36605 Engaging Women on Sensitive Health Topics through Social Media

Katie Rush, MA, Public Communications Branch, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development / National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD

Background: Millions of women across the United States use social media to communicate about their health and the health of their families. Chatting on Twitter, posting articles on Facebook, and sharing recipes on Pinterest are just a few ways women are using social media to ask health questions and share health tips with one another. As public servants with top-notch health information at their fingertips, federal communicators have a responsibility to understand social media user behavior, implement best practices, and collaborate with social influencers to deliver accurate public health information.  

Program background: The Eunice Kennedy ShriverNational Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) effectively engages women on social media in conversations about a range of women’s health topics. Staying abreast of social media best practices and trends, hosting collaborative social media events—such as Twitter chats and Thunderclaps—and leveraging relationships with consumer-facing social influencers such as Parents Magazine and The March of Dimes has enabled NICHD to raise awareness of critical issues like infertility, pregnancy complications, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Evaluation Methods and Results: A similar evaluation protocol is developed and followed closely for each social media activity, event, or campaign implemented. Key steps in the protocol include: 1) establishing key performance indicators and metrics, 2) identifying appropriate social analytics tools, 3) preparing content to track interaction and engagement, and 4) reporting both outcomes and implications for future activities. Results of select NICHD social media efforts vary. However, examples include one-year Facebook page reach and engagement rate increases of 400 and 600 percent respectively, and an average reach of over one million Twitter users per NICHD Twitter chat.

Conclusions: Being an active, informed social media contributor and collaborator is essential to reaching women with important health information. Simply posting health content in isolation and without considering audience behavior and preferences will not suffice. The NICHD’s social media strategy and tactics serve as an excellent example of how social media can and should be used to communicate with women about critical health issues.

Implications for research and/or practice: Understanding how women use social media and keeping abreast of best practices and trends are the first steps toward engaging them in a health dialogue on social media. Truly effective social media communication also involves: a)    being consistently active and available, b)    collaborating (“being social”) with key social influencers, and c)    creating a relevant and engaging user experience.