38271 Using Social Media Listening to Identify & Examine Detractors to Public Health Education Campaigns

Thomas Bukowski, MPA, MA, Center for Health Policy Science and Tobacco Research, RTI International, Berkeley, CA

Background:  Marketers and public health communicators have developed many ways to identify and engage influencers on social media. Influencers are individuals with large followings with a proven ability to spark interactions and spread content, all while potentially affecting followers’ attitudes and beliefs. But less research has taken place around identifying detractors – individuals with large followings who deliberately undermine an organization’s message through the spread of false or misleading information and other tactics. Many public health agencies have received mentions and comments on social media attacking their mission or the premise of a public health education effort. Unfortunately, not all detractors to a public health agency's message will be as immediately obvious. Covertly, detractors may attack an agency by creating fake accounts that mimic the name or look of a real public health agency account; or by co-opting public health campaign hashtags (such as the case with the takeover of #StillBlowingSmoke by numerous pro-vaping activists). These tactics lead to confusion among social media users genuinely seeking public health information or passively observing it. More importantly, detractors undermine the effectiveness of campaigns that could have positively impacted their intended audiences. Using attacks on e-cigarette education campaigns as a case study, this presentation will explore how public health communicators can identify and examine the beliefs of detractors toward public health campaigns on social media. It will also discuss what campaign architects can do to mitigate attacks in the future.

Program background:  The presentation will go through the process of identifying detractors to three state-level e-cigarette education campaigns – California, Illinois and Minnesota – and how to determine which detractors have the most influence. Basic social media and Internet listening tools will be shown and explored, as well as advanced text analysis tools that can be used to identify core themes among the detractors’ posts.

Evaluation Methods and Results:  Attendees will learn about the following innovative communication tools and technologies to identify, and examine the beliefs of, detractors to public health education campaigns.

  • Free and accessible listening and search tools that can quickly identify highly influential detractors on social media and online
  • Ways to investigate the tactics used by detractors in counter-campaigns against public health education efforts
  • Guided social media sentiment analysis tools (usually not free) that can identify themes in conversations posted by detractors and those who follow them

Conclusions:  Public health communicators can mitigate detractors against public health messages by examining the core beliefs – mistaken or otherwise – motivating these attacks. Communicators can craft messages in the future that address the misconceptions and falsehoods driving anti-public health campaigns. They can also be mindful of messages and tactics that are triggers for future attacks.

Implications for research and/or practice:  Those who take the time to investigate the motives and beliefs of public health education detractors – through a lens of empathy – will better understand them and be better equipped to communicate with them. This will also lead to stronger overall public health communication campaigns.