Health promotion is a way of enabling people to increase control over their health and improve their health. Over the years the major communication tools used in health promotion were traditional media such as televisions, radios, billboards, print media (posters, magazines). More recently social media is gaining popularity as another effective communication tool in health promotion.
Social media are computer-based technologies that allow sharing of thoughts, ideas and information between individuals and groups. It has special characteristics such as bidirectional or multidirectional exchange of content between its users which allow such contents to reach a large audience in a short time frame. It is a cost effective and interactive tool that can be used to communicate with the hard to reach population groups. Popular social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Myspace, YouTube, Pinterest and LinkedIn.
A targeted approach which makes health promotion more effective is social marketing. It involves applying commercial marketing technologies to the analysis, planning, execution and evaluation of programs designed to influence the voluntary behaviour of target audiences in order to improve their welfare and that of the society
The following strategies described below should be considered when using social media to market behaviour change in health. They are effective strategies which have been used in successful health promotion programs/interventions.
- Having clear and well defined objectives when using social media for health promotion. Goals and objectives help define the program plan and usually come before planning, monitoring and evaluation strategies. The objectives should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and be Time bound (SMART) and must be continually reviewed during the planning, monitoring and evaluation phase of any health promotion program.
- Conducting a thorough research to define the target audience, understand their unique characteristics, understand factors which influence their behaviour and the best methods of reaching them. These findings can help identify user needs and plan ways in using social media platform to meets their needs.
- Using behavioural theories to guide social media programs. Theories such as stages of change theory, social learning theory, health belief model and theory of reasoned action have been used in social marketing programs in the past.
- Incorporating key elements of social marketing into social media health promotion campaigns. These include: behaviour, customer orientation, theory, insight, exchange, segmentation and methods mix.
- Creating a brand on social media which can serve as a good advertisement tool and also improve message recall. Branding is described as a well-established marketing strategy to influence a consumer’s perception about a message. Brands can be created through paid advertisements, publishing brand content on social channels, participating in social networks as a brand persona, It is important to choose a brand that will appeal to the target group.
- Choosing the most appropriate social media channel for the health message. The choice of the social media channel should be based on the purpose of the health promotion project and the target audience to be reached. However, it is important to consider available resources such as technical expertise and support. Starting with less demanding tools which do not require large resources is a great way to start and build experience with use of social media. Consumer reach is higher on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube and these should be the preferred social media platforms for health promotion. Facebook has a lot of users and the widest reach for the general population but young adults find Instagram more appealing. When using Facebook, it is important to be very creative to attract the attention of the target audience.
- Creating and stimulating user participation through creative contents which focus on end benefits. Adverts, videos, new links and program updates are ways to engage users. Adverts generate curiosity and can be customized to user preferences. Making the platform interactive also maintains and retains users. When a user finds the message/content of a campaign interesting and feels a connection to the message it usually stimulates participation and engagement.
- Ensuring access to social media platforms by avoiding use of passwords and providing free access to social media sites.
- Including social media as part of traditional media campaign. This provides an opportunity to engage more users and reach a larger audience.
- Using mobile interventions to complement social media. Mobile technologies allow people to access social media through hand held devices such as smart phones and tablets. Mobile phone apps can also be used for interventions in weight management, diabetes management, blood pressure management and smoking cessation.
- Developing an effective framework for evaluation of the health promotion program. To evaluate social media projects there should be a structure which assesses inputs, activities, outputs and short- and long-term benefits. On-going evaluation helps to reshape strategy and processes for future projects.
When carefully put into consideration, these strategies would ensure an effective and successful social media health promotion project.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2011. The health Communicator’s Social Media Toolkit. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/socialmedia/tools/guidelines/pdf/socialmediatoolkit_bm.pdf.
- Chou, W. Y. S., Prestin, A., Lyons, C., & Wen, K. Y. (2013). Web 2.0 for health promotion: reviewing the current evidence. American journal of public health, 103(1), e9-e18.
- Evans WD (2016). Social Marketing Research for Global Public Health: Methods and Technologies. London, UK: Oxford University Press.
- Roberts, M., Callahan, L., O’Leary, C. (2017). Social media: a path to health literacy. Stud Health Technol Inform, 240, 464-475.
- Vallone, D., Greenberg, M., Xiao, H., Bennett, M., Cantrell, J., Rath, J., & Hair, E. (2017). The Effect of Branding to Promote Healthy Behavior: Reducing Tobacco Use.