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Sep 16, 2021

Moving Beyond “Likes”: Social Media’s Impact on Public Health Initiatives

Sponsored Content provided by Robert Burrus - Dean , Cameron School of Business - UNC-Wilmington

This piece was contributed by Dr. Alexandra Krallman, Assistant Professor of Marketing, UNCW Cameron School of Business.

Over the last two years, the CDC has highlighted the impact of health disparities throughout the world. Minority groups often don’t experience healthcare equity due to a variety of factors including access barriers and feelings of skepticism or distrust. These factors make such populations less likely to engage in preventive health measures (i.e. vaccinations, health screenings, annual PCP visits) and also often underrepresented in healthcare research studies.

Accordingly, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Dr. Alexandra Krallman, has teamed up with a group of epidemiologists from the University of Alabama Birmingham, the American Heart Association, and Verily Life Sciences to investigate how social media marketing campaigns may serve as a beneficial channel to reach groups of minority Millennial women to promote healthy heart initiatives and enroll participants in “Research Goes Red” studies.

Today, social media plays a fundamental role in connecting individuals, building relationships, and delivering information to a worldwide audience. Recognizing this opportunity, health organizations have adopted these online channels to disseminate information. Typically beginning with awareness campaigns, social media is used to reach large populations to both inform and engage.

The targeting abilities that exist on social media channels may be effective in reaching smaller subsegments such as at-risk and minority populations. As consumers are exposed to thousands of promotions each day, health care marketers are constantly seeking new ways to break through the clutter. The use of social media influencers in healthcare marketing campaigns has proven to be one strategy especially useful in the current online landscape.

Influencer marketing is a social media strategy that focuses on promoting a brand to target audiences by utilizing individual users with large social followings. This concept is similar to more traditional forms of celebrity endorsements often used in commercial advertisements. The use of endorsers in a public health context isn’t exactly a new concept. For example, in the 1950’s Elvis Presley received the polio vaccine while on the “The Ed Sullivan Show”. Today, social media influencers are often considered a more reliable source than mainstream celebrities as they often have closer relationships to their followers that they communicate with on a daily basis.

Thus, these influencers are able to gain their followers’ trust by forming virtual friendships. This type of credibility is especially crucial in a healthcare context. Audiences are already engaging with these influencers and interacting with others through online communities, therefore it makes logical sense for health organizations to meet consumers where they already are.

In fact, the White House recently launched a social media influencer campaign in an attempt to counter the vast amounts of vaccine misinformation being shared online. The effort included messaging coming from diverse groups across various social media platforms, along with one-on-one Q&A sessions between Dr. Anthony Fauci and select influencers.

Even individual states have begun partnering with influencers that have ties to a particular region to reach local constituents. Such state-wide campaigns include Colorado’s #PowertheComeback campaign and #HealthyTexas from the Texas Department of State Health Services. In North Carolina, Guilford County launched a campaign with “micro-influencers” (or those with less than 100,000 followers) to encourage younger people to get vaccinated.
 
Aligning with this social media marketing influencer trend in healthcare marketing, there are three primary aims of Dr. Krallman’s research:

1) Curate and distribute evidence-based educational materials for cardiovascular disease and stroke through a network of minority women influencers and social media online communities targeted at minority millennial women.

2) Understand if and how social media influencer strategies can effectively move various segments of consumers through the digital marketing funnel. Traditionally, social media marketing is generally associated with the top tiers of the marketing funnel focused on awareness and engagement. This research attempts to move participants further through the funnel into the conversion and relationship-building stages by enrolling individuals in the “Research Goes Red” online health portal. A variety of message framing strategies will be tested alongside various combinations of influencer types and social media communities.

3) Build guidelines and models for engaging underrepresented, minority audiences in order to provide a more representative participant group for research studies. Individuals within this study will complete assessments focused on understanding the motivators and barriers to health research participation.  These evaluations coupled with the results of testing targeted messaging and influencer strategies can provide a framework for future recruitment and retention health campaigns.
 
This research is currently underway with an anticipated completion date in late 2022. For questions or comments please contact Dr. Alexandra Krallman at [email protected] .
 
 

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