Why We Need More Researchers in Health Care Social Media

“Best practices for increasing audience engagement.”

I’m pretty sure I’ve used this phrase in a social media plan.

In the drive to gain tons of social media followers commenting and interacting, we often turn to these familiar tenets of social media “engagement,” correct?

  • Post frequently. On quick moving status streams, your update is gone in an instant.
  • Ask questions to encourage conversations and spark discussions.
  • Use apps, games, polls, and challenges to increase participation.
  • And so on.

But I wonder: how have we seemingly agreed upon rules for communicating when social media is truly in its infancy? I think it’s too soon, and I don’t know these principles are appropriate in many cases.

Do gobs of fans, comments, and clicks matter if they’re not helping you or your organization achieve a real or figurative bottom line (i.e. money or action)? Is the conceptual definition of engagement really what we want to be measuring?

The measures we currently use for engagement are not necessarily correlated with outcomes. We’re still in an experimental phase. We don’t know for sure what works yet and what doesn’t.

Social media may be free, but managing these channels takes time, and time is money. If we really want to justify social media’s use as a communication tool, I think we should be doing more testing from a research perspective, and less marketing with hopes pinned on unrealistic results.

Imagine if:

  • We didn’t think of social media campaigns.
  • We thought instead of using social media as a research tool.
  • We began testing social media “experiments” in our every day use, ideally with academic advice, tying use back to outcomes (when possible)?

NIH is already conducting a series of controlled trials and interventions to test how digital and social media use affect different groups’ health behaviors. These results will shed light.

But what I’m talking about is changing the way we go about typical social media implementations, with research in mind instead of marketing goals.

It seems we are attacking the problem backward to me, especially when researchers are using what practitioners have come up with to measure effective social media use. For example, this study on hospitals’ poor use of social media relies on variables including number of followers, postings, and comments as indicators of engagement.

Language is important, and when we use words like increasing participation and engagement, it influences how people see the value of social media and use the tools.

Regardless, wouldn’t it be nice if researchers and communicators worked together more frequently in the work we do every day?

Am I making any sense here at all, or not? Please let me know.

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