Social media: putting the public into public health information dissemination

I can’t think of a more appropriate place than Twitter to come across an article about the use of social media to disseminate public health information.

I regularly do a Twitter search for ‘public health social media’ and very often come across new interesting initiatives, reports, meetings etc.

Today’s finding was the article Putting the Public into Public Health Information Dissemination: Social Media and Health-related Web Pages. The article, written by Professor Robert Steele and Dan Dumbrell, both from the Discipline of Health Informatics at The University of Sydney, takes a closer look at social media as a tool for the dissemination of public health information.

The paper discusses the novel aspects of social media-based public health information dissemination, including a very interesting comparison of its characteristics with search engine-based Web document retrieval. I especially find the below table from the paper interesting:

To me, this table captures in a very precise way many of the advantages and new possibilities of social media. The ‘push’ and ‘pull’ analogy for the mode of disseminating information is very telling. I also find the interaction difference of ‘community and peer-post-based’ vs. ‘individual’ based interesting and particular relevant to the field of public health sciences.

In addition to the comparison of social media and search engine-based web document retrieval, the paper presents the results of preliminary analysis of a sample of public health advice tweets taken from a larger sample of over 4700 tweets sent by Australian health-related organization in February 2012 and discusses the potential of social media to spread messages of public health.

All in all the paper has a lot of very interesting perspectives and makes a call for more research in the area. I’m looking forward to hearing more as they get deeper into the analysis. For example it would be interesting to learn about which hashtags (#) the analysed tweets were assigned, if any.


Exam in Public Health Science Communication

Wow, I can’t believe time has passed so quickly. Next to me is a pile of exam papers completed by the students of the graduate course in Public Health Science Communication at the University of Copenhagen. I feel like I just had the first introduction module, but yet I am almost done reading all these papers.

Until the students have received their results I will of course not comment on the actually exam, but what I would like to do is to share the assignment which the students were given with you. The exam was done through a course paper, where the students were presented with the task already on the first day of the course. They have therefore had the opportunity to let it simmer in the back of their minds through out the course.

Course paper in Public Health Science Communication

Assignment: Write a short introductory chapter on science communication for an imagined new textbook on Public Health Sciences. The imagined textbook is directed both to public health students and medical students. The chapter should provide a broad overview of principles of science communication and explain the relevance of looking specifically at public health science communication.

Requirement: Reference needs to be made to at least 60% of texts in the syllabus. Other literature (book chapters, blogs, articles etc.) may also be included, with clear references.

Language: The course paper can be completed either in Danish or in English.

Maximum length: 1 student: 10 normal pages, 2 students: 16 normal pages, 3 students: 20 normal pages

Evaluation: The paper will be evaluated on a 7-points scale

Additional guidance

In addition, the students were given the following guidance:

  • The course paper should illustrate that you have obtained a broad understanding of the principles of public health science communication (not public health communication) and its many dimensions. This means that you know of different medias, different target groups and different objectives/motivations for communicating science.
  • Since a requirement for the exam is that you have to refer to at least 60% of texts in the syllabus, your job is to put the texts into play with each other and demonstrate how their content are relevant for public health science communication – please also feel free to include other references (articles, blog posts, illustrations, radio programmes) if you find that relevant and as long as the references are clearly indicated in the reference list.
  • Apart from living up to the reference requirements and from demonstrating that you have understood basic principles of science communication, the evaluation of your papers will include how you combine your knowledge of public health sciences with your knowledge about science communication.
  • As the assignment is to write and introductory chapter to science communication, you will of course not be able to go into very specific details, but how you weigh different themes, topics etc. is entirely up to you.
  • As for the form of the paper, there are no requirements, rights or wrongs. You may want to write an introductory chapter as you would like to read it yourself (the target group for the paper is yourself and other students of public health related sciences) or try out a new style.  You can choose to write academically, personally, journalistic, with a dash of humor. It is up to you. Please also feel free to include figure, boxes, pictures and other illustrations if you find it relevant for your text.
  • There is no ideal way to complete this assignment and no rights or wrongs when it comes to format, disposition, language or structure for the paper.
  • You are also free to choose what reference system you like, as long as they are clearly marked and complete.

Can you measure how social media friendly Schools of Public Health are?

How social media friendly are Danish Schools of Public Health? Nordic Schools of Public Health? European Schools of Public Health? And which are the most friendly? Can it at all be measured? And what does it mean to score high on social media friendliness?

The answers to these questions are not straight forward. But if we turn our heads to the other side of the Atlantic, an attempt to answer the question of how social media friendly American Schools of Public Health are, and who are the most friendly has been made by the people of MPHprogramsList.com (*read more about them below). They have compared the 57 different Schools of Public Health and come up with a list of the 25 Most Social Media Friendly Schools of Public Health for 2012.

The scores are calculated based on the number of followers and the amount of activity on the three most popular sites: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as the number of followers on LinkedIn. In addition, activity on Google Plus, Pinterest, and Flickr was also taken into account.  (read more about the scoring system here).

The ‘winner’ is Harvard School of Public Health, closely followed by University of Memphis School of Public Health, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Branding and attracting students

So why is this interesting? Well, the motivation for making this list, as presented by MPHprogramsList.com, was that social media play a key role for American universities in attracting prospective students. A survey presented in an article thus showed that about two-thirds of high school students uses social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to check out colleges. This obviously makes social media an important tool in branding the School, but are there other benefits to being social media friendly?

Effects on communicating science and public engagement in science?

It would be interesting to study what other motives there are for the universities in having a strong social media presence, and studying how this affects the way social media is used. Apart from attracting students has it contributed to bringing attention to and communicate research performed by the university? Has it had an impact on the application and implementation of their research? Or even and impact on Public Health? Of course part of the method to attract students is to explain what research the university undertakes, but has the social media presence also lead to discussions of research and dialogue with both current and future students as well as the general public? It would be interesting to learn more about this. Especially if one is to argue for why European Schools of Public Health should prioritize social media, since the attraction of students, although still relevant, plays a less prominent role for the schools. I am not myself aware of any such research studies, but if they exist it would be great to learn about them.

*MPH Programs List.com was created as a free resource for students interested in graduate public health, public administration, public policy and health administration programs. Their goal in creating this site is to attract students to these under-served yet highly rewarding fields. The goal is to highlight MPH programs around the globe including Online MPH programsCEPH Accredited ProgramsMPH Careers, the MPH Experience and more.


Technical report: Social Media & Public Health Research

This blog was set up as part of a research project conducted at the Medical Museion at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Public Health.

The research project was focused on the use of social media in the communication of research in public health sciences. The technical report, completed by myself and Professor Thomas Söderqvist, is now ready, and I’m happy to be able to share it with you all here on this blog.

Technical Report: Social Media and Public Health Research (find abstract below)

The report is a working report and the basis for more research. We therefore look forward to critical comments, debate and suggestions for future work.

Abstract

Ten years after its introduction, web and mobile based social media have become an integral part of modern society. The point of departure for this report is that social media will also play an increasingly important role for public health researchers.

One obvious use of social media is for communication between scientists and the public. In contrast to traditional one-way dissemination, social media can foster a more intense, engaging and democratic discussion about public health problems between researchers, public health officers, general practitioners, and the general public.

By providing platforms for knowledge sharing and scientific discussions, social media also offers great opportunities for public health science networking. The cross-disciplinary and community-oriented features of social media make it ideally suited for informal and rapid communication among public health researchers globally. In addition, social media can also be utilised for data collection and data sharing and as a tool in public health teaching programmes.

Like all other modes of communication, social media has its advantages and problems. Its major strength – the rapid, informal and open structure of communication – also opens up for potential misuse and lack of quality control. Another perceived problem is that social media allegedly takes time away from research; however, as this report points out, social media, when properly used, can be yet another support tool for research.

The report ends with an overview of research topics that can help foster a deeper understanding of how social media can facilitate public health research and public communication.

The thrust of this report is that public health research communication goes beyond the mission and capacity of university communication departments; that science communication is a continuous component of the entire research process; and that public science communication is a task for individual researchers as well.