Audio and video 'broadening target audiences'

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Shane Rydquist and Minhaj Rais ask: has investment in new content types led to a new era in discovery?

The scientific publishing landscape is in the midst of a paradigm shift on several important fronts. Crucial among them is the emergence of various new content dissemination formats, which in turn are ushering in a new era in the discovery of research. The acceptance and increasingly popularity of audio-visual formats has not only changed the way research is consumed but also broadened target audiences.

Changing perspectives

Scientific publishing is set to change in more ways than one – even when not taking newer formats into account. For example, let’s examine how digital publishing has led researchers to question the need for limiting each journal issue with a specific number of articles. When print is not the primary format, it simply doesn’t make sense to limit the number of articles being published each month or quarter – whatever the publishing frequency. The number of published articles should probably vary based on the number of articles being processed and accepted for publication instead of limiting them based on the age-old print publication mandate. This would of course be subject to the journal receiving a healthy number of high-quality submissions meeting their publishing standards. 

Nevertheless, while all these aspects are largely limited to the text format of publication, what is worthy of attention is that when mere lifting of restrictions on the number of text articles being published in an issue can bring about a huge change in the frequency of publishing and the resulting discoverability, imagine the potential of newer formats.

Changing consumption patterns

Once we begin talking of disseminating research in audio-visual formats, the outlook changes entirely. While it might take some additional time to produce video abstracts or podcasts summarising published research, the impact these formats can create and the various types of discovery channels that get added to the mix result in a completely different ball game. The key aspect here is that content in audio-visual formats can be consumed much faster and help drive home the point in a more effective manner. This can have a huge bearing on the volume of research being consumed, how it is consumed by a lay audience, and the resulting impact on science and society at large.

Back in 2018, The Royal Society of Chemistry illustrated how audio-visual formats could be utilized for disseminating high impact research. The Chemical Science editorial team launched 'ChemSci Pick of the Week' as a means to select and promote their favourite articles from the week and share them with the wider chemical community. A few of those videos can be viewed here. Distribution of these videos on social media helped in considerably enhancing the  reach of these selected high-impact research studies.

Moreover, when research is shared in formats that is more amenable to lay audiences, it can potentially result in broader dissemination and greater impact, thus leading to the greater advancement of science and society. While all of this might require empirical studies to explore various angles, there has already been some research in this context.

These formats are proven winners

The first visual abstract for social media appeared in 2016, and since then, over 70 journals and institutions have adopted this element to disseminate scientific research. The model has been tested, scrutinised, and streamlined, and will likely continue to adapt to changing scenarios in academic publishing. Moreover, various studies have examined the multiplying impact of visual abstracts in terms of views and citations. In one study, tweets containing a visual abstract had over twice as many views as citation-only tweets. Visual abstract tweets had five times the engagement of citation-only tweets. Visual abstract tweets were also associated with greater increases in Altmetric scores than those of citation-only tweets.

Interestingly, the number of Twitter followers of medical journals typically exceeds the number of print subscribers by a huge margin, and therein lies an opportunity to reach out to wider audiences beyond the medium of traditional journals. But for medical journals to fully realise this potential, they need to adapt to newer audio-visual formats. The combination of strong Twitter engagement and the power of newer formats can help take research to broader audiences. 

Again, while most of the data points we’ve cited above focus on Twitter as a medium, it’s just one of the many ways in which research can be shared. There are not only several other social media platforms but also newer platforms that enable research dissemination and collaboration, and newer formats can enable newer possibilities.

Enhancing engagement

Now, let’s explore a slightly different angle on how newer formats can help in enhancing the value of society subscriptions for practitioners in various fields across the scientific spectrum. One of the reasons physicians often sign up for relevant society/association memberships is to access relevant research in their field of study. Such societies and associations can best meet this need by providing easily digestible summaries of the voluminous literature they produce. This will not only provide clinicians more 'bang for their buck' but also help them stay updated without spending a significant amount of reading time.

On a related note (though this is about infographics and not videos to be specific), The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) catered to the need of their members by developing concise and attractively designed visual summaries of multiple oncology papers, intended for clinicians. This greatly facilitates their members’ need to stay abreast of latest developments in the field. 

Broadening audience segments

Another perspective worth noting is that the pandemic has resulted in scientists realizing the importance of communicating scientific advancements to various stakeholders including lay audiences. This has brought to the fore the need for not only making science communication simple and easily understandable but also disseminating it through more non-traditional channels. 

Secondly, newer audio-visual formats that help in engaging lay audiences can be highly effective in combating misinformation, enabling policymakers to take informed decisions, and getting people at large to universally trust scientific rigor. For example, various countries have been struggling with convincing their citizens to get vaccinated to fight Covid-19, and most governments have resorted to strict mandates on travel and restricted access for unvaccinated people as a means of persuading people to get vaccinated.

However, apart from a lot of misinformation floating around, one of the root causes for this huge challenge of vaccine hesitancy is the lack of enough scientifically sound data in formats that are easily consumable by lay audiences. Audio-visual formats can go a long way in providing policymakers with strong ammunition for battling disinformation and promoting scientific rigor among lay audiences. And once you have policymakers behind the wheel, it would invariably result in bolstering the discoverability of research through channels that were untapped hitherto. To sum up, audio-visual formats for research dissemination have immense potential in ushering a new era of discoverability and must be accorded appropriate importance.

Shane Rydquist is head of multimedia production at Impact Science. Minhaj Rais is senior manager, strategy and corporate development, at Cactus Communications.