18 February 2010

Social Media and Public Health: Should we drink the Kool-Aid?

Social media is getting increased attention within public health, some five years after the rise (and fall?) of blogging. But should we all uncritically embrace social media?

I've been an advocate for using new forms of media. I had an experience last week that gave me pause for thought however, and made me think that we shouldn't forget the established modes of communication yet.

I twitter quite a lot, and this usually results in around 800 clickthroughs to links I post per week. Last week I decided to send around an email "round-up" that contained some of the more interesting links I'd posted to twitter in the previous two weeks - you can find it here. I then distributed it directly to 800 people on our e-newsletter list and via various email listservs:
The graph below shows what happened.

In three days there were almost 11,000 clicks. That's as much as I get in 12 weeks of twittering. Further, each individual link I post on twitter usually gets between 20 and 50 clicks. Every link included in the email round-up got in excess of 400.

The audiences for this blog, the twitter account and the email are predominantly groups of already-interested professionals. This is of course very different to the one being pursued through mass social marketing campaigns targeting the public about vaccination, outbreaks and health promotion.

It's great that serious thought is being given to public health communication within a shifting information landscape. We just need to remember that email and even print (gasp!) still have considerable reach.

So drink the social media Kool-Aid, just in moderation.


  1. All useful points, and I agree entirely re: not throwing the traditional media baby out with the bathwater. Two other points to keep in mind: first, media forms change quickly - even social media. For example, blogs have become increasingly used (at least in organizations) as broadcast tools, not so much as tools for conversation or dialogue. Second, health communicators should look at being innovators in social media use. Don't wait to see what happens but forge new strategies and create new communication opportunities. Take risks but constantly evaluate and assess.

  2. Your points are excellent Josh, particularly about change within social media itself. When I started this blog it was the most readily accessible technology that enabled dialogue on specific issues, but now it pales in comparison to the more robust interaction you find on fb or twitter.