AcademyHealth: Which State Health Departments Tweet?

Jul 2, 2012, 3:09 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

Social media has been hyped for everything from communicating during emergencies to tracking the spread of the flu. So how are state health departments using such tools as blogs, Facebook, and Twitter? That was the subject of a presentation at the recent Public Health Systems Research Interest Group meeting that followed the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting last week.

In an unfunded study, Jenine Harris and Doneisha Snider of Washington University in St. Louis looked at how widely Facebook and Twitter are used by state health departments. Harris pointed out that social media can augment the resources health departments have to communicate with the public and “have the potential to diffuse information quickly.” Harris added that health departments can use social media to communicate with each other about new information, best practices and lessons learned in addition to communicating with the public.

Researchers shared stats on state health department social media presence so far:

  • 28 have a Facebook page
  • 41 have a Twitter feed
  • 37 state health departments were following each other on Twitter
  • 24 state health departments had friended each other on Facebook
  • On average, state health department Facebook pages have 993 friends
  • The average number of Twitter followers for a state health department is 1,340
  • State health departments are actively using their Facebook and Twitter accounts; thirty-six health departments had tweeted within the last week and 24 had posted on Facebook

Harris says content for the tweets and Facebook posts primarily includes prevention (such as immunization, nutrition and smoking cessation information) and operations (hours of operations, job openings). Tweets were mostly aimed at the general public.

Harris offered some recommendations on how state health departments could potentially use Facebook and Twitter to communicate with each other to share best practices. However, she says there is much left to learn about the potential of social media for public health practice and how to use this new tool most effectively.

For more detailed analyses, look for Harris’s article, “The network of Web 2.0 connections among state health departments: New pathways for dissemination,” which is forthcoming in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. Harris and her colleagues also plan to examine social media use in local health departments.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.