When it comes to high-profile digital media, it’s often the big brands — companies with deep pockets and large public relations teams at their disposal — that do it best. But that doesn’t mean that public health professionals can’t learn from major campaigns and adapt their methods to a smaller scale or budget.

At last week’s Digital Health Communication Extravaganza conference in Orlando, Fla., presenters highlighted a number of successful digital media campaigns that public health communicators can look to for inspiration in their work:

World’s Most Valuable Social Network: Created by the Missing Children Society of Canada, the campaign asks people to “donate” their Facebook or Twitter accounts to the network, allowing an alert to be sent via their account when a child goes missing.

Since it was launched in 2012, the network has successfully been used to recover a number of missing children, said Ann Aikin, digital communications director at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products, who spoke at the digital health conference. The network is estimated to reach 60 percent to 70 percent of all Canadians. Aikin praised the network for its smart use of technology, which is mobile-friendly, geographically specific and available instantly. It’s also less costly than traditional print-based advertising for missing children.

“Now, they can much more successfully do it through social networking,” Aikin said at the conference, which featured more than 200 attendees.

NASA: With 1.7 million “likes” on Facebook and 3.6 million followers on its main Twitter account, the world’s foremost space exploration agency has a massive social media presence. While the number of followers on those accounts are impressive, they’re just two of the hundreds of social media accounts managed by the agency. NASA is a social media powerhouse, with launch-related Twitter meet-ups, Google+ hangouts with astronauts in space and regular updates from its Curiosity Rover, which checked in on Mars on Foursquare.

Movember: The annual month-long event challenges men to grow mustaches to raise awareness of men’s health, particularly prostate and testicular cancer. In 2011, the campaign had more than 854,000 participants, raising more than $126 million. It also has impacts on health: According to the campaign, 70 percent of participants talked about men’s health issues during Movember and 43 percent became more aware and educated about health risks.

The campaign uses a distinct visual cue — a mustache — to engage its audience, but also has a successful digital media presence, noted Aikin, with videos, photos and active social media interaction.

• CDC’s Tips from Former Smokers campaign: The campaign, which uses frank, hard-hitting images and stories from real people to educate on tobacco cessation and prevention, took advantage of print ads to convey some of its messages. But it was through its many videos — such as one that featured a former smoker named Terrie talking about what it’s like to get ready for the day with a stoma — that it was most successful. CDC built on the video with Terrie, which has received more than 82,000 views on YouTube, by hosting a live Facebook chat with her during which smokers were able to share their stories and ask questions. The campaign received a high amount of attention, with calls to tobacco quit lines doubling in the first two weeks of the campaign.

• Taco Bell: While not typically mentioned as a public health inspiration, the fast food restaurant chain has earned a reputation for being successful at social media. According to a 2012 ranking, Taco Bell had 18 of the top 100 engaging posts on Facebook. The brand responds to its customers quickly, directly and with humor. In December, when a high school swimmer posted on Facebook that he wanted swimwear with the Taco Bell slogan on it, the company responded with “With size do you wear? And what’s your address?” and made his request a reality.

“Stop thinking about shares and likes and retweets when thinking of engagement,” said Amy Burnett Heldman, MPH, a social media team leader at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who also spoke at the digital health conference. “We need to be thinking of things like this.”

Engaging regularly with audiences on social media is a lesson that everyone in public health should learn, Heldman said. She recommended that social media administrators check their tools daily at a minimum. Administrators should know their audience and create content that it wants to receive, she said, and most importantly, be responsive and foster conversations.

“Engaging content means you will have engaged users,” Heldman said.

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