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Reaching for Impact: How can we know if social media campaigns improve health?

January 3, 2016

By Christine Chambers (@drcchambers) & Holly Witteman (@hwitteman)

headshot of Christine Chambers

Christine Chambers

headshot of Holly Witteman

Holly Witteman

Health professionals, researchers, public health organizations, patient advocacy organizations and community groups are increasingly using social media as a way to communicate evidence-based health messages and research findings. Social media can serve as a powerful tool to reach large and varied audiences. The detailed analytics that one can obtain from social media (e.g., number of impressions, likes, shares, etc), even for a single tweet, are impressive and seductive, especially for data nerds like us health researchers . . . but is there any evidence that reaching people with health messages over social media can actually improve health?

On Wednesday, January 6th at 1pm ET we look forward to engaging the #hcsmca community in a discussion about the opportunities and challenges of evaluating whether social media campaigns actually improve health. Many published evaluations of social media campaigns to date on a range of topics in health (e.g., handwashing, prostate cancer, smoking) focus only on measures of reach and engagement (e.g., number of followers, views, shares), without any objective evidence of change or improvement in the health outcome of interest. Other studies report formative or process evaluations, pre-post (before and after) evaluations, and various ways of measuring knowledge, attitudes, and intention. However, there is still relatively little evidence as to how social media campaigns influence (or fail to influence) decisions, behaviour, and health outcomes.

Jan 6-16

In the chat we will cover:

  • T1. What do measures of reach tell us when we are evaluating social media campaigns in health?
  • T2. What other methods can we use to establish impact of social media campaigns on health?
  • T3. Can social media campaigns be evaluated using traditional research designs (e.g., RCTs)? Do they need to be?
  • T4. Are pre-post designs sufficient for demonstrating the impact of social media campaigns? Can we do better?
  • T5. Is it possible to recruit a control group to compare to followers of social media campaigns?
  • T6. How could we push the boundaries on evaluating the reach and impact of social media campaigns in health?

We will draw from our ongoing experiences with the #ItDoesntHaveToHurt social media campaign, funded by a Knowledge-To-Action grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The goal of #ItDoesntHavetoHurt is to increase parent awareness and use of evidence-based knowledge on children’s pain through a partnership between health researchers and an award-winning online publisher targeted primarily to Canadian mothers, the Yummy Mummy (YMC). The It Doesn’t Have to Hurt social media campaign spans a 12-month period (beginning in September 2015) of targeted sharing and discussion of content about children’s pain through blogs, videos, Twitter parties, Facebook polls, and social media images, all posted and promoted on the YMC website and social media. You can learn more about #ItDoesntHaveToHurt in this short video:


Links to the #ItDoesntHaveToHurt content published to date are as follows:

We are collecting detailed analytics on the reach of all our #ItDoesntHaveToHurt content, and surveying and interviewing parents before and after the campaign about their awareness and use of evidence-based knowledge about children’s pain. But will we be able to conclude that the campaign truly impacted children’s pain management?

We look forward to the #hcsmca chat and your thoughts on January 6 at 1pm ET (time zone converter)!

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