Influencing Public Health: Can Facebook Make Us Adopt Better Health Practices?


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Interactions Among Twitter Users worldwide: Photo by Marc Smith

On a meager public health budget, how to best inspire change?

Word of mouth?

Media campaigns?

Or using social media?

How should a public health official choose to deliver information?

Thomas Valente, PhD,  of the Institute for Prevention Research, Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California reviewed previous research and presented four ways in which social networks can be used to promote change using the diffusion of interventions theory.

Facebook and Social Media: Study

Dr. Valente built upon prior research indicating that peers are the best agents to induce change rather than outside actors. Valente referred to specific peers chosen for dissemination of ideas as “nodes” in the social network. In addition, the type of intervention required by the social network required depends on the outcome desired. Rather than targeting everyone in the same manner, different approaches can be used with different groups of individuals, or “segmentation.”  An example of this is when a business rolls out different changes in different locations.

As the information is shared, the goal is “excitation,” in which the network produces “novel interactions” thorough network links. The hope is that “alteration” occurs, or a change in the network, resulting in people adopting new behavior (adopters versus non-adopters). Lastly, the network should be viewed as a two-way street, according to this research – not only should social networks be used to induce change, but also to both learn from and serve the targeted community.

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