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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Get Social: Using Online Networks to Advance Health Security

Author: ASPR/OPP Division of Policy and Strategic Planning
Published Date: 8/16/2017 9:41:00 AM
Category: National Health Security;

You probably know that Americans of all ages use social media, but did you know that social media has emerged as a critical resource for the public in disasters, providing timely situational awareness, preparedness guidance, and emergency assistance?

According to the American Red Cross, one in five people will try an online channel for help if unable to reach EMS in an emergency. Many emergency services, health organizations, and even news and government agencies also depend on social media for vital information in crisis and disaster events.

Whether your agency or organization is already using social media regularly or you are considering starting an account, here are four things you can do to enhance your audience outreach and engagement while advancing national health security.

Luck Favors the Prepared

Make sure that you don’t miss opportunities by having a great plan for your social media accounts. Whether you have an active social media account or are just starting out, take a moment to consider your social media plan and the way that it fits into your overall communications plan. Check out the lessons learned and planning tools that CDC has made available through the Health Communicators Social Media Toolkit.

Be ready to keep the conversation going throughout the year. Check out the National Seasonal Preparedness Messaging Calendar to help you learn about conversations on preparedness that will be going on throughout the year.

Learn your ABCs: Amplify, Borrow, Communicate

You know that disasters happen every day across the country – but did you realize that there are a number of existing toolkits that have been developed by federal agencies to teach people about disaster preparedness and to help them recover?

Use existing resources effectively to help you plan and give you more time to focus on the concerns that relate specifically to your area. CDC, ASPR and SAMHSA teamed up to create a library of Public Service Announcements for Disasters. The library contains seven-second videos on YouTube and Vine, short-form messages that are perfect for tweets and texts, longer-form scripts with key facts and statistics, and much more. The toolkit has pre-scripted messages that can help your followers understand everything from staying safe in the wake of a flood to helping dialysis-dependent individuals prepare for disasters.

In addition, CDC has developed a number of infographics and videos that can easily be incorporated into your social media plan. Check out the great graphics they have already developed on issues like extreme heat, hurricanes, tornadoes, and more. Ready.gov also offers a wide range of social media toolkits, from flood and hurricane safety to preparedness month.

Expand your Network

Think about the people your agency or organization connects with every day – from hospitals and clinics to community leaders and partner organizations. Consider following them to expand your social network. If you have a big event or important announcement, reach out to your partners and ask them to share your posts.

Many neighborhoods and communities have group pages on social media channels where residents have conversations. Join these and look for opportunities to ask for volunteers or exchange advice on fun community health-building activities.

Get Behind the Camera

Videos and photos continue to be critical tools for online engagement. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

  • Take pictures! Think about the things that make your organization unique. Do you work with volunteers in the field? Support vaccination drives? Conduct preparedness drills? Next time you do, make sure that someone brings a camera. Look for opportunities to capture moments that connect your audience to your mission or key priorities.
  • Record educational videos with experts on specific topics that relate to health security, like building community resilience. Keep your videos short and high energy, and use messages that the general public will understand. Take it up a notch by using online resources that make videos using only moving text and animated graphics.
  • Know of any events in your area that are examples of community health resilience or health security activities in action, such as health fairs, volunteer events, block parties, or other preparedness activities? Attend and take photos or videos of them to show your audience what national health security looks like so they know how they can support it. Be sure to use professional equipment to ensure high-quality images or sound.

Create a Two-Way Connection

With millions of Americans engaging with each other through neighborhood-based platforms, local public agencies and organizations are reaching the people within their community like never before.

Create and staff a dedicated account that allows real-time communication with area residents that is focused on important public health and safety topics. Use this channel to answer questions, solicit feedback, and ask for engagement on community activities.

A social media communication strategy is only one part of a larger communication effort, and should be integrated into your overall communication planning, activities and data collection. Therefore, over-arching communication goals should be considered when developing social media activities.

Integrating social media into disaster health communication campaigns and activities allows health communicators to leverage social dynamics and networks to encourage participation, conversation and community – all of which can help members of your community make better decisions when seconds count.

To learn more about national health security activities, visit www.phe.gov/nhss.


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