QC Microbiology and Social Media – A Microbiology Network Survey

Scott Sutton, PhD

 

The Microbiology Network recently conducted a survey of the use of social media by microbiologists in the regulated industries.  There has been a significant increase in the use of social media by scientific organizations in this area as social media enters the mainstream (Bik and Goldstein 2013, Racaniello 2010).
Social media offers enormous opportunities for benchmarking practice and training of staff. 

There are a variety of useful information sources for the QC microbiologist in social media, as well as opportunities to benchmark practices, training opportunities, and enjoyable avenues to keep current with the latest in news and developments in virtually any area of interest to the industrial microbiologist.  All it takes is a little research and an open mind.

Survey of Social Media Usage

The Microbiology Network recently conducted a survey of social media usage by QC microbiologists.  This survey was conducted online, and in a two-week period had 385 people fill out at least a portion of the 10-question form.   272 of these completed the form, but 7 noted that they did not use social media and so were not included.  These results of social media usage are based, then, on the 265 remaining.
It should be noted that this is by no means a random survey of the QC Microbiology population.  The survey was mailed out primarily to users of the PMFList, and was posted on the Microbiology Network Facebook page as well as several LinkedIn discussion groups.  It must therefore be assumed that the respondents are more technologically sophisticated than is the norm.

The majority of the responses came from subscribers to the PMFList and the industry make-up of the valid respondents is presented in Figure 1.   It seems that this group at least had familiarity with social media on its side.  Of the valid respondents, 70% reported actively participating in at least one form of social media (the other 30% presumably “lurkers” – monitoring the social medium without participating in the discussions).

The survey looked at two main questions – What social media are being used and what is it used for?  As to the first part of the question, Figure 2 provides a Pareto Chart of social media usage.  The different types and of social media will be discussed in the order of this chart.  The second part of the question pertains to the reasons given for the use of social media and is summarized in Table 1 (below).

Email Discussion Groups

The basic concept for an Email discussion group is to encourage discussion around a unifying topic.  The basic mechanism is to have a central Email address to which all mail is sent.  If a subscriber has a question or comment it is sent by Email to that address.  The email is then resent to all participants.  If one (or more) participant wishes to comment on the Email, that reply is then sent to the central address for redistribution and the cycle repeats.

The Email discussion group is by far the most established of the social media to be discussed in this article (the only older one internet social medium is Usenet which has fallen into obscurity).  Email discussion groups have an established history of use in medicine and science (Costello 2000, Dewitt 2004, Johnson 2003, Ramos 2004).

There are two Email discussion groups of use to the QC microbiologist – the PMFList and the PSDGList.   Use of the PMFList (as well as the other social media discussed) is presented in Table 1.  “Benchmarking”, “Current Events” and “Personal Interest” are the majority of the respondent’s uses for the PMFList.

Table 1 – Purpose of Social Media Usage (as % respondents)

Benchmarking

Current Events

Personal Interest

Training

Other/Don’t Use

PMFList

25

27

24

14

13

LinkedIn

22

13

44

6

18

Facebook

0

5

62

4

32

YouTube

1

6

40

9

44

Google+

3

10

26

3

61

Twitter

0

10

20

2

69

Pinterest

0

2

21

0

77

Flickr

0

2

11

0

87

FourSquare

1

3

9

0

88

LinkedIn Discussion Groups

The professional social media site LinkedIn provides several different opportunities for the QC microbiologist, so it is no surprise that this is a popular service (Kelley 2012).  The primary purpose of this social medium is to provide an opportunity for professionals to communicate.  As such, the user’s “profiles” are organized much like a resume – including opportunities to list previous employment, education, references, publications, etc.
LinkedIn also provides the users with an opportunity to participate, or even create, “discussion groups” which operate as bulletin board services where people post messages on the web site and others may comment on those postings.  Each discussion group has a separate area for promotions (to minimize direct commercial appeal) and jobs.    The primary uses for this service are “Personal Interest” and “Benchmarking”, according to the respondents (Table 1).

Facebook

Facebook is one of the services that defines social media today and is more of a pure social media, with the focus on individual’s information and relationships.  In addition to the individual’s “Profile” information (relationships, “friends”, photos, etc.) there is also the opportunity for Company Pages that can promote your service or products with coupons, specials, information, etc.  The main use of Facebook by the respondents was for “Personal Interest”.

Twitter

Established in 2006, Twitter is a messaging service that allows users to post short (140 character) “Tweets” to their followers.  Twitter is the service most open to abuse, and it is often abused by tweets of absolutely no interest to anyone except the person writing the message.  However, it also offers a good way to rapidly disseminate information.   Far from being the exclusive domain of the preteens, many serious organizations are using this service to get information out quickly and to direct people to web-based information sources.   The Microbiology Network maintains a twitter feed of current events for the microbiology community @MicrobiologyNet that has about 9,000 followers (current number on Microbiology Network website).  The very brevity of the tweet format can encourage concise expression of ideas and concepts.

Relatively few (30%) of respondents were using twitter at the time of the survey, and their use was split between “Current Events” and “Personal Interest” (Table 1).

Blogs

Blogs are basically online journals that are presented by an individual or group.  This form of web publishing has exploded in recent years due to the ease of blogging and the multitude of hosting services available.   The growth of the blogosphere has become so pervasive that the continued viability of print magazines is a topic of serious discussion (@sullydish 2013).   After all, why pay for a magazine when the same information at comparable writing level is available free and can be tailored to your specific interests?

Many blogs are published on a regular basis that would be of interest to the QC microbiologist or quality professional – in some regards these may well serve to replace journals in terms of timely information.   In addition, the ease and low cost of blogging encourages groups with alternative viewpoints to publish easily.   The educational opportunities in this medium are obvious (Farrell 2011, Racaniello 2010)

Blog usage seems popular in the technically sophisticated microbiology world – 54% of respondents in the recent survey stated they read blogs on a regular basis.  Some blogs of particular interest to the QC microbiologist include:

Podcasts

Podcasts are fundamentally a radio show, or a television show, broadcast over the internet to a compatible device.  Avoiding the public airwaves, this technology provides broadcast capability to any individual or organization with a modicum of technical ability.  Podcasts are a relatively recent development, gaining in popularity since around 2005.  One of the large contributors to podcast development was Apple, whose iTunes release in 2005 had native support for podcasts – which also virtually shut down development of other podcast media due to the overwhelming presence of iTunes in the marketplace.   Podcasts can be in virtually any format, although audio and videos are the primary formats available.  There are a variety of podcasts available through the iTunes store (free subscriptions through the iTunes store) and on independent servers.   Only 18% of the respondents listened to podcasts regularly.

Other services

Other social media services included in the survey were

  • YouTube
  • Google+
  • Pinterest
  • Flickr
  • Foursquare

None of these social media were widely used by the respondents, especially not for professional purposes.

Conclusions

Social media offer a wealth of information and capabilities to the QC microbiologist, but few are taking advantage of the opportunities presented.    The apparent under-utilization of social media seems to represent a missed opportunity by QC microbiologists to interact with others across the country and across the world, as well as providing the potential for training at a fraction of the traditional cost.  This survey also shows that once a technology matures (for example the PMFList and the PSDGList Email discussion groups) participation becomes enthusiastic.

References

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  2. Bik, HM and MC Goldstein.  2013.  An Introduction to Social Media for ScientistsPlos Pathogens 11(4):e1001535.
  3. Costello, R et al.  2000.  The Use of Electronic Mail in Biomedical CommunicationJ Amer Med Informatics Assoc7(1):103-105.
  4. Dewitt, AL et al.  2004.  Critical Care Medicine Mailing list: Growth of an Online ForumBrit Med J  328:1180.
  5. Farrell, A., et al.  2011.  Teaching Web 2.0 Beyond the Library:  Adventures in Social Media, the Class.  Med Ref Serv Quart  30(3):233-244.
  6. Johnston, BA.  2003.  Utilization of the BackMed Email Discussion List in a Specialized Health Sciences Learning Center: a Cost-benefit AnalysisJ Med Libr Assoc   91:366-368.
  7. Kelley, J.   2012.   It’s Time to Link Up with Linkedln PDA Letter48(3):16-17.
  8. Racaniello, V.  2010.  Social Media and Microbiology EducationPLoS Pathogens  6(10):e1001095.
  9. Ramos. JD et al.  2004.  International Online Discussion Lists on Chronic Myelogenous Leukaemia. Brit Med J  328:1178-1179.
  10. @Sullydish 2013.  The Death Of Blogs? Or Of Magazines?
  11. Trueman, M. & D. Miles.  2011.  Twitter in the Classroom.  Nurse Educator  36(5):183-186.

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