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Social Media: A Tookit for Pediatricians

Social media refers to forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, videos and other content. In the last several years, the use of Facebook, text messaging, YouTube, Twitter and other social media tools to disseminate health messages by health systems, clinics and individual physicians has grown significantly, and continues to trend upward. 

According to the Pew Research Center, almost 75 percent of adults now use social media. The vast majority of users are in their 20s and 30s -- parents of pediatric patients. About the same percent say they have looked online for health information in the past year.  In addition, 82 percent of U.S. adults own a cell phone and a high number are text messaging. Although doctors, nurses and other health professionals continue to be the first choice for most people with health concerns, pediatric clinics cannot underestimate the value of connecting with patients online.

Interestingly, social networking sites are more appealing to low-income Internet users (72 percent who make less than $30,000) than higher income users (66 percent of those making more than $50,000 per year). They are less appealing to rural users (61 percent). 2012 research suggests the use of the following social networking sites are especially appealing to the following demographics:

  • Facebook: women, adults ages 18-29
  • Twitter: Adults ages 18-29, African Americans, urban residents
  • Pinterest: Women, adults under 50, those with some college education
  • Instagram: Adults ages 18-29, African Americans, Latinos, women, urban residents
  • Tumblr: adults ages 18-29

Commonly Used Social Media Tools

Facebook

Facebook is the largest social networking site today with over 800 million active users, half of whom log on to Facebook on any given day. Facebook is designed for two audiences including (1) individuals who create personal profiles allowing them to post status updates, pictures, videos, and links to websites for others to view as well as comment on others’ posts and (2) organizations such as businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations that develop profiles to communicate with their intended audiences. Within Facebook, you can create public or private groups. Example: Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota

  • Sample guidelines for clinics
  • Sample policies and procedures for clinics
  • Sample minor consent form to participate in a non-public Facebook group
  • Sample Facebook messages for clinics (Excel file)

Twitter
Twitter can be used to disseminate bites of information and monitor conversations in real-time. Twitter users can post text-based messages known as “tweets” of up to 140 characters. In addition, users can share links, post photos or videos, and retweet messages posted by other users. Twitter can also be used to schedule chats. The @ symbol is used to reply to a Twitter user (e.g. @AmerAcadPeds). The # symbol is used to categorize topics in a tweet and allows people to search for topics of interest. For instance, searching for #health will pull up messages related to general health. RT is an abbreviation for ReTweet or reposting a message to your Twitter stream from another user. It is used to credit the original poster (e.g. RT @AmeriAcadPeds). DM is an abbreviation for a Direct Message, enabling a message to reach the receiver’s inbox instead of its public Twitter stream. Example: Kids Plus Pediatrics

Blogs

Blogs are online journals in which one or multiple authors contribute regular posts to share commentary, information, and resources. Content typically targets a particular topic or audience. Visitors can leave comments, search through archived entries, and become regular subscribers through content syndication services (e.g. RSS feeds). Example: Seattle Mama Doc

Texting

Text messaging systems are often obtained through contracts with outside vendors. Generally, an organization will lease a shortcode consisting of a 5-6 digit number (e.g. CDC: 87000) through a mobile service provider or directly through Neustar. Next, the organization will select a keyword that users can text into the shortcode to subscribe to the SMS service. The organization can then send messages (up to 160 characters) via a mobile aggregator, which delivers content to subscribers via various wireless carriers. The cost varies greatly depending on the complexity of the text messaging service such as number of messages and subscribers. There are also online alternatives that offer fewer customizable options at a lower cost such as Wiggio. Example: Txt4life

CDC Best Practices on Text Messaging

Legal Considerations

In short, don't publish anything online that you wouldn't say in an elevator. Also, consider including some kind of disclosure statement on your social media page.

Helpful articles:

Sample social media policies for clinics and their employees:

Sample disclosure statement:

More legal info:

In 2013 the law firm Gray Plant Mooty and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development released "A Legal Guide to the Use of Social Media in the Workplace"


Getting Started

Make a plan! Who is the target audience you'd like to reach? Current patients and their families? Adolescents? The community in general? Then determine what messages you want to convey and how.

The CDC has put together a worksheet to aid in developing a social media strategy on page 48 of The Health Communicator's Social Media Toolkit

In addition, the CDC has put together a guide to writing for social media