Because of social media, public health can reach more people, faster and more effectively than ever before. And as data show, it’s important that one dominant audience is considered in public health e-messaging: women.

On Tuesday, a Google Plus Hangout panel of health professionals — including APHA’s Michele Late — shared best practices in engaging women through social media. The hangout was organized by Danya International as part of Social Media Week.

“Women are more likely to make health decisions for their family and they’re more likely to go online for health information than men,” said Late, executive editor of APHA’s newspaper, The Nation’s Health. “They do face some of the same challenges on social media as other parts of the Internet. But with social media, there’s also the risk that rumors and misinformation can spread really, really quickly…You always want to use credible sources, and with health that’s even more crucial.”

Michele Late on Google+ hangout

APHA’s Michele Late spoke Tuesday in a Google Plus Hangout, “Engaging Women in Public Health.” Photo by Danya International, Inc.

Moderator Erin Edgerton Norvell of Danya International asked a series of rapid-fire questions to a live audience on the site, the second-largest social networking tool after Facebook. Here are some of the highlights:

Why should we use social media to engage women and what challenges exist in reaching them?

Rebecca Aguilar, Emmy Award-winning reporter: “(Women) are hungry for information, we want it now and we love to talk. Those are three key things that we have that men don’t; they’re not going to talk about doing self-breast exams like women. But you have to do your research. If someone’s blogging about it, I want to say ‘Do they have a medical background? Or was she a stay-at-home mother last year and suddenly, medicine is her expertise?’ And when it concerns Latinas, what we’re looking for is things that affect Latinas. Ovarian cancer is high, cervical cancer is high, heart disease is high. We want to see studies on Latinas. The challenging thing is that there are a lot of Latinos that aren’t on Internet but are on their smartphones. Also, (we need information to be) bilingual. I have to translate things for my mother who’s 85 years old, not on the Internet, and doesn’t read English.”

Are there important topics that public health professionals need to discuss more on social media?

Barbara Ficarra, founder of HealthIn30.com: “Only 7 percent of people online are talking about end-of-life decisions, and that’s a really critical topic that not many people are talking about it. It’s a vital topic that I think the conversation needs to head in its direction, so people make that decision before they’re in the hospital. Once you’re in the hospital dealing with it, a lot of emotions take over.”

How do we get health information to stand out? How to rise back to the top?

Pam Moore, social business marketer: “Instead of trying to blast messages to everyone who wants to hear it — we should be saying, ‘I want to reach this demographic between this age demographic, geographic demographic, income demographic.’ Fine-tune that information and make it as relevant as possible to that audience. There’s so much noise so we’re grabbing bits and pieces of info that are important to us. It’s got to be fresh, inspiring, it’s got to be simple and it’s got to be understandable. It has to inspire me to take an action. Content is only as good as somebody is willing to take an action to read it, digest it, to share it with someone that they know.”

Patricia Redsicker, health care writer: “If you’re going to be on social media, you really want to be interesting. Pew Research (Center) has said previously that education and entertainment are the top-most reasons why people go on the Internet, social media especially. As a brand, you have to be more interesting than the people that I’m hanging out with on Facebook, otherwise I’m going hide your posts. If you’re a health care communicator, you’re also competing against artists and politicians and my friends and my kids. Know what people want and give it to them. So simply be helpful. As you help people, you win over their trust and their loyalty. But be interesting, because boring is the kiss of death.”

Late: “One way is going where your audience is and joining the conversation that’s going on out there. For example, APHA raised awareness of vaccination this year by sending a tweet out after the royal birth and sent out a tweet during the Super Bowl to raise awareness of being prepared during a power outage. If you were watching the Emmys this weekend, AARP was really active (in its) tweeting. It was a great way to engage an audience that wasn’t coming to them and may not have been following them, because they were part of the conversation that was already out there.”

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