Tuesday, February 11, 2014

We’ve created a monster and we feel fine: the CIRM blog reaches 1000 posts

The CIRM blog must be fed! (Photo: Stage and Cinema: bit.ly/1eO9ckE)
Believe me when I say I don’t believe in the supernatural. But every morning when the CIRM communications team does a quick check-in about our social media plans for the day, we hear a ghostly voice from our laptops. A few years back it was just an intermittent whisper but now it’s become a constant, deafening two word snarl, “FEED ME!,” like something out of the Little Shop of Horrors. The source of that relentless growl is our blog, CIRM Stem Cell Research Updates, and it’s actually music to our ears.

Our former communications manager, Amy Adams, formalized the CIRM blog that began as short posts about CIRM-funded projects written by Don Gibbons in 2008 and 2009. About five years ago Amy decided to expand those to provide the public with easy-to-understand recaps of the latest progress in all stem cell research, while keeping an emphasis on our grantees’ work. An analysis of the blog showed that the more entries we wrote, the more popular the blog became. Fewer blog entries meant declines in readership. It became a monster that had to be fed and we’ve been happily typing up lots of stem cell morsels for it.

In the past two years, we have made a big push to increase the number of blogs each week, even each day, by including more “that’s cool!” stem cell science stories and inviting a wider range of authors from our own staff as well as blogs from the general stem cell community. The strategy has paid off as we’re nearing half a million lifetime page-views, averaging 25,000 views per month (compared to 8,000 per month four years ago), and last Friday we wrote our 1000th blog entry.

I find it fitting that the blog which got us to that milestone epitomizes the mission of CIRM: it’s a story that describes how $40 million in CIRM funding since 2010 to San Diego-based Viacyte, Inc. is helping shepherd the development of a stem cell based therapy for type 1 diabetes to clinical trials later this year. And in the process, our support has attracted an additional boost of more than $10 million in funding from JDRF, a private foundation that is the global leader in funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research.

Interest in the biotech industry and the progress of stem cell-based research toward the clinic is also reflected in our two most-read blog entries. Number one describes the optimism for regenerative medicine at an annual “State of the Industry” meeting last January between biotech leaders and investors. And the number two blog summarized a report last year that ranked the California biotech industry at the top in terms of jobs, new therapies, and venture capital investment.

But our readership is not just drawn to the business of stem cells since our third most read blog is about stem cell science finding its way into an episode of the TV cartoon, The Family Guy. It goes to show that bridging mainstream media with stem cell science is an effective and important way to get these two cultures speaking each other’s language.

Our other all-time most read blogs focus on disease-specific stem cell research such as spinal cord injury, diabetes, HIV, and Parkinson’s. Clearly, our readers are hungry for information about the latest progress on stem cell-based treatments for disease. So as our grantees and other stem cell scientists across the globe continue pushing the envelope in their understanding of disease and how to treat it, we’ll keep experimenting with new strategies to keep our blog well fed and our readers well aware of the latest and greatest stem cell news. Thanks for reading.

Todd Dubnicoff

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