While Facebook is the largest social media presence on-line with over 500 million active users, research has found that health information on Facebook is not so much sought after, but encountered. Nonetheless it has been shown that health behavior is influenced by these unsolicited encounters and that to optimize health messages on social media, posts should be placed 2 times a day, 4-5 days per week.
There are three important connections that can be made using Facebook to disseminate health information, all of which are important to maximizing the health uses of Facebook
1.) Shared Research and Resources for Health Professionals
A useful way to share ideas with colleagues or with membership of a wider organization is by establishing a Group Facebook Page. Receiving a Facebook notification that there has been a new posting is much less intrusive than cluttering inboxes with email. Postings should include educational events, recent research, or a networking mechanism for those interested in the same issues. The only downside to this is that a contact list would already be needed to invite people to the group. However, multiple people can be made administrators to facilitate adding new people. This gatekeeping would provide a way to ensure it is a place for professionals to communicate.
2.) Health Professionals Communicating with the Public
A Facebook Page that is searchable and visible to the public can be used to share health information for laypeople. The message can be tailored for the audience and the comment section can be used by participants to share stories. Often people answer each others’ questions, but a daily or weekly formal Q & A could be used to clear up any misunderstandings that begin to circulate. Getting people involved in a local organizations, interactive questions, and polls has been found to be the most successful to establish hits on the content.
Example: Womens’ Heart Foundation
3.) A Informal Community Sharing Stories
Another way that Facebook can be used for health issues is by providing the community that has traditionally been found in support groups. This is usually established by someone who has life experience with a health condition that is looking to connect with others. People need anecdotal information, as well as facts, when exploring a topic because it brings a human component to the science and data. These pages may be monitored by the creator, but are typically more free-flowing.
Example: Multiple Sclerosis Group
Social media is becoming a more popular way to obtain health information, but often not by intention. Nevertheless, health messages can be effectively communicated in this underused medium by appearing even when people are not seeking it out. Like a real-life social situation, fads and norms are created with Facebook and it therefore has the ability to modify individual behavior with its influence. By using Facebook to communicate with other health professionals, the general public, and in the formation of support groups, this form of social media can continue to gain traction as a way of sharing health information.
Source: Woolley P, Peterson M.(2012)Efficacy of a health-related Facebook social network site on health-seeking behaviors. Social Marketing Quarterly, 18: 29–39.