Five ways to make your mobile health messages effective

The Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action is a growing community of 300 organizations in 70 countries and can reach 1.4 million women. The mobile messaging campaign aims to provide information, dispel myths, highlight warning signs and connect pregnant women and new moms to local health services.

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I was very inspired by this campaign and really think their model can be used to develop other health focused campaigns especially with patients who are being treated for behavioral health and/or socially stigmatized illnesses (like STDs and mental illness).

The MAMA develops messages that are based on WHO and UNICEF guidelines and draws on their extensive experience creating relevant health content to make the messages localized at the county level. There are two types of messages: core and topic based. The core messages are arranged by “age and stage” and cover the pregnancy and up to the third year of the baby’s life. The messages are based on key behaviors that research has shown to be effective in improving maternal and infant health. Topic messages include nutrition, HIV transmission, infant health, and vaccination. 

The model uses five specific steps that can be replicated in other health campaigns.

1. Identify your audience. Understanding the different audiences is crucial because they have different experiences and different concerns. This is critical to tailor your messages to the appropriate target audience. Sometimes the patient may not be the target recipient in order for your messages to be effective, it may be a guardian.

2. Establish an emotional connection. This connection is critical in the beginning of the campaign. This can help motivate the patient to embrace change and reduce anxiety. This can also increase self confidence by making the recipient feel as though the messages are just for her and that she has personal support.

3. Understand the importance of bottom-up and personalized messages. Bottom-up messages talk to the recipient on their own level and do not set someone up as an expert. They also emphasize what the recipient can do, rather than what they can’t.  Lecturing down to recipients can act as a disincentive and encourage them to stop listening.

4. Tackle stigma with empathetic messages. Certain topics will be sensitive in your target community. Messages around these topics need to treated with care otherwise they will be rejected. Using the right tone and language, showing empathy, giving facts and offering support will help your messages be much more effective around sensitive topics.

 5. Address socio-cultural beliefs. Often there are conflicts between medical practice and cultural beliefs. These cultural beliefs greatly affect personal behavior, especially regarding medical care. Your messages should work within these beliefs. Understanding the logic behind the belief can help you develop more effective messages. Assess whether the belief is harmful. If yes, you should acknowledge it and suggest solutions that don’t dismantle or disparage the belief, but address it. 

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