YouTube for sharing Cochrane evidence: could this help us reach a young audience?

In this blog for people interested in communicating research findings Jess Hendon, Managing Editor of Cochrane Common Mental Disorders and Selena Ryan-Vig, Communications and Engagement Officer at Cochrane UK, discuss whether we are missing an obvious opportunity to reach a youth audience through YouTube. This blog is one of a series on Evidently Cochrane, #YoungMindsMatter.

Page checked 23 June 2023


Thursday afternoon and back from school pick-up. Kid #1 is attached to a YouTube footie video on his phone, Kids #2 & #3 are learning how to perform a squishy makeover via YouTube on TV. There is a persistent nag in my mind – are we seriously missing a trick by not exploring how we use YouTube more effectively to extend the reach of Cochrane evidence? Some of you might at this point be thinking surely she should be worrying more about her kids’ screen time than how best to disseminate Cochrane evidence on YouTube whilst stirring the baked beans. Believe me I worry about that too!

But on a more serious note YouTube feels like a force of nature. Could we use it more effectively to reach a loyal new audience, like so many successful YouTubers do? I admit my initial interest is driven by a frustrated fascination in why some, often obscure, content has so many million views; including by me and my own young people. There seems to be an audience for anything and everything on YouTube. With such important content (think of all those hours that go into producing Cochrane evidence) surely it is essential we learn how to find and reach our Cochrane audiences on YouTube. I feel sure they are out there in the ether waiting for us, at the moment they are probably busy watching something less evidence based…

Turned out I wasn’t the only person in Cochrane thinking about how we jump into this world of viral videos and content chaos.   


A few years ago, I was involved in some research exploring what ‘recovery’ means to young people affected by self-harm [1]. Recruiting vulnerable people to share their experiences of recovery was going to be challenging and we wanted to capture people’s views without influencing them. So we turned to YouTube to hear the voices of those who’d posted about their experience of recovery, and identified themes within the videos. The advantages of using this platform were clear: self-harm content on YouTube is prolific and individuals in the videos freely shared their experiences and views [2]. As such, YouTube provided a source of rich information, ripe for exploring people’s views.

Once again, the advantages of YouTube for reaching young people seeking health information are apparent, as I grapple with a different challenge in my role at Cochrane UK: how can we most effectively share the trusted health evidence from Cochrane Reviews? In other words, “get the right reviews, in the right format, to the right audience”. People seek information in different formats and in different places and it’s important that you reach people in places they’re already engaging.

We know that young people are the most common YouTube users and that YouTube is a go-to place for many young people seeking health advice [3, 4]. For example, as long ago as in 2011, the top 100 YouTube videos about self-harm had reportedly been viewed over two million times [2]. Nearly a decade later we’d expect this to be much higher and a quick search will tell you this applies to other health and mental health problems too, such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

YouTube is a go-to place for many young people seeking health advice – it could be a key place to reach young people with Cochrane evidence.

As a key place where young people are searching for information and guidance, placing Cochrane evidence on YouTube could be an effective way of reaching an age group who typically prefer to search online or turn to social media for health information. This is perhaps particularly the case for mental health problems, where there may be even more barriers to seeking help and information elsewhere [5]. What is also very important to a global organisation like Cochrane is that ‘YouTube is localised in over 100 countries and can be accessed in 80 different languages [4].

What’s more, while I trawled through the self-harm videos on YouTube, not only did it strike me how prolific and highly-viewed was, but also how varied and questionable some of it was. Many of the videos were delivered by a young person affected by self-harm, offering advice to others in a similar position. However, while seemingly well-meaning and supportive, the advice typically drew on anecdotes rather than evidence. Of course, there can be value in sharing personal experience alongside evidence, as long as the distinction is clear. By engaging with young people on YouTube, Cochrane Groups could help play an important role in ensuring that some of the information young people find about their health on this key platform is trustworthy and reliable.

So where to next?

We both agree we should do more to explore how Cochrane uses YouTube. It isn’t sufficient to simply set up a channel to act as a repository for a mismatch of content and hope for the best – although that is probably a good place to start.

So if like us you think Cochrane (and the research community more broadly) should do more on YouTube, how do we do this in an effective way? There is plenty of advice out there (ironically in YouTube videos) and there are plenty of YouTubers making a lucrative career that we could try to learn from. It might be useful to look at what the most popular YouTube influencers are doing and see what we could apply to sharing Cochrane content. We have the new Cochrane Dissemination Checklist, to guide our dissemination efforts, and it would be good to challenge ourselves to think about that in the context of YouTube content.

No surprises the trick seems to be knowing your audience and what they want. So like all information outputs, the content we present on YouTube needs to be cleverly tailored to what our different audiences want.

Knowing your audience

One audience Cochrane knows well and is already finding some success with on YouTube is researchers who want to know how to do systematic reviews. The short Cochrane video ‘what are systematic reviews?’ has had over 150k views. At the time of writing, the Cochrane Training channel has 1.78k subscribers and some of the videos posted 3 years ago now have upwards of 10k views. This number is small by comparison to the views some YouTube content gets, but the training videos posted on the Cochrane Common Mental Disorders channel have also been by far the most successful videos posted on that channel to date.

We are in a strong position to understand how the audience of this type of content behaves as they are representative of the majority of people currently working in or with Cochrane. As a first quick win, Cochrane could build on this success and more actively try to optimise the hits for its instructional content. For example, there may be simple things we can do to improve our training channel structure or we could more routinely apply YouTube search engine optimization tips (e.g. renaming videos, optimizing video descriptions etc.).

But where it seems there is even more potential for growth is in using YouTube to reach people who can use our Cochrane Review content in a professional or personal capacity to help inform health decision-making.

We need to know more about these audiences and how they use YouTube. For example, can we reach health practitioners more effectively on YouTube? Should we target the next generation of health professionals in training? To do this how should our content be presented? What sort of content do health professionals want? Are they viewing similar content on YouTube? Are they even on there at all?

Accessing a youth audience

More than anything else YouTube intuitively seems to us to be an obvious place to find a public audience and importantly a youth audience. Young people are growing up with YouTube as an integral way of life. Sarah Elliott, Field Manager Cochrane Child Health, has also been thinking a lot about unlocking the potential of YouTube for sharing Cochrane Reviews.

“Given the number of social media platforms and how quickly they evolve, YouTube seems to be a consistent and powerful tool to connect with a wide audience in a dynamic way. We plan to collaborate with a youth advisory group to help understand the most effective ways to reach a youth audience, and using YouTube is something we want to explore with them”

Talking to young people about using YouTube for our content

So how do we really start to move this forward? Talking to young people about our content and how we could present it on YouTube seems like a sensible place to start. Informal discussions with young people whilst preparing this blog suggests they would watch and search for health related content on YouTube if it is something they want information about. They have opinions about how they would determine if the information is trustworthy. They are also full of opinions on what we would need to do to get good viewing figures, based on their knowledge as proficient and experienced YouTube content navigators, gained through hours spent flicking through content on a daily basis.

Setting up projects to really start to tackle the opportunity YouTube presents for sharing our Cochrane evidence could be a smart next move. Writing this blog has got us thinking about applying for funding to do this. Importantly, we hope it starts a broader conversation about this so we can learn from other’s success. It’s clear that YouTube provides an obvious opportunity to extend the reach of Cochrane evidence but there are also a number of challenges, and we welcome your comments on these.

If we are to engage with young people on YouTube, how do we help ensure that:

  • Cochrane evidence is discoverable; rising to the top of searches amidst the vast amount of other content out there?
  • the evidence is presented in a way that is accessible and engaging for young people?
  • when users do discover it, we can help them appreciate that it is trustworthy and credible?

Take-home points

  • Young people are the most common YouTube users and YouTube is a go-to place for many young people seeking health advice.
  • More can be done to explore how we can better use YouTube to share Cochrane evidence, particularly with young people.
  • We would be wise to work in partnership with young people to understand how to use YouTube for sharing Cochrane evidence.

Join in the conversation on Twitter with @CochraneUK #YoungMindsMatter or leave a comment on the blog. Please note, we will not publish comments that link to commercial sites or appear to endorse commercial products.

References (pdf)

Jessica Hendon has nothing to declare

Selena Ryan-Vig has nothing to declare.

Read Selena’s biography, Jess’s biography appears below.

YouTube for sharing Cochrane evidence: could this help us reach a young audience? by Jessica Hendon

is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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