member of the public, or a local decision maker reading your post. How would you start and end your message with them in mind? For example, you may focus on one piece of information to draw their attention and close with an optimistic statement or call to action. Communicate your research as if you are having a conversation.
- Think visually. After your post is drafted, think of ways to present your message to your reader, who is likely reading from a phone. Break up paragraphs, replace bullet points with emojis, or add images that are relevant and easy to interpret. If you have the capacity to design, consider sharing simplified graphs or collaborate with a designer to create visual abstracts. Learn the formats and features on the social media platform to take full advantage of the tools at your fingertips.
- Engage with your collaborators, readers, and community. At the end of the day, social media is a shared space where people are connecting with others. Set time aside to amplify other people’s work that aligns with your research or reflects your values. Whichever platform you choose, liking, commenting, and resharing content from your peers and network are simple actions to nurture your relationship with the online community.
If you want to explain your research findings in-depth, you may consider blogging. Blogs are typically owned and managed by an individual, group, or business. They could be standalone sites or a section of a website that features original writing, news, or multimedia content. Businesses and individuals start blogs because they offer room to promote their expertise, share their personality, and grow their professional brand. Through the power of search engines and keywords, blog posts are also set up to reach new audiences. For that reason, blogs are best written in a conversational tone to introduce your perspective as an investigator and inform readers about your work.
Things to consider:
- Identify your perspective. Whether you are starting a new blog or contributing to an article as a guest writer, establish your perspective as a health economist to give readers context and insight to your work. What lens are you viewing your research through? What populations are you working with or studying the most? Answering these questions may help define your beat or specialty when writing your blog post.
- Begin with a story. Some readers may not know the topic well, but a good hook and story can compel them to keep reading. Draw your audience in by recounting an article, event, or conversation that is relevant to your work.
- Keep the methods in your manuscript. Allow your blog post to be different from a manuscript or abstract. Remember, blogs offer space to dig deeper in an area of your research or paper. Refrain from using technical language and numbers. If you include them, challenge yourself to reframe the methods and statistics in a way that a lay reader can understand.
- Lean into existing platforms and resources. Your research center or home institution likely has an established blog on their site. Connect with the team managing the blog to understand their priorities and discuss opportunities for amplifying your research.
If you are seeking to influence decision makers at the state or local level, you may consider writing briefs. Compared to social media and blogs, briefs are more formal and offer clear, actionable recommendations from experts in the field. Briefs act as a guide that brings readers up to speed on a policy, issue, or research. They summarize credible sources of what has been accomplished and what needs to be done next. They can live on a website and be repurposed into blogs and social media posts. Briefs often require collaborative efforts to write but are meant to be short, a format that lends well to engaging with policy makers and other intended audiences.
Things to consider:
- Write with your audience in mind. Identifying your audience, such as policy makers or members of a community, will inform the content of your brief. You may choose to write a research brief to highlight key findings that address policy-relevant questions. Alternatively, you may craft a policy brief that gives legislators actionable steps to establish evidence-based policies. Keep your readers in the loop by using language and terminology they are familiar with or explaining concepts not widely known.
- Frame findings to address local needs of stakeholders. Policy makers rely on literature summaries or federal reports to inform their work but have described prioritizing research that address local needs. As with blogging, place less emphasis on the research methods and describe how your research adds value to the local or immediate priorities of the stakeholder.
- Include key visuals to reinforce your point. Briefs are fundamentally text-driven but images enhance one’s understanding of the text. Drive home your message by simplifying charts and figures or adding relevant images or graphics throughout the brief to support your message.
- Pitch your brief to the right policy maker and audience. Curate a list of researchers, community coalitions, or elected officials that are involved in this topic area. Begin compiling names and contacts from professional networks, conferences, social media, local news, and government agencies. Use the brief as a tool to host stakeholder meetings, strengthen partnerships, and elevate timely discussions.
Disseminating health economics research does not have to be a one-person job. You can leverage the communications support available at your institution. Two other resources, both free, are provided as examples below.
You can take an online course that discusses social media, blogs, and briefs in greater detail, Amplify[at]LDI: Translating Research for Impact. The course includes exercise prompts and offers additional practice on how to write op-eds, communicate with journalists, and engage with policy makers. Developed by the Center for Health Economics of Treatment Interventions for Substance Use Disorder, HCV, and HIV (CHERISH) and PennLDI, the course requires registration but is open to all at no cost.
You can also connect with CHERISH Consultation Service to discuss strategies for sharing economics research related to substance use.
As with most writing, it takes time to craft your message and tailor it to your audience. By making economic findings accessible, however, we can inspire impactful conversations among the public and decision makers that lead to more effective and efficient healthcare delivery.