Social media platforms are no longer just for teenagers who want to post photos. These platforms have significant marketing and public health benefits that digitally savvy healthcare professionals can tap into. Still, knowing how to navigate each platform and share pertinent information in an easy-to-understand way requires some skill and finesse.
Successful public health professionals must understand how people access health information in the modern age and how to establish interventions that reach the people who most need them. The Eastern Washington University (EWU) online Master of Public Health (MPH) program equips graduates to pursue in-demand public health careers and utilize social media for their community health purposes. Fundamental courses include Public Health in the Era of Social Media; Health Equity and Advocacy; and Program Planning, Evaluation and Process Improvement.
How Do People Use Social Media to Access Health Information?
Social media is a significant part of people’s daily lives, thanks primarily to widespread smartphone ownership and free access to social media apps. More often, people turn to the internet and online communities for health information and support, according to Public Health Post. It notes that the percentage of U.S. adults using social media has risen from 5% in 2005 to 72% in 2021. In addition, about 86% of all internet users actively participate in at least one social media platform, with as many as 41% viewing YouTube videos for health-related content. Nine percent of internet users are members of an online support group.
What Are the Benefits of Social Media for Public Health Initiatives?
Public health professionals can use various platforms to spread important messages and tools that improve the well-being of individuals and communities. For example, social media can have the following public health benefits:
- Aids in health research. Researchers can find participants for research studies and evaluate the content of online discussions to uncover health topics that people want to know more about. The multimedia style of platforms — such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — allows for easier sharing of studies and emerging research that can appeal to a wide range of audiences.
- Enhances professional development. Public health specialists can also leverage social media to enrich their professional development. With sites like LinkedIn, they can network with other experts in the industry, share information and research and even collaborate on new projects and campaigns.
- Influences policy. Public health policies often take time to develop and consistent advocacy by professionals. Maintaining social media accounts can amplify their voices, raise awareness of emerging health concerns and influence policy changes.
- Combats misinformation. The popularity of social media and the ease of access makes it ripe for misinformation to go viral, with a recent article in JAMA calling it a public health emergency. Public health specialists can address this by sharing evidence-based guidelines on health topics and even holding fact-checking Q&A sessions.
- Promotes healthy living. Public health professionals can use social media to promote healthy living, such as offering reminders about preventive care screenings and creating educational programs around topics like antibiotic use and opioid disorders.
How Can Public Health Specialists Use Social Media Responsibly?
Public health professionals can change how people view health topics, but they must do so responsibly and in a way that avoids health misinformation. These tips can help:
- Provide accurate information backed by research.
- Communicate professional qualifications and level of expertise.
- Collaborate with prominent and trusted community members, including church or nonprofit leaders, to help spread the message and reach marginalized groups.
- Maintain separate personal and professional social media accounts to avoid mixing opinions with facts.
- Avoid complex or technical terms and opt for a simple, straightforward communication style instead.
By adhering to responsible social media practices, public health specialists can maintain public trust and professional integrity while leveraging these powerful tools to distribute information, advocate for change and engage a broad range of community members.
Learn more about Eastern Washington University’s online MPH program.