Using Social Media for Public Health Education and Outreach

According to Pew Research Center, seven in 10 Americans use at least one social media platform, and international usage remains high as well. Nearly all demographics now have access to social media, making it society’s quickest and easiest way to rapidly disseminate critical information to a diverse and multilingual populace. More public health experts are taking note, says the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice (JPHMP), and “creating open-access content, such as infographics, podcasts, videos and blog articles, that can be shared…[with] audiences in their local communities or around the globe.”

Social media permits public health educators to “share reliable, evidence-based information — and help dispel misinformation — with both public and professional audiences,” notes JPHMP. This connectivity allows highlighting emerging health concerns and threats or offering resources and preventive care recommendations.

Below are five ways public health educators can harness the power of social media to deliver their message quickly, effectively and in an engagingly visual manner:

1. Use Highly Visual Multimedia Content

Social media is primarily a visual experience. Therefore, public health institutions must utilize highly engaging graphics and content to attract and maintain followers’ attention. That is why Master of Public Health (MPH) programs offer coursework that covers graphic design, typography, color selection and content creation strategies for various social media platforms. Students enrolled in the MPH program at Eastern Washington University (EWU) learn how to design and incorporate multimedia content into education and outreach initiatives. The program’s course titled Public Health in the Era of Social Media exposes students to these topics.

2. Understand the Target Audience

Public health campaigns can address virtually any demographic group, so experts must be clear on their intended audience. If experts share the latest guidelines for women’s breast cancer prevention, then the message, phrasing and graphics should aim to strengthen engagement with the buyer persona for that content. Identifying the target audience’s wants, needs, desires and fears will assist professionals in building a successful online public health campaign.

3. Cater the Message to the Platform

Since each social media platform has a unique format, modifying the messaging to fit this format allows for easier sharing and engagement. Specific topics may also fare better on different platforms. For example, Twitter users “show a significant participation in discussions related to childhood obesity or strategies against alcohol overconsumption,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So, conversations about these topics may gain more traction there than on other platforms. However, social media generally offers a way to “encourage citizen participation, optimize health systems, be an interactive space for science dissemination, support health policies and promote healthy behaviors,” notes the CDC.

4. Collaborate with Other Experts and Organizations

Public health experts can leverage the interactive — and sometimes viral — nature of social media to foster discussion and expand the reach of their message. A local public health department may collaborate with a school, hospital or nonprofit organization by cross-posting and sharing information across the other’s social media accounts. Collaborations may help public health leaders connect with populations they otherwise would not — particularly vulnerable, low-income and rural communities — and improve health equity among historically disadvantaged groups. Public health educators may collaborate with a range of individuals and entities, including policymakers, researchers and advocacy coalitions.

5. Share Content Regularly

Regular social media posting is helpful to stay connected with the public and foster a greater sense of trust. Not only will more frequent online activity influence the algorithms of social media platforms, but public health leaders can also supply a steady stream of practical, evidence-based information to community members.

Social media is a low-cost, high-impact public health tool. Ideal for health promotion, education and advocacy efforts, these platforms permit the rapid sharing of relevant information to general populations. Public health educators should consider integrating social media into their outreach initiatives.

Learn more about Eastern Washington University’s online Master of Public Health program.

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