The NIOSH Science Blog was launched in November 2007. Since that date, over 70 unique posts have appeared on the blog. With over 23,000 blog subscribers and more than 1,200 comments posted to the blog, NIOSH perceives that the blog is a useful communication tool. NIOSH was interested in learning more about the blog users, understanding the usefulness of the blog to its readers and determining if the blog is an effective tool for engaging stakeholders and the public in two-way communication.
A study recently published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine used an online survey accessed on the NIOSH Science Blog to evaluate the blog’s effectiveness. A summary of the results follows.
Who is reading the blog?
The demographic data collected from the survey revealed that the majority of the respondents to the survey were highly educated, non-Hispanic, white, and at least 40 years of age or older. The respondents were also evenly split between male and female. Most participants were safety and health professionals, healthcare professionals, or government affiliated. While these data were collected over the course of four different blog posts, to help increase the likelihood of getting a more accurate snapshot of the readership, it is difficult to say if this is representative of the larger group of readers. To determine if there were differences in the audience based on the topic of the blog posting, the data were segmented by the timeframe collected and matched with the corresponding blog topic at that time. The results of this effort showed that education, race, ethnicity, and age did not differ when comparing individual blogs to the overall results. Participants were looking most often for health information followed by NIOSH publications, safety tips, educational information, research information, explanation of research, and opportunity to contact NIOSH.
How useful is the NIOSH Science Blog?
The current research provides a snapshot in time of the NIOSH Science Blog. While the study was limited in some aspects, the data shows that the Blog has value for readers. At least 69.4% of participants indicated that the Blog was a useful or a very useful resource for information. Sixty percent of participants planned to continue using the Blog in the next 6 months. Forty-four percent of participants said they were very satisfied with the Blog.
Given that the majority of the respondents reported that they found the Blog to be a useful tool and planned to visit it again in the future, it could be argued that the NIOSH Science Blog has the potential to significantly impact behavior change in the workplace. A high number of participants indicated they will use information to educate others through training or disseminating the information on the blog. In addition, several respondents indicated they would make a change in workplace safety and health procedures and policies or make changes in workplace safety and health engineering controls, safety equipment or protective clothing. These are significant findings in the effort to improve and protect the health and safety of the nation’s workforce.
Does the blog engage stakeholders and the public in two-way communication?
Although the generalizability of the survey results is limited, there were several important suggestions obtained from the findings regarding the relevance, impact, and reach of the Blog in the future. Expanding topics seems an important way to broaden community readership. The survey results suggest that adding more topics of general interest would be a valuable change to the NIOSH Science Blog. This suggestion is consistent with what NIOSH had already seen in the web metrics for the Blog site, where blog topics that concentrate more on internal NIOSH programs have been much less popular then those with broader appeal. It is also consistent with feedback that the investigators received from attendees at national occupational safety and health meetings and public health meetings.
The survey showed that there could be some improvement in the use of the Science Blog for two-way communication. Currently, readers submit their comments and questions, which are then reviewed and posted by the blog moderator. The reader waits for the blog author to answer the comment. This format is not atypical for “mediated” blogs, and in general people do have a waiting period after commenting on any blog before they see a response. Nevertheless, it would be beneficial to the communication between NIOSH and those providing comments to provide a more immediate feedback mechanism.
This study has created a picture in time of the NIOSH Blog community and collected ideas and opinions about the Blog itself. While the findings may not reflect in entirety the larger Blog community, the investigators plan to use these preliminary data as the basis for future studies evaluating the Science Blog as a mechanism for two-way communication, whether or not it is engaging new stakeholders in conversations about workplace safety and health and how to make innovative changes that will increase its utility and impact. The NIOSH Science Blog is an opportunity for NIOSH to share its great wealth of knowledge and credibility, to build worker communities, and profoundly expand its horizons in the future. We welcome your comments and suggestions about the usefulness of the NIOSH Science Blog.
Dr. Sublet is a Senior Health Scientist in the NIOSH Office of Health Communication.
Ms. Spring is a Health Communication Specialist in the NIOSH Office of the Director.
Dr. Howard is the Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.