Social media websites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have become the most popular destinations on the Internet, with two out of three Americans using social media sites, which translates into 63.7% of U.S. Internet users, or about 147.8 million people (eMarketer 2011).
The growing popularity of the Internet and the proliferation of social media websites provide opportunities to online health advertisers and marketers.
According to an article published in journal of interactive advertising , a content analysis of 1,760 wall comments on health organizations’ Facebook pages reveals that nonprofit health organizations are more active in posting to Facebook than any other health organization examined. However, nonprofit health organizations do not take full advantage of interactive features or other social media channels. Government agencies and schools/universities exhibit the broadest use of interactive features; health care institutions appear more devoted to integrating social media channels with Facebook than the other types of organizations. Overall, health organizations strategically use branding and advertising techniques to manage their image and promote their brands. Still, there is room for improvement to take better advantage of various social media tools for consumer-generated advertising and viral marketing.
An study done by Facebook in 2011 showes that it is the most popular, with more than 750 million users and 30 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums) shared each month . As a virtual social media platform, Facebook offers an easy, cost-effective way for both profit and nonprofit sectors to communicate health information, promote their products and services, and build brand communities. For example, an increasing number of health organizations have come up with Facebook health applications that allow users to keep track of their exercise and diet goals (Donohue 2009) and coordinate their exercise plans (Dugan 2010). Health insurance companies also have begun providing health tips and advice and send marketing messages via Facebook in an effort to interact with customers to enhance the image of the insurance industry (Terry 2011). The interactive capabilities offered on Facebook also make virtual content-sharing activities easy for users and encourage target audiences to engage in viral marketing (Thackeray et al. 2008).
Social media sites allow health organizations to engage in conversations with consumers through unique interactive features, such as sharing videos and photos, commenting on Facebook, or re-tweeting on Twitter. Although many studies attempt to understand interactivity as a key concept in Internet advertising (Downes and McMillan 2000), interactivity in the context of social media sites has received scant attention.