Using Facebook to influence health

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Using Facebook to influence health
Using Facebook to influence health

Researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health in Denver decided to see if social media influencers—a key group for marketers—can change health habits.

To do that, they developed a campaign aimed at persuading teens to take precautions against sexually transmitted infections. The campaign involved re­cruit­ing Facebook users, who in turn recruited other Facebook users. The users were divided into two groups: one would “like” information on a page called “Just/Us” and a control group would “like” a page called “18-24 news.”

Liking a page funnels that page's updates into the liker's news feed, so members of the liker's network will see the respective site updates when they look at their friend's page.

The “Just/Us” site urged youth to share their ideas with each other and with experts on such topics as sexual history, health relationships, negotiating condom use and getting tested for STDs. The “18-24 news” page avoided sexual health content, but covered news that would interest 18-to-24-year-olds.

The result: members of the “Just/Us” group increased their condom use two months into the study—though use reverted to pre-site levels after six months. The authors were not discouraged by the short-term impact. noting that the data show Facebook could be an opportunity for clinics that provide sexual health services to get the message out to more teens.

Before setting up a page, potential page sponsors should note that the impact is all about who is liking their page. The reason: researchers wrote that teens found the sex-ed content through their friends' news feeds, so the “liked” information could appear in a stream of other information that includes cat videos and news about classmates, as opposed to seeking out the educational information themselves or going to the source directly.

“There is little evidence to suggest a majority of youth actively seek out and engage with organizations on Facebook,” the researchers said.
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