Social media awareness among health literacy educators

By now, anyone who will listen [perhaps to the annoyance of my loyal Twitter followers] has heard that I will be speaking at the IHA Health Literacy conference in California on social media and health communication on May 6 2010 [see an earlier post]. I feel utterly humbled to be so honored. To prepare, I polled the registrants to find out a) What they know and b) What they want to know. The participation rate was a respectable 50 % which goes to show what a dynamic and engaged group they are. This posting is primarily for their benefit as well as input by all who are interested in social media.

Audience: comprises health educators, librarians, health professionals involved in direct patient care, writers and health literacy advocates working for varied agencies such as government, health care providers, HMO/health insurance companies and academic institutions. The majority of participants work in a program public education role – rather than professional communication/PR function.

Experience with social media:  Most of the respondents have had limited exposure to social media: 55% [hardly]; 32% [a bit]; 13% [a lot] some were a little skeptical but all were enthusiastic and eager to learn. One promised to sign up for a FaceBook account before the session which was lovely. Some are actively using these tools:

  • Facebook campaign to promote public health week; Fan page to inform, network and share resources regarding patient safety
  • FaceBook for posting events and communication with faculty and students
  • Twitter for updating staff teams regarding conferences – content used as press releases
  • Creation of podcasts
  • Wiki community to promote evidence-based practice information
  • Story telling using multimedia to promote health literacy month
  • Use of RSS feeds for health care classes, tracking blog postings
  • Locating health education videos on YouTube

The most popular tools are: FaceBook, YouTube and blogs. Quite a few mentioned LinkedIn. While it is tricky that participants have mixed skill levels, I am sure the more experienced ones will patiently help the rest of us and chime in with examples based on their experience. In fact, some participants have eagerly offered to share their experience and expertise which should make for a lively session.

Areas of interest

  • What are the state-of-the art technologies being used in health communication? How can these be applied to developing countries?
  • What tools can be used to reach
    • the general public
    • specific demographic groups – teens, African-American populations, seniors, K-12 education…
    • particular audiences with personal health improvement programs – reminders to exercise, do food logs…
  • What strategies do you use to connect with your audience ie. create and maintain quality dialogue? How do you get started?
  • How can social media tools be integrated into academics?
  • How do you grow your FaceBook presence for a health literacy partnership?

The most common question was how to know what tools to use for what settings, audiences or targets – essentially, how to create a social media strategy. I plan on allocating plenty of time to discuss this. The diversity of communication activity with faculty and students was enlightening because I had expected a health literacy conference audience to be mainly interested in communicating with consumers/patients/the public.


  • Legal concerns: what are the privacy and security implications of social media?
  • How do you prove value and quantify benefit?
  • How do you handle inappropriate use and abuse – such as students posting inappropriate content?
  • Aren’t social media tools associated with a digital divide – for those with limited English skills and access to technology?
  • Government computer systems restrict access to social media
  • Is this not yet one more thing to do with limited staff resources?
  • Social media tools are “incredible time wasters”
  • Some  residents would prefer to receive articles via e-mail rather than a blog
  • There seems to be an increasing focus on these tools at the expense of traditional channels which most of the population uses at this point

I am pleased to see this rich commentary from the participants who are thinking deeply about these pertinent issues. I welcome your input which will contribute to our conversation at the IHA conference.   In the next post, I have outlined some  resources for the participants [particularly those new to social media tools] to review prior to the conference.

Explore posts in the same categories: Health literacy, Social media

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