Health Dialog Connections

The Power of Peer Pressure: Using Social Networking to Motivate Positive Behavior Change

How many times have you liked, followed or shared something today? If you are an adult living in America, you have done (or will do) at least one of those activities at least once before day’s end. According to a recent studyby the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Americans 18+ use social networking sites.  Although the majority of social media users are 18 to 29 years of age, usage among people 65 years of age older has tripled within the last decade.

As a health communications specialist, I am excited by this new information. I am excited because social media is continuous, instantaneous and deeply personal. And because of the personal nature of the medium, it is easy to believe everything we read and see. A meme, a shared article-whatever it is—if it’s in our feed we tend to engage with it. This means that healthcare organizations, should create content that is of course accurate, but more importantly, sticky. Your infographic, videos and blog posts have to be created in such a way that people want to share them.

Social media can create awesome opportunities to build awareness and spark change on an individual level- remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? If our friends and family members are really into cat videos, charities or specific topics-we tend to notice them more and share them.  So what does this mean for your organization? It means that there is value in using social media to motivate healthy behavior change with your patients, members and employees. Peer driven content can help foster a sense of community and develop individual self-efficacy through demonstration. Think about your friend who has been documenting his or her weight-loss journey. Those before and after photos and chia seed smoothies may not make you jump up from your couch-but they may cause you to at least think about making some changes in your routine (and that’s a start).

Social media should also be used to encourage members to share what they know with their online “communities” in hopes they will empower themselves and their peers. In fact, peer lead support has been shown to:

  • Improve patient self-efficacy
  • Increase patient knowledge of chronic conditions
  • Improve self-reported health status, and self-care skills including medication adherence
  • Reduce the use of emergency services

Creating peer and social communities can give patients the opportunity to share and seek out correct health information that they can share with their healthcare team. For instance, social sites like patientslikeme.com and 23andme.com are popular because they are focused on bringing people together around a common topic.  Members are encouraged to share their personal experiences, which can help them feel like they are a part of a larger community-and that they still belong.

A Few Helpful Tips to Get Started

When it comes to creating health related content for social media, it’s important not to make assumptions about your target audience. Not all baby boomers prefer print and not all young adults only prefer videos. Keep in mind that social media mediums canchange rapidly. As soon as we figure out how to snap our chats a new platform will have emerged. How do you keep up? Here’s how:

  1. Take the temperature of your organization, of your population. What social media platforms are your patients using now? Go there.
  2. Don’t stray too far from who you are. People use social media to connect and find a place to belong. Create content that is fact based and easy to digest. Link to other organizations that have figured it out. Be genuine.
  3. Plan as much as you can- but be flexible. Although social media by nature is supposed to be spontaneous- create a content calendar and try to stick to it. If you want to focus skin cancer prevention topics during the month of July, go ahead and do so. Leverage one message across all of your social media platforms but be open to impromptu messages that could be valuable or interesting to your population.
  4. Offer features that encourage conversation and connection.

Create opportunities for your members to connect with experts on popular topics through twitter chats, forums and live videos. Lead a moderated discussion with a registered nurse health coach or other engaging health professional; allow members to asks questions and offer opportunities to develop a deeper connection with your content and organization.  Doing so may mean changing how your members feel and what they think about their condition(s).

For more information on how Health Dialog is using social connection to encourage peer-to-peer connections to inspire positive behavior change, learn more about our Health Portal solution: Interact

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