How Social Media Can Be Used As An Epidemiology Tool

Jun 14

Social media, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, and location-based services like Foursquare, are forever changing the way epidemiologists discover, track, and study the spread of disease. Instead of waiting for health authorities to investigate an outbreak and not report on results for weeks or even months, victims from all over the world are coming together and using social media to compare symptoms, attempt to determine the origin, and arrive at a diagnosis.

An article in today’s New York Times explores this new trend, discussing how new technology is “democratizing the disease-hunting process, upsetting the old equilibrium by connecting people through channels effectively outside government control.” While there is a downside to online discussion of the spread of disease, including spreading fear and misinformation about causes and cures, many epidemiologists are seeing the new trend of using social media as a positive tool.

Dr. Taha Kass-Hout, Deputy Director for Information Science at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees, stating that because “SARS probably can travel at the speed of an airliner from continent to continent in a matter of hours, it just makes perfect sense to adapt the speed and flexibility of social networking to disease surveillance.”

The Pew Internet and Life Project’s The Social Life of Health Information survey released last month (see my previous post) showed that online resources, including advice from peers, serve as a significant source of health information in the U.S. This survey is the first time anyone has reported, in a national consumer survey, how consumers are using the Internet for self-tracking of their health. Health issues such as questions about a specific disease, food recall, and environmental hazard were searched online by 80% of internet users, or about 59% of the U.S. population the survey showed.

People’s communications about health events, whether it’s through Facebook, Twitter, or blogs, can provide valuable information to researchers that can be processed using modern tools and extract key elements to help predict disease outbreaks.

However, there are skeptics who argue that the new social media methods only provide the illusion of better disease tracking. Not everyone uses social media, so in reality, how representative can it be? While using social media to predict disease and virus outbreaks, such as the flu, may only have modest results at best, social media can compliment traditional surveillance of disease and serve as an important tool in the case of new and emerging diseases, or in instances where little or no historical data exists.

Interested in tracking or reporting outbreaks? A mobile app called Outbreaks Near Me, which has been downloaded by over 100,000 people, allows users to rely on global positioning to help them avoid infectious hazards, and report new ones from smartphones.

New USDA Food Plate Replaces Pyramid

Jun 07

Last week, the USDA unveiled its new visual nutrition guide – a food plate, which replaced its obtuse and often hard to understand food guide pyramid. According to the food guide pyramid, servings of grains should make up the most of the food that we eat. This is no longer the case in USDA’s new nutrition guidelines.

Grains make up only a quarter of the food plate. Fruits and vegetables make up half of the food plate, protein is a smaller quarter of the plate, and dairy is placed off to the side. This suggests that most of the food we eat should be fruits and vegetables. This wasn’t so clear in the original food guide pyramid, which placed fruits and vegetables in the middle of the pyramid. Moreover, the pyramids assumed that we would know what a “serving” actually means. Who would have thought that a serving of meat equals the size of a deck of cards and a serving of fruit is the size of a tennis ball? The newer version of the food guide pyramid, which showed a person running up the side, didn’t make things any clearer.

Other messages, which accompany the food plate, refer to portion sizes, low sodium, sugar, and fat:

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.
  • Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Make at least half of your grains whole grains.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

The new food plate has been well-received so far, compared to its precursor pyramid. Some mention that it is so simple that even children can understand its message. Also, the plate is a symbol which makes more sense as a visual guide referring to food.  It is now easier to “see,” just by looking at our plates, if we are following the nutritional guidelines. In fact, USDA invited Americans to post pictures of their individual food plates on Twitter, by using the hash-tag #MyPlate.

What are the implications of these new dietary guidelines and new visual for social marketers?

Well first off, this changes the nutrition messages that we promote, especially on behalf of our government clients.
But perhaps more importantly, this example shows that representing messages with simple graphics are more effective. Simple visuals are more memorable and salient, and crafting a graphic that directly relates to the topic at hand, instead of a graphic that misses the mark, is more likely to resonate.

What are your thoughts on the new food plate? Do you get excited when you can see that half of your plate really is filled with fruits and vegetables, or do you think that the new food plate will hardly make a difference in your diet?

The Donate Movement: Successful Fusing of Nonprofit, Corporate, and Consumer Interests

Jun 03

Let’s break nonprofit, corporate, and consumer interests down into simple terms.  A nonprofit wants to further its mission to help people and/or the planet. A corporation wants to do good for its shareholders, its employees, and its customers. A consumer wants to live well at a fair price and feel good about purchasing decisions.  Do these sound like conflicting interests?  The recent collaboration between Goodwill Industries® and Gap Inc. shows us that the merging of these interests is very possible indeed, and has the potential to benefit all parties involved.

In 2010, Goodwill launched the Donate Movement, a public awareness initiative that underlines the importance of donating—an act that has the power to make differences in people’s lives, strengthen communities, and create healthier environments. Over the past year, a number of brands—like Family Circle, Hanes, Levi’s, and Planet Green—have joined the movement, engaging their customers in various ways to support Goodwill and its mission. Most recently, Gap, Inc. teamed up with Goodwill, resulting in an extremely visible and influential engagement of corporate, nonprofit, and consumer sectors.

From May 19-29, 2011, all Gap stores in the United States and Canada accepted clothing donations in support of the Donate Movement. Gap customers who brought in clothes to support the Donate Movement received 30 percent off of their Gap purchases, including items from babyGap, GapKids and GapBody (Consumer Interest √ ). Loyalty to the Gap brand increased with current customers, and Gap introduced their brand to new customers in a positive light, generating sales, name recognition, and increasing customer allegiance (Corporate Interest ).  The donated clothing brought in to Goodwill through Gap’s involvement will now be sold in Goodwill’s 2,500+ stores, and 84% of revenue generated from the donated clothing will be used to fund job training programs and employment placement services for underserved populations (Nonprofit Interest ).

Simple, yet tremendously effective. Collaboration doesn’t need to be complicated to work, and increasing parties involved increases impact.  On top of this, as budgets are being cut across all sectors, it’s more cost effective to work together. Corporate social responsibility is not only vital to the communities we live in. It’s also becoming a necessary part of corporate culture, brand loyalty, and even the bottom line.

Want more?  See Sarah Temple’s recent post on corporate social responsibility value here, and be sure to follow Jennifer Wayman’s posts here on the Social Marketing exCHANGE revealing results of a recent study conducted by Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide in partnership with the Center for Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University: Dynamics of Cause Engagement.

How alike and different are Caucasians, African Americans and Hispanics when it comes to supporting causes?

May 31

How alike and different are Caucasians, African Americans and Hispanics when it comes to supporting causes?

Our latest release on the study Dynamics of Cause Engagement revealed interesting similarities and differences in how people of different ethnicities engage with causes.

Among the most interesting findings is the fact that social media play a greater role in cause engagement for African Americans and Hispanics than for Caucasians.

Specifically, African Americans and Hispanics are more likely than Caucasians to believe that social networking sites help get the word out about a social issue or cause and help increase visibility for causes.  (We reported a similar finding among women in our last release.)  Nearly one in three African American adults and four in ten Hispanics say they are more likely to support a cause or social issue online than offline today—both significantly higher percentages than reported by Caucasians.  

 

However, it is important to notice that, across ethnicities, the historically prominent types of engagement (e.g., donating, signing petitions, volunteering) remain among the top ways Americans get involved with causes. Likewise, traditional channels of communication (e.g., television & print media, personal relationship, and websites) remain the top ways that Americans learn about causes.

Another interesting finding: the belief that supporting causes makes people feel good about themselves and creates a sense of purpose and meaning in life is shared across different ethnicities. Nevertheless, African Americans and Hispanics are significantly more likely than Caucasians to value familial cause engagement. They believe that it’s important that their families are involved with causes and said that they were actively involved in causes when growing up.  Additionally, nearly 7 in 10 African Americans and Hispanics affirm that supporting causes gives them the feeling of belonging to a community—this figure was significantly lower among Caucasians.

 

Interested in learning more about how the different ethnicities engage with causes? Click here and download the full release.

Stay tuned for our next release on cause involvement by generation on June 13.

 

Smart Listening Essential in Social Media – A Recap of the International Healthcare Social Media Summit

May 27

Last week, a couple of my colleagues and I had the chance to attend the International Healthcare Social Media Summit. We, along with over 150 people worldwide, joined the summit online via a livestream.

Hosted by GlobalHealthPR and convened at Spectrum Science in Washington, DC, the summit brought together social media and health communication experts and enthusiasts. The summit presented findings from social media research conducted around the topic of malaria  – what the current social media landscape on malaria looked like and how to get people online talking about malaria.

Before presenting the findings, GlobalHealthPR shared some interesting statistics on the growing use of social media and, shed some light on the growing importance of social media in developing countries. Most of us are already aware that at least one quarter of American adults use social media when seeking health information, but in Portugal, approximately 28% of people use the internet to search for health information. In India, about 45,000 people are joining social media networks daily, and in Mexico, the fasting growing sector of social media users are women over age 40!

GlobalHealthPR then introduced its social framework, which emphasizes the importance of “smart listening” to understand why people engage in social media and what value it adds, otherwise known as the “personal engagement proposition.” The framework also highlights that listening is part of an ongoing feedback loop to refine messages and engagement strategies. In addition, the social media principles (understand, add lots of value, leverage unique insights, and be open-minded) should be applied when considering and developing social media programs.

One unique insight that really hit me was the discussion of the fatalistic view of malaria and that this devastating disease is commonly seen as the common cold or flu, an illness that is inevitable. In fact, the study found that in high prevalent areas, malaria is seen as such and hence, social media interactions around the topic of malaria also reflect this view. In low malaria prevalent areas, the discussion on malaria is not social; the conversation revolves more around its science and disease epidemiology.   In order to establish a personal engaging proposition on the topic of malaria, the team suggested giving malaria personal relevance, encouraging experiences with malaria in the social space (creating personal stories is how I like to think about it), and establishing a sense of urgency (i.e. we need to take action now).

They were only able to arrive at these conclusions by engaging in smart listening. Sometimes, in order to be sure that you are engaging in smart listening, connecting with experts gives a sense of what keywords or “buzz” words to listen out for. So it’s important to be prepared to listen multiple times, even if that means listening in the physical space and then using what you’ve learned to better listen in the online space.

In the end, we realize that social media is just a tool to do what we’ve been doing for years, including advocating for a certain cause or getting people to change their behavior. We just need to ensure that we practice smart listening when considering social media conversations.

The video of the summit and the presentation slides are available for viewing online. Check them out here.

Still proving the value of CSR?

May 26

A new study released by Tuck Business School at Dartmouth looks at whether CSR provides financial benefit to companies, specifically within the grocery retail industry, by looking at four dimensions of CSR and how they impact positive perceptions and whether consumers modified their purchase behavior based on these perceptions.

The study’s hypothesis was based on a review of CSR impacts on financial performance across a number of industrial sectors, and argued that “we don’t really know about whether, how and how much CSR benefits the company.” Overall, results demonstrated the financial benefit to grocery stores in terms of “share of wallet” – particularly when CSR programming was specific to consumers’ direct experience with the grocery store, such as fair compensation for the staff they dealt with and locally-sourced food they bought. Broader initiatives that impacted general goodwill, such as environmental and community program, had less of an impact of share of wallet. The take-away from this latest study is that not all CSR efforts garner benefits equally for companies – and the resulting paper will undoubtedly contribute to ongoing evidence-informed analysis of best practices. But does the premise of whether CSR provides value need to be proven? The benefits of corporate responsibility – both the tangible and intangible – are long-studied and have been continually examined as business practices and consumer and stakeholder attitudes and beliefs have changed. Global reviews that prove the business case (and societal benefit) come from the Harvard Business Review, GlobeScan and BSR, among others.

So why do we seem to need to continually validate CSR? Perhaps it’s that stakeholder and consumer trust of corporations is inherently volatile. Or the belief that proven approaches to addressing global problems need all sectors at the table? Last year’s Economist conference on corporate responsibility hosted C-level advocates from such companies as Coca-Cola, Timberland and Procter & Gamble along with academics and global thought leaders in a discussion about how – not if – the corporate sector will play a leadership role with government and citizens in facing face today’s issues of climate change, the financial crisis and sustainability.

Check out the full study and the AdAge coverage.

Wake-up calls and lifestyle changes

May 24

Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times featured a great article about behavior change entitled “Why are unhealthy people so reluctant to change their lifestyles?”  In the article, Dr. Valerie Ulene, a preventive medicine specialist, examines just how much it takes for someone to adopt what she calls the three principles of healthy living: not smoking, five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, and regular physical activity.

Many would think that serious health events like heart attacks or cancer survival would be the wake-up call that facilitates the adoption of a healthier lifestyle, but several recent studies have said otherwise.  For example, a Washington University study found that one year after a heart attack, 1,200 overweight men and women had lost an average of just 0.2% of their body weight.  A 2008 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology showed that just 1 in 20 cancer survivors were following all three principles of healthy living (although most had given up smoking).

Clearly, there’s more to adopting a healthy lifestyle than just a wake-up call.  A third study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that physicians are lax in discussing lifestyle issues with patients following a diagnosis—just 1 in 3 were given diet recommendations, and 1 in 4 received physical activity advice.  Less than half were asked about smoking.  If doctors aren’t viewing health scares as wake-up calls, how exactly does someone get to the point where they’re willing to change?

According to the article, there are a few steps that lead up to a change of habits:

1) First, they must recognize that the benefit is worth the time and effort put into it

2) Then, they must prepare slowly by making small adjustments in their lifestyle

3) When they deem the small adjustments a success, they are ready to commit to change

Of course, committing to the change isn’t everything- it takes a lot of work to undertake and maintain a true lifestyle change.   One thing this article did not mention is that even if people are fully aware of all of the benefits and steps to undergoing a change, if the healthier choices aren’t easy to make, they’re much less likely to choose them.  I’m willing to bet that most people understand the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, but if they live in a food desert, spending an hour traveling to the grocery store is hard to justify when there’s a convenience store nearby, even if it offers only unhealthy options.

This is a place where effective communication can play a huge role in affecting behavior change.  For example, if people are ready to make the small adjustments mentioned in step two above, they can be reminded that you don’t have to go to the gym to be physically active—taking the stairs or walking a few extra blocks is valuable as well.

What do you think—is there a way for health scares to be viewed as opportunities for behavior change?

Happiness, Harmony, and World Citizenship

May 19

Getting screened for cancer.

Putting on a seatbelt.

Turning off the lights.

Recycling.

Quitting smoking.

Wearing sunscreen.

Social marketers have increased the rates of all of the above behaviors throughout the last half century and have, in turn, affected the health and well-being of men and women all over the world. We have academic theory to back our behavior change philosophies, and we have practice that has proven our tactics. Social marketing has come a long way in the fields of health and safety, and it now appears to be broadening with more and more initiatives positively affecting the environment and fiscal responsibility. Imagine, though, a social marketing program aimed at making people happier, more harmonious, and better world citizens. Could it be possible? Sounds a little dreamy at first, but one man has devoted much of his life to helping people around the world grasp these principles.

About a month ago, I attended a press conference at Citywest Hotel in Dublin, Ireland at which the Dalai Lama spoke about hard work, self-confidence, and inner peace. I hadn’t been invited to the press conference, but by some miracle of pure chance, I was welcomed with open arms. The Dalai Lama was in Dublin for the Possibilities Civic Summit which was organized to empower people in the face of social, environmental, and economic challenges. His words were deeply evocative, and while I can’t say for sure, I would wager that every single person in the room was sincerely affected by his profound statements on the promotion of basic human values, human happiness, and the fostering of harmony. His statements encouraged wellness and addressed attitudes to bring about peace on individual and global scales:

Happiness. “The ultimate source of happiness and successful life is within ourselves,” the Dalai Lama said. He went on to discuss how inner value brings inner strength and how happiness can only be achieved within oneself, with peace of mind, an open mind, and a holistic view of the world.

Harmony. The Dalai Lama spoke about harmony with one another as being necessary for individual and global peace.  He said, “Friendship between believer and non-believer is possible.” He noted that we must learn from each other to achieve worldwide brotherhood and sisterhood.

Mental Health. Discussing reasons for poor mental health, the Dalai Lama said, “Mental illness comes from people looking outside.” He talked about how if people focus on their inner selves, rather than on superficial matters, people can open themselves to great mental wellbeing. “Love, affection, compassion—these are the things that reduce anxiety and allow friendship. Openness, honesty, truth—elements of trust and important for mental health.”

Prosperity. “Billionaires, they are, I notice, very unhappy people. Very powerful, but deep inside, too much anxiety, too much stress,” the Dalai Lama said. He went on to discuss how the recent global recession is the result of shortsightedness and greed. He spoke passionately about how prosperity comes from hard work and determination, and how it cannot be measured in money.

Responsibility. The Dalai Lama announced his plans to step down as Tibet’s head of state and make way for his elected replacement, in order to advance democracy. He spoke about how in a democracy, individuals need to be accountable for their behaviors and actions: “Everyone has self-duty and responsibility.” He also talked about how human affection and solid values are harmonious with personal responsibility.

Ethics. One does not need to be religious to have ethics, the Dalai Lama discussed. Secular ethics are based off common sense and logic, and these ethics demand respect and compassion for other human beings.  The Dalai Lama stressed the importance of secular ethics to all in attendance, and spoke about the positive impacts of compassion for individuals and those around them.

As the Dalai Lama spoke about the ideology outlined above, he paused often to smile and laugh, both of which activities were truly infectious.  Wearing his red and saffron robes, he reached another yet another audience with his lessons—another audience to spread his teachings.  In listening to the Dalai Lama, I really appreciated hearing things that I already believed in, reaffirming the values that have been engrained in me since childhood. His words have since pushed me to take more time for myself during the day and not “sweat the small stuff.” Going back to the question posed at the beginning of this post, imagine a social marketing program aimed at making people happier, more harmonious, and better world citizens. Could it be possible? Do you think it would ever be funded? Could nonprofits team up and take this on? Or maybe a corporation as a part of their social responsibility initiatives? One man is making a big difference in the lives of people he meets. Imagine what we could do together.

Women Are Strongest Believers in the Power of Supporting Causes

May 17

This post was originally posted to Ogilvy PR’s Womenology blog.

A recent study conducted by Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide in partnership with the Center for Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University revealed the importance of supporting causes for women in the U.S.

8 in 10 women believe that supporting causes creates a sense of purpose and meaning in life and feel everyone can make a difference through their support.

Some of the key findings showcase demographic trends in the current dynamics of cause involvement.

Here are some highlights:

Study results show that women are more likely than men to believe in the capacity of individuals to make a difference in society by supporting causes.

The top three causes women are most involved with are supporting our troops, feeding the hungry and breast cancer. The two latter receive greater support from women than from men. Women are also significantly more likely to support youth-related causes like bullying and childhood obesity.

When engaging with causes, social media play a greater role for women than men:

  • Women turn to social media as a source of cause information more often than men—though for both, this lags far behind traditional TV and print media sources and personal relationships.
  • More than 6 in 10 women believe online social networking sites increase the visibility of social issues and allow people to support causes more easilythis figure is significantly lower among men.
  • Women are also more likely than men to feel that social networking sites help them get the word out about a social issue or a cause.

However, women’s engagement in causes is not limited to the social media space. In fact, women expressed that only showing support to a cause on social networking sites is not enough: almost half of women think that “Everybody ‘likes’ causes on Facebook and it doesn’t really mean anything.”

Additionally, the survey revealed that the more historically prominent types of engagement (e.g., donating, learning more about the cause and signing a petition) remain the “most often” means of cause involvement for both women and men.

If you are interested in learning more, click here to download the full fact sheet and stay tuned as we continue to release additional findings from this study in the upcoming weeks:

  • May 31 – Cause Involvement by Ethnicity
  • June 13 – Cause Involvement by Generation
  • June 30 – Cause Involvement and Behavior Change

How social are you when it comes to seeking health information online?

May 13

When it comes to sharing and/or looking for health information online, are you a social butterfly or a wallflower? New findings from the Pew Internet and Life Project’s The Social Life of Health Information 2011 survey were released yesterday, showing that online resources, including advice from peers, serve as a significant source of health information in the U.S., while doctors, nurses, and other health professionals continue to be the first choice for most people with health questions and concerns. Additionally, this is the first time anyone has reported, in a national consumer survey, how consumers are using the Internet for self-tracking of their health.

One of 15 health issues were searched online by 80% of Internet users, or about 59% of the U.S. population, the survey showed. These issues include questions about a food recall, environmental hazard, or information on a specific disease, hospital or doctor.

Susannah Fox, Associate Director and author of the study, says the online conversation about health is being driven forward by two forces: 1) the availability of social tools and 2) the motivation, especially among people living with chronic conditions, to connect with each other.

General findings from the survey include:

  • Social network sites are popular, but used only sparingly for health updates and queries.
  • People caring for loved ones are more likely than other adults to use social network sites to gather and share health information and support.
  • Relatively few use hospital ranking and doctor review sites.
  • One in four adult internet users have consulted online reviews of drugs or treatments.
  • One in four adult internet users track their own health data online.
  • More people report being helped rather than harmed, by online health information.
  • The typical search for health information is on behalf of someone else

Read the rest of this entry »