Skip to main content

Unfortunately we don't fully support your browser. If you have the option to, please upgrade to a newer version or use Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, or Safari 14 or newer. If you are unable to, and need support, please send us your feedback.

Publish with us

How social media can help societies and journals extend their reach

May 6, 2021

By Libby Plummer


A medical journal editor shares his tips and strategies for social media success

Social media is a vital tool for societies and journals competing for the attention of readers. Not only can it help raise the journal’s profile among professional communities, it can act as an important forum for discussion.

“If you're able to create different ways for the audience to interact with you or your journal, then that's going to be successful in terms of the reach that you may have,” said Dr Chad A. Kruegeropens in new tab/window, Associate Editor of the Journal of Arthroplastyopens in new tab/window and orthopedic surgeon at the Rothman Instituteopens in new tab/window in Philadelphia.

The Journal of Arthroplasty (JOA) is one of two journals overseen by the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons (AAHKS)opens in new tab/window and is published by Elsevier. Thanks to the efforts of Chad and his colleagues, the JOA has grown its social media footprint substantially over the past two years. When he took over the journal in October 2019, it had just 400 Twitter followers no presence on Facebook or Instagram. The Journal is now approaching a follower count of 6,000 on Twitter (@JArthroplastyopens in new tab/window) and steadily growing its communities on Facebook (@JArthroplastyopens in new tab/window) and Instagram (@jarthroplastyopens in new tab/window). As Twitter has more of an academic slant, this is currently the key platform for the journal.

As well as editing the JOA and taking the lead on its social media strategy, Chad specializes in hip and knee replacement and previously served as an officer in the US Army for nine years while practicing orthopedic surgery. He takes care of all of the journal’s social media posts, using graphical, or visual, abstracts to help the journal and society meet its goals. He explained:

Visual abstracts certainly get the most interest on all three social media platforms. It's a condensed version of the information, and when you put it together in a visually appealing form that people can share and look at and learn from, it leaves more of a mark — it’s easier to remember information.

Example of a visual abstract

Producing graphical abstracts helps the journal to highlight articles that could have an impact on clinical care or be of interest to patients. With Twitter’s 280-character limit, the information that can be given in a tweet is minimal, so an infographic can really help to condense it down:

There's such a proliferation of information at this point, that it's really hard to keep up. And I’ve found Twitter to be a great medium to allow the sharing of information and through which we can connect. This is especially useful at this point since we can't really have in-person meetings at the moment.

When deciding which articles to highlight with graphical abstracts on social media, Chad has a clear strategy:

We have three main criteria. Firstly, the quality of the article. I want to reward the authors for doing good research. Secondly, we look for any interesting findings that I think the audience may be interested in. And thirdly, we look for hot topics. Overall, we are trying to reward quality papers that we know would benefit the profession a little bit more.

Example of a graphical abstract on a 'hot topic'

Elsevier supports the JOA’s graphical abstract strategy in a number of ways, working with the journal team to create templates and guidance on what each infographic should include. In addition to being shared by Chad at the JOA, the graphical abstracts are also posted on the journal’s websiteopens in new tab/window and tweeted by Elsevier Orthopedics (@ELSORTHOPAEDICSopens in new tab/window). Elsevier also plans to start including graphical abstracts in the print edition of the journal later this year.

For the JOA’s social media, Chad uses Hootsuite opens in new tab/windowand aims to schedule tweets about a week in advance whenever possible. Graphical abstracts are created after the articles have been published rather than pre-publication. This ensures that the information being posted on social media is up to date and hasn’t changed during the review and publication process.

Chad also highlights the importance of having an editor involved in the process of creating graphical abstracts:

"When you’re trying to condense information from an article, you need to understand what the most salient points are,” he said. “For an editor, it’s sometimes easier for them to start the process rather than having to go back and forth with someone else via email.”

Does the data support using graphical abstracts?

So, how pronounced is the effect of using graphical abstracts on sharing media to boost the reach of the journal’s articles? In the first general study on this area, Chad and his colleagues have carried out research to compare tweets with text-based summaries with those that contain the same information summarized in graphical abstracts. They looked at a number of performance indicators, including impressions, likes and clicks on the articles. Chad said:

The visual abstracts certainly generated a lot more interest on social media. The research has not yet been published as the team is still collecting data to see if the articles using visual abstracts are cited more. I suspect they will be.

Using analytics to test the efficacy of different approaches on social media is an important part of an overall social media strategy. And while graphical abstracts are a focal part of the JOA’s current social media strategy, “it’s important to continue to evolve,” Chad said. In this spirit, Chad and his team is currently developing new ideas. For example, they are considering highlighting a surgeon or case every week to spark an online conversation and then follow this up with related articles. “I think a large part of it is interaction with the audience,” he added.

While many journals have already taken the leap into the world of social media, some are more successful at it than others. What’s clear is that there’s always room for improvement. Chad acknowledges that everyone has to start somewhere and that the JOA’s graphical abstracts have improved substantially over time. There are also some colleagues in the reconstruction community that have helped create digital abstracts for Chad, which helps to keep the content fresh.

Advice to societies and journals

So, what advice would Chad give to other societies and journals looking to boost their social media?

You’ve got to find someone who's interested in social media and has the ability to coordinate things. I think, expecting one person to do it all is a tall task, so it should be more of a team effort. You also have to be willing to experiment because social media moves quickly, and you need to be responsive to that.

And it can't just be a one-way street where the journal puts something out but never responds when people comment. You actually have to interact with your audience, and I think if you do that, then you can certainly gain a lot more from it.

Social media strategies will inevitably vary for each journal and society depending on their subject matter, reach and audience, but experimenting to find out what works is key. From regular features to video content, there are lots of ways for societies and their journals to boost their social media offering.

Also, it’s important to find someone who can represent the journal or society well and respond politely to any negative feedback. “You don't want to handle that the wrong way because in that respect, social media would be a detriment to your company or journal,” Chad said.

Once you’ve honed your strategy and found the right approach for you audience, the biggest challenge is finding the time to post on social media, which is why making it a team effort is important. “That's the one hard part about social media,” Chad said. “It's only as effective as the effort you put into it. But as long as you don’t give up on it and are willing to try some different things, you’ll find a way to be successful.