Social media for public healthSocial media is no longer a tool; it’s the worldwide engine for real-time communication. For public health leaders, influential messaging depends on a strong online presence.

In a webcast Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Prevention Information Network discussed strategies to help public health professionals nurture successful social media practices. Additionally, speakers highlighted successful social media campaigns as blueprints for tracking metrics, with platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and Instagram.

APHA’s LinkedIn group, which has more than 32,000 members, was praised for its cross-channel evaluations. Jennifer Smith, a Web and digital content specialist at CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, discussed APHA’s integration of Bitly, a Web URL shortener, and Google Analytics, a tool that provides statistics for website activity.

“With Bitly tracking their number of clicks, they discovered new members were very interested in the CDC budget,” Smith said. “In another post about NFL players featured in flu prevention ads before the Super Bowl, they generated hardly [any] clicks.

“The lesson they learned was that members really want timely content, but pop culture stuff is not necessarily intriguing to them. This is a good time-saving lesson to apply so valuable staff resources aren’t spent developing content.”

Metrics can be analyzed from numerous tracking tools, speakers said, including:

  • Coremetrics: for Facebook and Twitter;
  • HootSuite: for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, WordPress and others;
  • Lithium: for Facebook and Twitter;
  • Radian6: for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube;
  • Simply Measured: for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Plus, Vine and others; and
  • Omniture: for all social media channels.

“Determine the goal you want to reach, because it’s not all about metrics,” said Heather Cole-Lewis, postdoctoral research fellow at Columbia University in New York. “Some of it is about the actual relationship that you’re building. As long as you’re on the same page as your key stakeholders and in tune with your actual population, it’s a little bit easier to figure out what success is.”

Public health might not have competitive marketing budgets, but lessons learned from creative Web strategies — such as Seattle Children’s Hospital’s “Cat Immersion Project,” which used Facebook to lift the spirits of a teen girl battling cancer — show that low-cost Web tools can unite for powerful messaging, said Erin Edgerton, health communication and marketing director at Danya International.

Edgerton added: “One of the things I learned today is how much animals help to increase engagement.”