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This is an auspicious time to be thinking about social networking. This summer is the 10th anniversary of the birth of YouTube. Oddly enough, I found out about this by listening to “old media”, i.e. the radio. Still, I got a couple of useful pointers for anyone thinking of creating their own social networking presence, which is what this blog is all about.
- Have a clear brand – to distinguish your site from the maelstrom of others.
- Having a committed audience, who’ll follow you, is important to success of your site.
- Be consistent – provide something of value every time.
Tips courtesy of Aleks Krotoski, BBC Radio 4 –http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b062jsnh (at 23 mins 20s).
These tips chime well with Heather Mansfield’s advice in Getting Started with Social Media (Mansfield, 2012) about purpose and branding. Among other, more technical, advice she suggests that organisations define their objectives for social media, to keep them focused and allow them to monitor progress. I think it will also make it a lot clearer to your readers what the site is for and how they can engage with it. Mansfield also advises that you should consider what your logo or avatar looks like on social media sites, which will probably be quite different from how it looks on your static site. Beware the cropped logo!
Do people use social networking for health?
What does that even mean? It could mean a variety of things, such as using sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter to find information about health – prevention or disease – e.g. looking up pictures or symptom lists to check your own against them. Or it could mean using such websites to ask the online community for help. I am a member of a UK doctors’ online forum, http://www.doctors.net.uk (or DNUK, for short), where I and other doctors regularly ask each other questions and seek help from the community of professionals. I may know some of them personally, but they are easier to reach on DNUK and it’s easy to ask questions, without fear or shame. (The shame of the “Surely, you should know that?” look!) This site is entirely health- (or rather medicine-) oriented, but is only available to UK doctors. So, it seems to be of no use for a mass public health campaign, even though it reaches 209,746 doctors. It could be useful, though, for passing public health messages to doctors, who can then engage with the wider community about them. LinkedIn, in a similar way, is a community largely of professionals. It has a wider, more mixed membership than DNUK. Like DNUK, you have to create a profile and have a login to see the content. I often engage with global health and health psychology forums on LinkedIn, but I never use to ask questions about my own health. Be careful what your share!
What about people outside the health professions – where do they look for health information? According to a 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center, nearly three-quarters (72%) of US internet users said they had looked online for health information in the previous 12 months. In another survey, last year, they found that 9 out of 10 (90%) US adults owns a cell phone and nearly two-thirds (58%) of those have a smart phone. This means they can access the internet on the go and engage with social media sites nearly all the time (Pew Research Center, 2015). So, using social media could be an effective way of getting health messages to a big audience. Some other research from Pew shows what social media platforms people are using, overall and by age group. This is useful for helping to direct your message to your target group, by using their most popular platform (Duggan et al., 2015).
Using this sort of information tells you that you could potentially reach over half of US adults via Facebook, but only around a fifth on Twitter. Facebook is most likely to reach people 65 and over, with 56% using it. 18 to 29 year olds are more likely than other groups to use Instagram, where you could reach them with videos and picture messages. 53% are on Instagram and nearly half of all the site’s users do so every day.
Why use social networking for health?
People have learnt that they cab get answers to their questions very quickly – far more quickly than they can get an appointment with their doctors. The answer might already be out there on the web. If not, there are many 100s or 1000s of people who may be willing to provide the answer. As the Good Book says,
In many counsellors, there is wisdom.
So where do you look, or where should you post?
Where will you post your health messages and create a community around them? It makes sense to post where people are already looking for health information. To find health information 70-75% of people in the US search the internet, while in the UK, Facebook is the 4th most popular place to look. YouTube is the second most powerful search engine after Google and hosts a slew of health videos. So, these are some obvious places to start.
Wikis contribute in a slightly different way. A wiki is a special type of website, in which the content can be edited by the readers. It’s a way of crowd-sourcing information about particular topics. Probably the best known is Wikipedia – an online encyclopaedia. You may not know much about the people who have put up the page or edited it – users don’t create profiles –but the platform allows participation by readers, in the same way as other social networking sites. Wikis are generally handy for many-to-many communication, with information shared in a central location and accessible to all. They can be about any topic and, as you might expect, there is one dedicated to health: http://onlinehealth.wiki. This social networking site includes articles, plus links to other health-related sites.
HLWIKI International – http://hlwiki.slais.ubc.ca/index.php/HLWIKI_International – is a wiki for health librarians, with a wealth of information about social media. Although it is aimed at information professionals (or librarians), it has information that is useful for anyone who’s thinking about using social media. E.g. the page on digital citizenship – mhttp://hlwiki.slais.ubc.ca/index.php/Digital_citizenship – focuses on netiquette and how to protect yourself (or your organisation) and others in your online space.
When posting on social media, consider:
- Who is your target audience?
- What’s the best way to deliver your message – text only, pictures, video, podcasts, mixed media?