Social Media for the Health Organization: How to find the people you are looking for


So you’ve decided to get your health organization onto social media.  But there are so many!  How do you choose between Facebook and Google+, LinkedIn and Instagram, Pinterest and Foursquare?


In this post I’ll discuss how the demographics of your target audience can help you decide where to focus your efforts.


If you want to reach: absolutely everyone

Use: Facebook  icon320x320

Facebook is the number one social media site for American adults, with 71% of Internet users (1).  And while Facebook hasn’t seen the same user growth in the past few years as some of the other social media sites, it has seen substantial growth in the 65+ age group (1).  Just because someone joined Facebook to see pictures of their grandkids doesn’t mean that they won’t use the rest of the site.

Another thing to note is that most people who use other social media sites also use Facebook.  So while other social media is growing, users aren’t replacing Facebook but rather are augmenting their social media experience (1).

There is a downside to the diversity and volume of people who will find you on Facebook: some of them may not like your organization, your cause, or your mission, and may post argumentative comments on your posts.  While discussion is good, you will need to have a thick-skinned moderator to prevent flame wars and block threatening commenters.  This won’t happen to every organization, or on every post, but unchecked, nasty comments can drive away the people you are trying to reach (2).


If you want to reach: college-educated job seekers

Use: LinkedIn linkedin logo

The LinkedIn user base is much more focused than Facebook.  LinkedIn users are generally college-educated urban professionals (1).  That makes sense, since LinkedIn is primarily a professional social media site, rather than a ‘fun’ social media site.  LinkedIn has also seen substantial growth in the number of women users, so it is not longer quite so male-dominated.

The challenge of LinkedIn is that many of the users still consider it a job-searching site, rather than a form of social media.  Thus you will have more success reaching users if your organization does hire educated professionals (rather than relying solely on volunteers).


If you want to reach: Google employees

Use: Google+ g+ logo

Really, there are only two reasons for your organization to have a Google+ page.  First, having a Google+ page will improve your rankings on a Google search.  Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an important part of online marketing, and this is an easy way to do it (at least for Google searches).

The second reason to use Google+ is if you are trying to reach Google employees.  Honestly, it just never really took off with people outside of Google (and Google employees were required to use it for several years).

So by all means, make a Google+ page for your organization, link it to your website, and keep it up to date.  But don’t expect it to drive a lot of traffic or get a lot of followers.


Other social media sites:

While you should concentrate on the big social media sites, don’t discount the less managed or more niche sites. If your target audience shares a very specific set of characteristics, you might find that they have already grouped themselves.  Here are two examples:


If you want to reach: Fiber artists (yarn crafters)

Use: Ravelry ravelry-logo-81r-300x

Ravelry – This is, first and foremost, a yarn website.  Primarily, Ravelry is a place to share knitting and crochet patterns, projects and yarn.  But inside the groups there are tight-knit (ha) communities.  If someone in your organization is a member of Ravelry already, and your specific health topic is one that comes up frequently, you might consider asking that person to post a link to your organization’s website.  Don’t create a profile just to do this, as it will be interpreted as spamming.  But if you have someone willing to put their Ravelry account on the line, and your organization is relevant, this can be a good way to access people who might not have otherwise encountered your site.


If you want to reach: The tech savvy

Use: Reddit  reddit logo

Reddit – Reddit is going through some very hard times right now, but it can be a good place to find out what the Internet at large has to say about a specific health topic.  Reddit consists of topic-specific sub-reddits of user-generated content.  This can be links to articles, or questions posted by users.  Sub-reddits are maintained by moderators (users who volunteer to keep the conversations free of spam and generally on-track).  Be aware that reddit has some really awful (racists, sexist, just plain nasty) sub-reddits, so read several posts in a sub-reddit to get a feel for the nature of the community before you put your organization’s name out there.


Once you know who your target audience is, you can use your social media time more efficiently by meeting them in the places they already gather.


  1. Social Media Update 2014.  Pew Research Center.  (
  2. Social Media for Social Good. Heather Mansfield, 2012.

7 thoughts on “Social Media for the Health Organization: How to find the people you are looking for

  1. Very thorough post! Really helpful in trying to get a sense of what is most effective for whom. Your images were perfectly placed and help me read quickly and know which social media site you were referring to. Nice job!

  2. I really like how your introduced your topic through your title and at the very beginning of your post. I think this would come up on web searches. It was helpful how your walked through the different social media sites from the general to more specific. Your placement of icons made it easy to scan through the post in case readers wanted to jump to a specific site and the content was very informative (with references to back it up). Great post!

    • I enjoyed reading your post. I think adding examples of how facebook can be used by seniors could strengthen the claim about the growth in the number of seniors using facebook. For example, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Facebook page ( offers quick health tips, promotes upcoming events, and shares news about new services.
      I like how you present pros and cons of each social media. On a related note, it could be beneficial to emphasize to readers that health-related organizations will only get out of each social media site what they put into it. Organizations could benefit from being familiar with norms, conventions, and proper etiquette of different types of social media before they start using them in order to increase their chances of successfully reaching and connecting with their target audience.
      Your blog topic is relevant and useful for organizations new to social media and trying to expand their reach. Including links to related articles such as The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide To Finding Your Audience In Social Media ( could guide your readers to additional information, which could also establish your blog as a good source of information for readers in the future.
      These are just a few items that could enhance your already well-written post.

  3. Hi Margot, thank you for this post! All through last week’s reading and exercises I was constantly reminded of Mansfield’s chapter entitled “publish, then filter”. Putting thought into which channel to use as a way of filtering for your target audience is also important for nonprofit organizations needing to reach out to funders as well as community base. We have multiple G+ communities going at work, and probably the most recent one that started up was one that helped us use technology to transition to an open office space work area. I actually thought that it worked pretty well. Perhaps it will continue to grow and have a LinkedIn-like demographics.

  4. I loved this post, if only for the tip about Ravelry, which I didn’t know existed. I was rather bemused by the idea of posting a health message on a knitting blog, but, I suppose, that’s how things evolve. Whoever thought a shop would sell yarn and cupcakes?

    • Ravelry is definitely a special case. I wouldn’t have known about the health discussions either if I hadn’t already been a member. A lot of times it isn’t even a formal “Diabetes” discussion but comes up organically in a discussion about the best pattern and material for socks for people with diabetic foot pain. Or the best kind of gloves and mittens for babies with a rare skin disorder.

      Oh, but now I want to go buy yarn and bake some cupcakes!

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