Social Media

Note:  The information in the section below is also available in a webinar format that can be viewed here.

What is social media?

Use of web and mobile technology to turn communication into an interactive dialogue.  It is the sum of internet and mobile applications that are built on web platforms and that permit the creation and sharing of user-generated content.

A further breakdown:

  • A web platform that allows its users to create and modify content on an ongoing basis
  • User-generated content – media content created by the end-users of a platform, that is available to the public.


What is special about social media?

Social media allows you to both relay your message and to find out what your target audience is thinking. It opens doors to exchanges and helps build an online community.

Social media is continuously evolving/developing and increasing in popularity because of its:

  • Broad, decentralized reach
  • Easy and affordable access
  • Easy usability
  • Immediate
  • The permanence paradox – online content can be modified on an ongoing basis, and therefore is not as permanent as other types of media (e.g., print), but can also be archived and accessed for very long periods of time, and as such is more permanent that other forms of media (e.g., television)
  • Widespread source of information, education and news
  • Promote evidence-based knowledge in a landscape that could be dominated by groups / interests promoting anecdotal evidence and ‘junk science’ (Source: Cook, 2012).


Importance of social media to dementia research


Other statistics

  • Nearly half of internet users 50-64 use social networking sites like Facebook & LinkedIn
  • Number of social media users 50-64 grew 88% throughout 2010
  • Number of social media users 65+ grew 100% throughout 2010  (Madden, 2010).


Uses of social media

Communication applications

Collaboration applications

Entertainment / educational applications

The most appropriate type of social media for the dissemination of a message about dementia depends mostly on the type of information to be shared. When wondering which type of social media to use for DKT, the first step is to carefully consider how the information will be packaged to have the greatest impact. For example, information about the progress of research in one area or about the outcomes of clinical trials would be best shared in a format that allows plenty of room to explain the research and that can be updated on an ongoing basis, such as a blog. Notices of public events or information sessions are short pieces of information that should target as many people as possible, and could be disseminated through a microblog. Videos on what exercises to do to maintain cognitive health would do well on a video-sharing platform. Of course, one type of information can be shared through many different social media outlets as well.


  • Microblogging service – allows you to send and read “tweets”, short posts of text no longer than 140 chararactersCreated and launched in 2006
  • Over 300 million users as of 2011
  • Take a look at the dementia hashtag page of the Healthcare Hashtag Project website:

    1. How many dementia tweets were posted yesterday?
    2. What are the top 3 dementia related hashtags on Twitter?
    3. Are there any researchers within the top 10 influencers of #Dementia by mention? Why or why don’t you think this is the case?


How you can get involved with social media

  • Create a blog

Blogs can be about anything and can target different audiences: you can write short posts about the progress of your research, about life in a dementia research lab, or about highlights from recent conferences. You can even post cartoons or comics if you or someone in your lab are artistically inclined. The possibilities are endless!

  • Create a Facebook page – e.g. ‘to manage events, find organized groups’

Facebook pages are great for gathering people with similar interests: you could make one for your lab, or simply about a topic (e.g. music therapy for dementia). Once Facebook users “Like” your page, they will receive any updates you post, and be able to use your page as a forum for discussion and exchange.

  • Create a Twitter account – e.g. ‘to link to your blog or website’

Twitter is great for short announcements, such as upcoming events, for reporting on conferences in real-time, and for sharing links to interesting articles or websites.

  • Participate on platforms of others – ‘connect and network with other like-minded people’

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. If someone is already blogging about a topic of interest to you, you can become involved by commenting on their blog. You can also participate on others’ Facebook pages, or keep track of the discussion on Twitter by opening up an account and following others, even if you don’t feel like contributing much yourself.

(Sources: Robillard, 2012 & Cook, 2012).

Responsible participation

  • Read the fine print
  • Respect confidentiality
  • Cite your references
  • Ask the right questions and listen to the answers
  • Be open to discussion
  • Pause before you post
  • Engage, don’t broadcast

Evaluating the use of social media

There are several ways to keep track of your online participation and your involvement in social media. Several analytics providers (such as Google analytics) offer a variety of services ranging from simple “visitor counts” to more elaborate statistics such as geographical location of the visitors to your blog. Other metrics are embedded in the social media platforms, such as number of retweets (for Twitter) or number of comments (for blogs).

Q&A with an Expert 

Assistant Professor Teresa Liu-Ambrose from the Department of Physical Therapy & Director of the Aging, Mobility and Cognitive Function Laboratory at the University of British Columbia has produced educational YouTube videos about the benefit of resistance training in older adults.  Here Assistant Professor Teresa Liu-Ambrose describes how she went about disseminating her research findings.

In developing our YouTube videos, we first identified the knowledge translation challenge which was to:

  1. change the perception of resistance training for seniors (i.e., reduce misinformation); and
  2. provide base knowledge in progressive resistance training prescription/uptake for seniors.

We then identified and justified our target audience. We identified four target audiences based on the rationale that health behaviour change (i.e., uptake of progressive resistance) is facilitated by social and environmental support/factors. Hence, our target audiences represent the consumer (i.e., seniors) and their immediate community contacts/support system. Given that senior care impinges on many branches of medicine, medical students are a recommended target audience for geriatrics teaching. A systematic review showed that knowledge, skills and attitudes of medical students could be improved with even a short intervention.  Fitness instructors were another target audience.

In designing our videos, we conducted small focus groups. But I think critically, we worked with a company that created videos that we thought were generally very visually attractive and pleasing.

We also discussed the potential impact of our videos. We projected the impact by short term, medium term (2 years), and long term. We acknowledged that our video would not change the health of all Canadians overnight (!) but we did clearly discuss the impact over the three time horizons and across various social groupings extending from the individual, family and friend networks, through to health professionals, community services and groups, as well as policy and government.

Here is the link to one of the Youtube videos.

Example of contents (for older adults) include:

  • Meaning of “progressive” loading
  • Explaining the importance of proper form (and demonstrate)
  • Highlighting the key muscles groups, their function, and demonstrate resistance training exercises that target these muscle groups
  • Demonstrating how to monitor the intensity of a workout
  • Explaining the difference between “normal” musculoskeletal symptoms associated with resistance training and “abnormal” musculoskeletal symptoms
  • Providing tips on how to build physical activity into their daily lives
  • Comprehensively demonstrate 5 key resistance training exercises – the basic program

UBC Public Affairs were also involved in the dissemination of the videos through media releases and tweets.

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