Social Media in Public Health: can they make a difference?
Do you have a blog, tweet regularly or have a facebook account? Chances are that you answered positive to (at least) one of these. How do I know? Well, seeing that least one out of fourteen people on the planet has a facebook account , you are quite likely to be one of those. I know I am! But even if you do not actually have a profile on a social networking site or your own blog, you are visiting a blog right now, and you have almost surely watched youtube videos which means that you are using social media anyway!
Apart from individuals, social neworking websites are used by organizations too, in order to promote ideas and actions. Public Health bodies could not be an exception to this new trend and have also been using social media (at least some of them!). Prestigious PH schools like the Yale School of Public Health, the Harvard School of Public Health and the School of Public Health, Imperial College London include links to their various social media activities on their homepage (ranging from facebook and twitter profiles to iphone applications!)
Even one step further, some PH campaigns have been based on social media and you can read some examples here, here and here! And let’s not forget the example of the recent tragic earthquake in Japan, where social media played an important role when other forms of communication were difficult.
As expected, a lot of discussion has been stirred in social media to comment about the use of social media in public health! The WHO, for instance, describes what social media can offer to health professionals and citizens here, while you can read other interesting articles here and here! As the last post suggests, evaluation of the effectiveness of the use of social media is important and there has even been a literature review on the effectiveness of the use of social media in public health and you can read a BMJ article about social media and monitoring NHS reforms here.
Quite telling of the evergrowing interest in the subject is the fact that the role of social media is being discussed in PH meetings and conferences and you can find some examples in this article and here!
So is it all as nice as it sounds? Or are there any challenges to face? It is easy when you are a master of your own networking site: you can tweet about what you had for dinner, go 1 month of holidays without updating your blog or even be rude to someone who posts a negative comment on your youtube video (note that I do not recommend that!) and you will be the sole one responsible for your actions (and any consequences will -most probably- affect you and only you. Examples here and here).
But what happens when you are no longer tweeting as an individual but rather in the name of an organization? Who decides what to tweet/facebook/blog about? How often? Who moderates the comments? And how do you make sure that everything is done as timely as possible? Networking sites that are not regularly updated might actually make the organization seem less credible! Seems more complicated now, doesn’t it? CDC has a very impressive website dedicated to such issues, complete with guidelines and instructions that makes it quite clear that a lot of thinking and commitment is required before an organization or a health care provider jumps on the social media wagon! Otherwise things like this might happen…
What is your opinion about the use of social media in public health? What is your personal experience and what should we be careful of?
ps: Literally while I was typing this post, I received an e-mail from the University where I work informing us that they are now on Facebook, Twitter and youtube. No kidding! 🙂