How to extend the reach of your research through video on social

Linda Öhrn Lernström


November 3, 2022

May 24, 2023

Woman sharing her research with the world using video on social media

How do you get more eyes on a traditional research article than ever before? Ever thought about turning it into a viral social media video? The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research understand how to speak the language of social platforms. And it’s bringing more eyes to their work than ever before, while retaining the crucial nuance and integrity so often lost in translation on social media. So how do they communicate their research so well – and how can you?

 Of course, some headline-grabbing research is built to go viral by design – but there’s a lot more that lacks the glossy PR punch and drifts under the radar. There’s a big difference between writing articles published in scholarly publications and bringing that same research to broader audiences, like students, stakeholders and the public. And for many universities, sharing research isn’t a choice: it’s an essential duty. 

In the battle for attention, some argue there’s a risk that we could lose the researchers of the future, who are probably on TikTok right now. How can your university bring its work to a wider audience without maxing out on budget? There’s work to do: universities need to train students and researchers alike to communicate their research in a more accessible way.

Reaching new audiences: how the Foundation for Strategic Research do it

The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research (SSF) funds research in science, technology and medicine. SFF wanted to reach a wider population, become part of the social debate, and increase the interest of Swedes in research. Long term, the big goal is to attract young people to become scientists. 

One goal was to reach young adults aged 25-44, predominantly women – both groups that have been traditionally hard to reach with science news, but easy to reach on social media. Eva Regårdh, then Head of Communications, was convinced there was already strong interest in the research field among Swedes – the missing piece in the puzzle was adopting the right tone, format and channel to reach them. Content had to be engaging and exciting, without being frivolous; so SSF joined forces with the social media agency KIT

The strategy was to use explainer formats to maximize reach and engagement for increasingly video-heavy social algorithms. All video was produced using Storykit, to make video production intuitive, open it up to more team members, and allow their content to move at the speed of social. Each video finds the golden nugget of the research to pique interest, then provides rich color and detail to add context. The Explainer format is a successful way to do this, posing an interesting, enticing question on-screen then answering it, often with the help of a researcher. 

Using Storykit as a video tool “transformed our relationship with the audience. Now they care about what we have to say and we're building a community – and all firmly within budget,” says Linda Öhrn Lernström, former Head of Creative Studio and CEO at KIT.

For results on social, ask yourself: “What’s the big deal?”

One of the countless videos they produced, “Web-connected implants are the future - but how safe are they?”, is based on Thiemo Voigt’s Uppsala University study “Don’t hack my body”. The project, funded by the SSF, aims to increase the safety of surgical implants. By pulling back the curtain and interviewing the researcher, the content highlighted the importance of the study in the first place.

Anne Kolehmainen, editor at KIT, always start with asking herself, “what’s the big deal here?”. With this study, this allowed her to quickly build up a picture of widespread concern about mesh implants – the most interesting thing for swathes of the target group. When Anne selects studies and finds angles, she doesn’t always start from a study, but rather from the everyday life of the target group and where the social debate is. After all, that’s what they care about.

“I always have the target group in mind when I choose angles. Based on this, I look at what research can answer questions, concerns and accepted truths - preferably with the help of a researcher who can do this in an educational way. An example of this is the video where we tackle conspiracy theories,” adds Anne Kolehmainen.

Since they started five years ago, SFF and KIT have produced 100s of videos. Now, most adult Swedes have at some point been reached by their video content - and engagement is strong, with the greatest impact in the target group of women aged 25-44.

“We’re extremely pleased with the results. Now, we’re reaching young adults and a majority of women – a difficult group for us to reach otherwise!,” said Eva Regårdh in a previous interview. 

Checklist - how to effectively reach more people with your research content

1. Train students and researchers in social media best practices

These are smart people who would certainly find great ways to score highly on the algorithm and drive more eyes to content if they were given the right conditions: so give them a social media playbook, illustrated with examples. 

2. Use the right tools to plan, produce and analyze your social content 

A video tool everyone can use opens opportunities for you to effectively produce more video content for social, for more audiences – which means more chances for your work to be read! 

3. Create content that’s relevant to the audience

Start from the everyday lives of your target audience. Find where the social conversation is, and work backwards. 

4. Be active in the comments section

Engage your audience further – ask them questions, and be quick to respond to incoming questions. For example, can the researcher behind the study be active in the comments section? You can also use comments to link back to the research article.

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