“With the ubiquitous nature of social media in current society, health and food safety risk communicators should be taking advantage of these platforms to provide information and engage the public,” reads a recent article in the journal Perspectives in Public Health.
To help health information providers navigate social media, researchers at North Carolina State University reviewed current research on its use in public health settings and suggested frameworks for developing social media strategies.
The authors say it’s important for public health organizations to use sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in a collaborative way rather a one-way broadcast of information. Some studies have found that participation in lifestyle interventions corresponds with the level of participation in a Facebook group.
Social media can also be useful in responding to questions, creating events such as online chats, and engaging other organizations.
“Social media influences how individuals obtain information, and the amount of time spent on social media applications is rising at a rate three times faster than the increase of time spent on the Internet overall,” the authors say.
When it comes to frameworks for social media interaction, health promotion interventions delivered via the Internet can be more successful if they are based on theories of social and behavioral change like the theory of reasoned action/planned behavior.
Encouraging people to align with their peers through comment sections or competitions and sharing personal narratives are other helpful strategies.
Very little research has been done on the possible uses of social media in conveying risk related to foodborne illness, the authors say, but add that it could be used similarly to other areas of public health.
The article lists speed, accessibility and interactivity as the benefits of social media when raising awareness about an issue. However, lack of control in ensuring the accuracy of information and possible information overload are two of the pitfalls.
When government agencies, academics and companies try to engage the public on food safety via social media, the article states that real-time dialogue and communities where discussion is already happening are important to keep in mind.
And, more than anything else, the authors say that “establishing and maintaining trust remains at the core of successful social media engagement.”© Food Safety News