Health Bytes: Using Visual Options to Capture Attention


This week I focused much of my attention on researching the public health presence on Twitter and Instagram, precisely because I was curious to see what was out there. Starting from the perspective of an uninformed member of the public (ie: Googling), what I discovered is that health on Twitter and Instagram primarily seems to mean pictures of colorful healthy meals and recommendations for how to get the perfect beach body year round. This may be an American trend, I’m not sure, but what I can say is that finding the sites for major players in the public health world required targeted searching. Also, health Twitter accounts seem to be much more popular than health-related Instagrams. Notice below, how the WHO has 2.53M followers on Twitter, but only 46,000 followers on Instagram.

Be Fit Foods Instagram WHO Instagram

WHO Twitter

The other thing I noticed while reviewing Instagram feeds of assorted health-related entities (from your average home blogger to players like the WHO), was that the popular sites devoted to healthy cooking and fitness tended to have many more followers than the the more diverse health-oriented sites. In comparison to WHO’s 46,000 Instagram followers, Be Fit Foods has 1 million.

This speaks to our perceptions of where to find certain things. Twitter has been accepted as a vehicle for news and information, not just personal musings. However, I do think Instagram could be used more to promote public health. For nonprofits, in particular, Instagram offers a great platform to share images of daily and special activities, as well as images of the target issue as a means to engage the public and find new supporters. Now that many people use some kind of image or video sharing platform, it is critical for public health entities to start promoting themselves in those places as well.

The truth is that most people do not use every type of social media, so we need to offer options, allowing supporters to access our content in whichever way they choose to do so.


8 thoughts on “Health Bytes: Using Visual Options to Capture Attention

  1. You raise a good point about giving options. I was completely unfamiliar with Instagram, but I signed with Instagram for the first time. I am not sure whether I will use it, but I agree that it seems to show that there is more interest in personal appearance than health.

  2. Hi Renn,
    I found you blog very informative–looking at the stats of Twitter vs. Instagram and observations about the role of visuals in the appeal of certain messages. I think you are right in that some messages do lend themselves better to Instagram because of the visual appeal of the topic. Looking at a picture of a good recipe or a fit body is much more captivating than a word-focused platform. I would imagine that Pinterest is also heavily used for food and fitness posts for the same reason, but also lacks more of the “news” topics that have more volume on Twitter. This is all very good information for someone trying to select a medium for a particular health message and I think you could probably expand your blog to include this type of advice for selecting a social media platform or platforms based on certain characteristics of the message and how well it translates in images. You touch on this by noting that Instagram heavily focuses on diet and fitness, but are there also other topics that seem more captive with the visually based sites? This would be great information to have on a variety of topics (though I know you can’t cover everything in one blog!). Just some thoughts of how to take the information you presented and enable it to become more advice driven for someone looking to devote more time to a certain social media site than another and looking for guidance on selection. Really good information to have though!

    • Jenna, I thought about Pinterest, too, and did some minor searching but mostly just got annoyed with all of the food and weight-loss pictures. Not that those aren’t important and appealing things to post about, but that I was trying to find something else and wasn’t doing a great job of it.

      Thanks for the feedback- I think you’re right. It would have been nice to expand in more of a tutorial way. My thoughts on this so far are that anyone can use images, just some might need to be more creative. I love UNICEF’s Tumblr that is all reasons why their employees like their jobs/are in the field. This would be such a great way to use Instagram or Twitter- to profile employees in order to give supporters the feeling that they know the people involved in the organization. Or, to highlight volunteers, as a kind of celebration/ reward for people donating time and/or money to the cause.

      Even such things as pics of the office help supporters to feel engaged and connected. And you can never go wrong with memes, like Cameron’s first blog post!

  3. The visual appeal needed for these types of social media is interesting and I think you did a great job identifying what types of things seem to currently be working for these two particular forums. I would be interested to hear opinions or links for how organizations like WHO could do a better job reaching out via these formats. Are there other organization with a similar, less visual, message that are doing a great job being followed on these sites.

  4. Ashley, when I was looking at different Instagrams, I really didn’t find any that stuck out to me as being great examples. Maybe this will change next week. This week when I research Tumblrs, I though that UNICEF is really the best example of a health organization using images effectively.

  5. Sort of a grab bag of comments:

    – The screenshots of the pages are a very helpful idea. Possibly link them to the actual sites themselves? Right now they just pull up an enlarged version.
    – I think a lot of people forget that Instagram can be just as “microbloggy” as Twitter can be (or Facebook short status updates, etc.). The captions alone could be considered that sort of channel. It’s good to point out that it’s a valuable tool in our armament as well.
    – In that vein, you could even expand that last sentence into a blog entry of its own. There is probably a lot of undertapped potential.
    – There is so much we could do with Vine-like video.

  6. Great blog post. I like the comparision you made between Instagram and Twitter for WHO. Excellent choice of images too, they made the blog more inviting to read as your audience. I appreciate your conclusion about offering options. The best thing to do as an organization is to have your voice span across all forms of social media so that whoever your audience is and whatever their preferred social media platform is they will ideally receive and interact with your messaging.

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