Can social media drive health? That was the question posed to presenters at the close of a session today at this week’s Digital Health Communication Extravaganza, or DHCX conference.
“Yeah, it’s got tremendous potential,” responded panelist Scott Shamp, with the New Media Institute at the University of Georgia. But we need to continue to learn from it, he continued. Each behavior we want to influence may require different approaches and tools, Shamp said.
Amelia Burke, who works in digital media with Westat, agreed and said our “our strategies have to fit what we want to achieve.”
“Monitoring is important,” said Mark Luckie, social media editor at the Washington Post. “Using analytics and that sort of thing. It’s not just about putting [a message] out there, but do it so you can learn.”
Luckie pointed to several examples where new media technologies have addressed health challenges. The Washington Post did a series using Google Maps to plot cases of sexually transmitted disease in Washington, D.C., neighborhoods. Readers could track which communities had the highest number of cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia. Luckie referred to another application using Flu Maps to plot and see where the disease is spreading.
On the preparedness and emergency response front, the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang doesn’t just feature forecasts from meteorologists. The popular feature on washingtonpost.com involves members of the community who share photos and reports of weather events in their neighborhood.
Luckie said social media helps the Washington Post interact and engage with people in ways the newspaper couldn’t do before. It presents opportunities that traditional media and communications didn’t permit.
“What you get through social media is a personal experience,” said Shamp. Friends “are people that already matter to me,” he said. Social media allows me to see how my lifestyle aligns with others. “[My friends] have the ability to influence my behavior.”
And social media “taps into something in our nature and broadens our experience,” said Burke. Health professionals and campaigns can find that opportunity to make it relevant to me and help me connect the dots, she said.
“People are naturally social creatures,” said Luckie. “Technology has just made it faster.”