So what is the truth about social media and social networking for public health and social justice organizations? What do these organizations need to know to form effective communication plans? Well, many organizations need to establish and maintain an online presence wherever people interact. Clearly, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are spaces where people communicate and which inform decision-making. We know businesses use social media and networking very effectively for marketing, branding and to stay in touch with customers. Scholars and journalists have examined the commercial use of social media and networking and the impact on business. Trade journals like Forbes, for instance, have published articles about how best to attract customers and hopefully, drive sales through intentful use and measurement of social media. All of this points to a perceived level of importance of social media by business and others.
Nonprofit organizations also benefit from a presence on social media and through social networking. These are used as tools for communicating to potential funders in order to generate donations as well as for publicizing the services provided by the organization, among other functions.
For many health organizations the goal is to create action, i.e., to move people to take action. How is this done? The Obama campaign was famous for using new media tools to attract voters. Large political movements have been credited for using Twitter and other social networking media as a main means to spread the word and report what is happening in the field in real-time and tell a different story from mainstream media.
What can public health and social justice organizations learn from the outcomes of the aforementioned examples of the use of digital media tools?
The USC Media Impact Project is one effort that studies how media can impact behavior or “What gets people moving?” (M. Cieply, New York Times, July 6, 2014).
The Media Impact Project defines itself as “a hub for collecting, developing and analyzing approaches for measuring the impact of media.” The Project’s website further says, “We’re on a quest to improve the theory and practice of media measurement so that organizations can better engage diverse audiences and inspire change.” They do this in 2 ways:
1. The Media Impact Project website is a resource for significant exploration and study. They link to work at other universities and further scholarship on media studies. In addition, there is a blog with practical posts, for example, “Mastering The Call to Action- Words, Color, Size and Location,” which discusses the best use of a “call to action” button on websites and social networking sites.
2. The Project is also involved in studying old school media’s impact on action. They are partnering with Participant Media, Inc. and receiving funding from the Gates Foundation and others. Participant Media is a global entertainment which focuses on feature film, television, publishing and digital content that inspires social change.
Through this partnership, a “participant index” was created to survey audience reactions to issue-driven narrative films, TV programs and other, newer media. The surveys gather information about emotional responses and how engaged the audience members were with the issues raised by a story. Most interesting, the survey seeks to gather follow up data about feelings and behaviors that occur after time has passed (i.e., not immediately after viewing), such as whether viewing the film provoked specific action like boycotting a product or company, writing letters to legislators, etc. It will be interesting to see how / whether the project expands to measure specific action related to social media. Will a high number of likes = action + community level changes? What are your thoughts?