Information Flow: From research to the media.


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For most scientists and scientific organizations, external communications is an afterthought. In this age of “instant” news and nonstop social media feeds, how can scientists break through the noise and broaden the appeal of their research to garner media attention and grow public understanding? Hsiao-Ching Chou, the Director of Communications at Institute for Systems Biology, shares some insight about how she was able to transform the communications program at ISB from zero to a bustling network of news – and on a nonprofit budget.

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  • There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be featured in The New York Times or Wired or some other high-profile media outlet. But it should not be your goal. Just as researchers are dealing with sequestration and dwindling funds, the media are dealing with an ever-fractured audience, shrinking ad dollars, and smaller staffs. Journalists and media organizations can’t cover as many stories as they might have in the past.Before blogging and social media became so ubiquitous, the only way to share information with the masses was to go through national newspapers, magazines and broadcast media. But now, there are so many fantastic – and often free – tools at your disposal that empower YOU to tell your own story.You can’t wait for The New York Times to notice your research. There is a chasm between you and the glory of that level of media exposure. It is up to you to close the gap. They’re not going to notice you if you don’t make yourself noticeable. The mere fact that you have published a research paper is not going to do it.Even if you get a bite from the media, it may take months and months before a story sees the light of day.
  • What’s the first you do when you want to learn about any subject or person? What do you think a reporter does? So, are YOU Google-able?
  • Seth Godin is an entrepreneur, author of 17 books, and marketing guru. Bill Gates said the same thing in 1996. What this means basically is that it’s smart to create content (words, graphics, photos, videos) that show audiences what you’re about. I guarantee that if a reporter is interested but undecided about covering your work he/she will ask you whether there is existing content that can offer insight into the subject.
  • You have to make it easy for the public to engage. It means simplifying (not dumbing down) and creating different entry points (images, graphics, bullet points, good user interface).Even The New York Times must deal with finding new ways to connect with readers. “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” marked a new way for the NYT to tell multimedia stories.
  • A good communications program does not happen in a silo. In systems biology, we study interactions within biological networks on a molecular level. But we also look at those networks in relation to networks on the cellular level, tissue, organs and so forth. It’s a network of networks and they have dynamic interactions that can reveal novel information. The systems approach also applies to the cross-disciplinary and collaborative aspect of our culture. This same approach to a practice and culture same can apply to communications. It’s scalable and can knock down some walls between departments.
  • INTERNAL: These are my internal resources. I collect or produce my “data sets” from these resources. Data sets include: research news, explanations for papers, photos, figures, graphics, videos.  COMMUNICATIONS PLATFORMS: This is where the “magic” happens and we find the signal amid the noise. We figure out how to package stories and how best to share those stories with the world. EXTERNAL: Once we share content with our external audiences, our hope is that we can engage them and inspire them to connect with us.
  • Our editorial board members include one postdoc from each lab group. Each is responsible for updating the group on the publication status of an upcoming paper and to offer a brief synopsis. We decide whether a paper should be publicized and, if so, what the “gee-whiz” factor is. It’s up to the lab rep to talk to the authors and PI and write a short summary, which is intended to be more accessible than the abstract. Communications adds appropriate headlines, images/graphics, bullet points and then we post on Molecular Me. From there, it can be promoted on the home page of our main site, our newsletters, direct emails, social media, etc.
  • Screen shots of our platforms that show the flow of the information from ed board.
  • It’s not easy, but it’s doable. Start small. Show signs of life. Start to understand what your communications system is and the networks that give it life and dimension. Publish your stories, build your networks of external audiences. Do this and your audiences will grow. Make it easy for The New York Times to knock on your door.
  • Information Flow: From research to the media.

    1. 1. SCIENCE IS SLOW. POPULAR MEDIA IS SLOWER. You have the power to tell your story.
    2. 2. ARE YOU GOOGLE-ABLE? If nothing else, show signs of life.
    3. 3. CONTENT IS KING ‘Content marketing is the only marketing left.’ – Seth Godin
    4. 4. ‘INNOVATE ON BEHALF OF THE READER.’ Make it easy for audiences to engage.
    5. 5. TAKE A SYSTEMS APPROACH TO COMMUNICATIONS. Build a network of networks for communications resources.
    6. 6. EXAMPLE OF INNOVATION ISB created an editorial board to ‘manage up’ news and triage journal publications.
    7. 7. CONNECTING THE DOTS Develop good content and the publicity will follow.
    8. 8. Hsiao-Ching Chou Director of Communications Twitter: @hsiaoching & @ISBUSA Facebook: ISB.USA Download slides at: