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Wellcome Trust

Mun-Keat wearing an enigmatic smile and holding a book about evolutionWho you are and what you do? 

I’m Mun-Keat Looi, Online Editor for the Wellcome Trust. I’m in charge of the content strategy for the Trust’s digital channels, which essentially means I commission and edit content for the Trust’s website, including news, feature articles and multimedia, as well as run the Trust’s blog and social media channels.

What online tools do you use to communicate? 

Wellcome Trust website

Our main website, of course. We also have numerous other sites for various different projects, such as the Wellcome Library, Wellcome Collection and our Human Genome and Malaria sites. We also have a blog, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube channels.

For what purpose?  What are you trying to communicate and with whom? 

Because we’re an independent funding body we’re not fundraising, nor are we affiliated to government. Our main purpose is to raise awareness of what the Trust does and why we’re doing it. We also try to highlight people’s good work or interesting findings. This is partly to attract the best people to apply for our funding but also to raise interest and awareness in biomedical science, medicine, and the medical humanities. It may also lead to new collaborations or ideas across different disciplines and maybe even between scientists and non-scientists.

We have a varied audience. We support all kinds of different research scientists, from geneticists to neuroscientists or social scientists. Outside of science we support ethicists, artists and filmmakers, to name just a few. And the person reading our information might be anyone: a politician, a research scientist or a GCSE student. We try to make our content as accessible as possible, no matter the person’s background.

What resources do you have for this?

I can’t comment on how much we spend, but we have a communications team of about 40 people that encompasses Editorial, Media Office, Web, Design and Marketing. Together we produce our print and online communications. We have to support the infrastructure to run our websites but beyond this our channels, such as the blog, are run on free services and the main resource is employee time.

Wellcome Trust Blog

Particularly with new channels like the blog and Twitter, we’re trying to get more staff outside of Communications to get involved. The specialist staffs in many different areas know what’s noteworthy and interesting. I’m keen to tap into their enthusiasm and passion as I believe that’s a large part of getting people interested in your subject.  Likewise, we’re trying as much as possible to get our own researchers, and others we work with, to contribute and say what they’re interested in and why.

Do you have a strategy for how you use online media? 

We use our different channels in different ways depending on who might be most likely to visit that area. For example, our funding information is focused on the types of researchers that might be interested. Our blog is more informal and we feature many stories that wouldn’t get covered on the ‘official’ website. We also give a voice to people we fund and staff members, and highlight interesting research that might not have been picked up in the media.

Our videos highlight research or events that lend themselves to visual storytelling and can give a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at findings, and give the science a face. We use our Twitter and Facebook channels to point people to interesting links and information – most, but not necessarily all, directly linked to the Trust. We also use these to have more direct dialogue with our audiences.

What benefits, outcomes and challenges have emerged from using online media?

Among the many benefits is the ability to communicate directly with your audience(s). Rather than rely on the mainstream media, there’s an opportunity to create your own stories and broadcast them yourself. We’ve had some fantastic stories in features, films and blog posts over the past few years that we wouldn’t have been able to do 10 years ago – there’d have been nowhere to put them and no way to find them. Now with search engines, RSS and social media channels, people are increasingly getting their information however they want, curated in the way they prefer. Mainstream media is still very important, of course, and these new technologies come with other challenges in terms of how your organisation is viewed and what people are saying about you –.you can’t ‘manage the news agenda’ as organisations might have done in the past.

Wellcome Trust Twitter

Of course, these technologies offer benefits beyond just broadcast – you can have actual dialogue with your audience(s) via Twitter, Facebook or blog comments. This is really exciting and something that hasn’t been utilised to its fullest yet.  That’s probably one of the biggest challenges we face: how best to use this to benefit our community. We’re still in the early stages of this ourselves.

In terms of more exact outcomes, we’ve gained a real web presence – in just two years we’ve gained over 12,000 followers on Twitter, with a reach much wider than that and beyond our usual circles. Our blog gets over 16,000 views a month, oftentimes comparable to the traffic the news section of our main website gets. I’d like to think we’ve made our brand a bit more personable – less an anonymous, amorphous organisation and more a brand with many voices, staffed by real people working for a good cause, who are passionate about their mission. Certainly from the exchanges we’ve had, people have warmed to that, and we’ve found out a lot about the kinds of people interested in our work, what they think and how that might help us improve the way we work.

Recently we’ve run a countdown of ‘Did you know?’ facts for our 75th anniversary and organised a behind-the-scenes tour of our buildings for our online friends. That’s been a really interesting exercise in generating interest online, sharing stuff and taking online conversations into the real world.

What are you planning in the future? 

We hope to do more multimedia content on our website: more YouTube films, infographics and interactives that offer new ways to engage with biomedical topics. We’ll keep experimenting with what we put on the blog and hopefully find new voices to tell new stories.

There are ever more people active in science blogging or using online technologies to collaborate or communicate their work. So I’m also hoping we can work more with our community – particularly our community of researchers – to see what they might find useful for their own work and careers.

What would be your top tips? If you had to pick one thing what would it be? 

Don’t be afraid to give a new technology a try. But when you do, be clear about your purpose: why are you communicating? What do you want to communicate and with who? And why are you using this particular platform?

Please share your thoughts or ask Mun-Keat a question below…

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