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Social Media is Not for You? Think Again!

Simple health promotion strategies using social media.

Armed with a plethora of social media outlets, health professionals have the ideal scenario, ways to quickly connect with many patients at their convenience and at no cost. Gone are the days where the only opportunity to educate a patient is during an office visit or hospitalization. Many players in the health care industry - from insurers to health care organizations - have been using social media to disseminate information. Despite this, many health professionals do not fully capitalize on this resource or even use it at all.  The purpose of this article is to highlight examples of simple ways to use social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter, to send health promotion messages.

I can't proceed without stating the obvious. Of course, under no circumstances should individual or private health information be posted in any social media forum. Be sure to follow your organization's policies with regard to use of social media. A rule of thumb is to never post anything that you wouldn't mind plastered on the front page of a newspaper.

With over one billion users, Facebook is a powerful social media platform.  It provides a way to connect with many people. It is not just a tool to see what your Facebook friends are doing (or eating), it can also be used to send health promotion messages. Posts can be shared by friends/followers to spread the information. An example of how successfully information can be spread is the success of the ALS ice bucket challenge, which raised over 100 million in one month.

Health promotion ideas:

  • Create a Facebook group page and invite others to "like" it.
  • Post health information by way of messages, images, e-cards or videos or website links. Here are a few examples of free e-card websites:
    • US DHHS e-cards
    • BlueCross BlueShield-sponsored e-cards

Stephanie Locricchio, leadership and lifestyle coach and founder of Wellness Warriors Revolution based in NYC area, has found creative and effective ways to use Facebook. She uses clever themed mottos, such as toxic Tuesday, wellness Wednesday or fitness Friday, to send health messages. For example, on toxic Tuesday, she may post a video explaining how to make a chemical-free insect repellent or healthy snacks for kids. She also regularly posts inspirational quotes and images.

"I don't want to be hammering people with bad news; there is a lot of bad news out there," Locricchio said. "I really use Facebook to empower people."

Locricchio hopes to reach other moms, a conduit to families, and also to other health coaches. In a few years, her number of Facebook friends increased by over seven times to nearly 3,000.

"I've connected with all sorts of people as a result of my Facebook presence," Locricchio explained.  "I've coauthored two books in the last three years. It's just been an amazing opportunity on Facebook. You don't know who is watching or who is absorbing the information."

Twitter has over 300 million users who are active monthly. On Twitter, a short message, known as a tweet, can be posted and retweeted by others to cascade the health promotion information.

Health promotion ideas:

  • Follow organizations and individuals of interest and begin to create a following.
  • Send tweets to share short messages, images, e-cards or links to videos or weblinks. Use hashtags (#) to identify keywords to categorize your tweet and make it retrievable for others
  • Retweet messages that may be of value/interest to your followers.
  • Host a timed discussion enabling people an opportunity to ask questions and receive immediate responses.

The CDC uses both Twitter and Facebook to promote their campaigns and send health information.  For their Tobacco Free campaign, they created a Facebook page and Twitter page dedicated to the campaign. With the outlets combined, they can directly reach over 140,000 people - and all of those people can, of course, share the messages as well. Some hospitals are using Twitter as a way to send health information, answer patient questions, or even provide play-by-play, real-time updates of surgeries.

A crowdspeaking platform, Thunderclap, can be used with Facebook and Twitter to simultaneously send important messages on behalf of multiple users; this can help intensify attention to a particular topic. In 2012, the United Nations used this tool to promote World Humanitarian Day reaching over one billion people.

Social media, if used the right way, can be a very effective and convenient method to communicate with patient populations. These examples of using social media to promote health are just the tip of the iceberg. There are other social media outlets out there, more detailed instruction, and many more strategies. For more information, check out the Health Communicator's Social Media Toolkit published by the CDC in 2011.

Daria Waszak teaches for an RN-BSN program and is currently pursuing her DNP. She has freelanced for a number of nursing publications, including ADVANCE and has 20 years of professional nursing experience

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