alexa Mind the Gap: Social Media Engagement by Public Health Researchers
Psychiatry

Psychiatry

Journal of Psychiatry

Author(s): Alain Labrique

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Background: The traditional vertical system of sharing information from sources of scientific authority passed down to the public through local health authorities and clinicians risks being made obsolete by emerging technologies that facilitate rapid horizontal information sharing. The rise of Public Health 2.0 requires professional acknowledgment that a new and substantive forum of public discourse about public health exists on social media, such as forums, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. Objective: Some public health professionals have used social media in innovative ways: to surveil populations, gauge public opinion, disseminate health information, and promote mutually beneficial interactions between public health professionals and the lay public. Although innovation is on the rise, most in the public health establishment remain skeptical of this rapidly evolving landscape or are unclear about how it could be used. We sought to evaluate the extent to which public health professionals are engaged in these spaces. Methods: We conducted a survey of professorial- and scientist-track faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. We asked all available faculty via email to complete a 30-question survey about respondent characteristics, beliefs about social media, and usage of specific technologies, including blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Results: A total of 181 (19.8%) of 912 professor- and scientist-track faculty provided usable responses. The majority of respondents rarely used major social media platforms. Of these 181 respondents, 97 (53.6%) had used YouTube, 84 (46.4%) had used Facebook, 55 (30.4%) had read blogs, and 12 (6.6%) had used Twitter in the prior month. More recent degree completion was the best predictor of higher usage of social media. In all, 122 (67.4%) agreed that social media is important for disseminating information, whereas only 55 (30.4%) agreed that social media is useful for their research. In all, 43 (23.8%) said social media was helpful for professional career advancement, whereas 72 (39.8%) said it was not. Only 43 (23.8%) faculty said they would employ a full- or part-time social media consultant, and 30 (16.6%) currently employed one. Conclusions: Despite near-universal appreciation of the potential for social media to serve as a component of public health strategy, a small minority are actually engaged in this space professionally, whereas most are either disinterested or actively opposed to professional engagement. Social media is seen by most as more useful for spreading information than obtaining it. As public discourse on a number of critical health topics continues to be influenced and sometimes shaped by discussions online from Twitter to Facebook, it would seem that greater discourse is needed about when and how public health professionals should engage in these media, and also how personal, institutional, and professional barriers to greater use of social media may be overcome.

This article was published in Journal of Medical Internet Research and referenced in Journal of Psychiatry

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