Social Media as a Health Communications Research Tool

In almost every campaign, the research phase is crucial. Understanding who the best audience is, and what that audience is concerned about, can lead to messages that resonate and prompt action. There are various forms of traditional research, from focus groups to literature reviews to surveys. A newer tool that continues to gain in popularity, specifically in the health communications space, is listening to patients via social networks.

Social listening has been common practice for businesses for a few years, and sophisticated tools have been developed to allow companies to understand what people are saying about their brand, products and competitors. As a form of public health research, however, the concept is somewhat newer.

A recent study published in JAMA Cardiology looked into the value of Twitter as a way to study communications about Cardiovascular Disease. The researchers identified promise in the method. While tweets weren’t necessarily coming from people with Cardiovascular Disease, they did offer insights into how people feel and talk about the topic. For communicators who need to relate to their audiences, this could be valuable information to have.

What additional ways might social listening play a role in health communications? Other ideas include:

  1. Listing to fears about vaccines, to better equip physicians to address common concerns head on.
  2. Understanding women who are effected by breast cancer, to offer more compassionate caregiver or post-treatment support.
  3. Understanding the way people talk about drug and alcohol addiction, to better equip healthcare professionals with real information, and to create awareness campaigns that speak to real experiences.
  4. Listening to parents speak about their children’s health, to understand what the main concerns are, and what health information would help them.

As more research is done to understand the possibilities of social listening in health research, more campaigns will hopefully begin to incorporate these new methods.



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