Using Social Media to Expand Knowledge Translation Capabilities

Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC) logo

American Institutes for Research
Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center
Submitted by Dahlia Shaewitz, Deeza-Mae Smith, and Rosemarie Belanger


This case study presents an example of multifaceted knowledge translation activities that have practical applications for researchers. The example introduces a series of tools designed to help plan, implement, and monitor social media to promote research, and it highlights the collaboration between the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC) and a Model Systems (MS) grantee, the Midwest Regional Spinal Cord Injury Care System (MRSCICS), as they piloted these tools. This work included an introductory webinar followed by a web clinic. The webinar brought awareness to the value of social media to translate research, and the web clinic shared strategies to use social media tools for dissemination and tracking. MSKTC developed three social media tools for the web clinic. These tools walk grantees through the process of creating and implementing social media plans and activities to disseminate research to their stakeholders.


MSKTC, housed within American Institutes for Research (AIR), is a national center funded by the National Institute for Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR). MSKTC summarizes research, identifies health information needs, and develops information resources to support the MS programs in meeting the needs of individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injury (SCI), and burn injury.

The MS grantees are also funded by NIDILRR to conduct innovative and high-quality research, provide patient care, and offer other services to improve the health and overall quality of life among individuals with TBI, SCI, and burn injury.

Knowledge Translation Strategies

MSKTC uses the Knowledge to Action model to guide its approach to knowledge translation, in partnership with MS grantees (Graham et al., 2006). MS researchers and clinicians create knowledge while MSKTC supports MS knowledge translation efforts through the development of knowledge translation tools and products that can be used within the MS research as part of their knowledge translation planning and implementation.

According to the Pew Internet Health Tracking Survey administered in 2012 to over 3,000 adults, 72% of internet users had looked online for health information, specifically for information about diseases and treatments (Fox, 2014). Pew Research Center has also tracked the use of social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, etc.) over the past decade. Such use increased from 5% in 2005 to 68% in 2016 (Greenwood, Perrin, & Duggan, 2016). The large percentage of internet users in search of health information, coupled with the notable increase in the use of social media tools over the years, underscores the need for increased sharing of information through the internet, specifically through social media platforms. MS can benefit from the higher proportion of internet users relying on social media for information by sharing their research in effective ways and increasing the recognition of MS as a reliable source of information. Understanding how to use social media tools to expand the reach of understanding on topics relevant to SCI, TBI, and burn injuries is another strategy in the knowledge translation toolkit for MS.

MSKTC staff first designed a webinar to introduce the concept of social media, including its significant value and use to inform the general public about health-related information. Experts in digital media and health communications from AIR presented a wealth of information about social media, which options work to support different goals, and how to begin planning to use these platforms. Webinar participants followed up with MSKTC to request additional training specifically on how to create a social media plan, how to implement that plan (including what resources are needed), and how to track data on the use of those platforms to show results. As a result, MSKTC staff developed three tools (Figure 1): Guide for Developing a Social Media Plan, Social Media Development Workbook, and Social Media Development Content Calendar.

These tools are downloadable, printable, and easily usable by grantees. The tools provide step-by-step guidance to help grantees determine whether they have the necessary infrastructure in place to set up and maintain a social media presence and to plan, develop, and launch a social media presence.

A national survey of 1,520 adults, published by Pew Research Center in 2016, found that out of the 86% of Americans who used the internet, 79% used Facebook, 24% used Twitter, 31% used Pinterest, 32% used Instagram, and 29% used LinkedIn. Factoring in Americans who do not use the internet at all, that means that 68% of all U.S. adults were Facebook users, while 28% used Instagram, 26% used Pinterest, 25% used LinkedIn, and 21% used Twitter (Greenwood, Perrin, & Duggan, 2016).

MRSCICS, one of the MS grantees, offered to pilot the use of these tools as they developed their social media strategy. This pilot examined the usability of these resources by grantees as they engaged in the process of planning, developing, and implementing their specific social media presence.

MSKTC staff provided guidance to MRSCICS as they launched a social media presence that would be consistent with the knowledge translation goals of their organization. Key to this approach was the need for MRSCICS to develop and maintain an engaging and high-quality social media presence with very limited resources (i.e., staff and time). The Social Media Guide and Workbook lays out a three-stage process: planning, executing, and monitoring and optimizing. MRSCICS piloted the tools through the planning phase and identified their intended stakeholders or audience, determined the current level of interest and engagement of their audience, and identified the ways in which they were already serving and communicating with those stakeholders. From there, MRSCICS planned and developed their social media voice (e.g., character, tone, language and purpose) through which they could inform, educate, empower, engage, and listen to that audience. MRSCICS charted the staffing requirements to develop and maintain their potential platform, and used the Social Media Development Content Calendar (Figure 2) to draft a timeline of potential posts on such topics as events and conferences, study recruitment, awareness observances, inspirational stories, interviews with MRSCICS staff, and much more.

Figure 2 Example: Excerpt from MRSCICS Social Media Calendar
2015-2016 January February March
RIC Campaigns      
Events-Audience Awareness      
SCI Studies at RIC (Recruiting, retention, or publishing)      
Awareness Observances (Days)     3/24/2016 American Diabetes Alert Day
Awareness Observances (Month-long) Cervical Cancer Awareness Month; National Winter Sports Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Awareness Month American Heart Month Brain Injury Month
Holidays 1/1/2016 New Year's Day; 1/18/206 Martin Luther King Jr. Day 02/08/2016 Chinese New Year; 02/10/2016 Ash Wednesday; 02/14/2016 Valentine's Day; 02/15/2016 President's Day 03/17/2016 St. Patrick's Day; 03/25/2016 Good Friday; 03/17/2016 Easter
Inspirational Stories (Repost RIC content? Create original stories?)      
Living with an SCI--Basics Review (MSKTC Factsheets) Pain MSKTC factsheet Depression AfterTraumatic Brain Injury MSKTC factsheet Safe Transfer Technique MSKTC factsheet
Facing Disabilities Content      
SCI Science in the News      
Know Your MRSCICS Team (short interview video)      


MSKTC obtained feedback from MRSCICS as they piloted the tools. The tools and guidance enabled MRSCICS to increase their capacity to realize their knowledge translation goals of becoming a powerful resource in the day-to-day lives of their primary consumer audience. This project demonstrated that organizations with the appropriate guidance and tools can develop an intentional and well-organized approach to using social media, which can dramatically increase their ability to disseminate important, helpful information to various audiences.

MS programs have varying degrees of social media presence. The social media tools and technical assistance provided by MSKTC are part of a larger series of knowledge translation tools that MS and other researchers may find useful to support and expand the implementation of their knowledge translation plan. To measure the impact of all knowledge translation supports provided to MS grantees, including these social media tools, MSKTC administers an evaluation survey. This survey is sent to all recipients of MSKTC knowledge translation supports and services, including MS staff and other researchers. The survey provides MSKTC staff with information about the usefulness, relevance, and applicability of the services and tools provided, and obtains user opinions on the quality of services and its value to their work. MSKTC also continuously reviews website analytics to determine the use and reach of posted materials; staff monitor the number of downloads, views, and clicks on these tools to measure the frequency with which they are accessed.

Contact Information

Phone: 202-403-5600
Contact: Cindy Cai


Fox, S. (2014, January 15). The social life of health information. Retrieved from

Graham, I. D., Logan, J., Harrison, M. B., Straus, S. E., Tetroe, J., Caswell, W., & Robinson, N. (2006). Lost in knowledge translation: Time for a map? Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 26(1), 13–24

Greenwood, S., Perrin, A., & Duggan, M. (2016, November). Social media update 2016. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Retrieved from