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Big Data to design an online campaign?

The reach and importance of the Internet have diversified research design and implementation. Online research methodologies are increasingly gaining prominence. According to a Global Market Research Report by ESOMAR, online research stood out as the preferred method of data collection vis a vis more traditional ones such as face-to-face interviews. With mobility restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, online research can be extremely useful — especially when it comes to reaching people at scale. Best of all, online research can also complement on-the-ground interventions.

Though online spaces have vast potential to do good there are also challenges, one being the infiltration of misinformation in public health. According to research by the World Health Organization, during the first three months of 2020, nearly 6,000 people around the globe were hospitalized because of misinformation related to coronavirus. The scale and reach of the Internet amplify the spread of misinformation — popularly referred to as an infodemic. The WHO defines it as “too much” information, including false and or misleading information in digital and physical environments — which spreads parallelly with a disease outbreak, leading to tragic outcomes.

Similarly, misinformation related to other public health concerns, such as immunization and family planning, is also becoming commonplace[1][2]. A way to dispel misinformation is to understand the conversation around these topics. Online research can be useful in this regard, as it allows for the profiling and segmentation of people on the basis of social media discourse.

To understand how an online intervention can tackle health issues, especially immunization and family planning, Breakthrough ACTION, in collaboration with Quilt.AI, designed and implemented the (Proud Parents) campaign in Guinea. The campaign identified and addressed the barriers that prevent parents from making rational decisions (based on scientific evidence) when it comes to family planning or immunizing their children.

For this online campaign, Guinean parents were segmented into various behavioral types, depending on their attitudes towards vaccines and family planning.

Among these segments, the parents are likely to be impacted by online behavior change campaigns. This is due to their openness to taking action and interest in health and education. Nudging them towards appropriate information channels is most likely to have a positive impact on their health decisions. Data on their Internet usage and/or adoption was based on the Facebook Insights tool.

Based on the overall performance of the campaign, we were able to gain insights into the importance and use of online campaigns for behavior change. Some of the learnings from the Guinean context are:

1. Replicate the tactics used by those people who are spreading misinformation online

  • Misinformation, especially on social media platforms such as Twitter, spreads due to both human and technological factors. Algorithmically, content that gets the most likes, shares or retweets is most likely to dominate people’s timelines and feeds. Disseminating accurate information can lead more people to adopt positive health attitudes and behaviors. Human biases also play an important role in this, therefore, we are likely to believe the information or react to/share content that coincides with our own beliefs (referred to as an “information bias”). The audience segmentation exercise before launching the campaign gave insights into Guinean parents’ views on vaccination and family planning. This exercise helped in designing nudge messages which would appeal to each segment. Crafting messages keeping in mind the audience is helpful in online behavior change campaigns.
  • To implement an online campaign like this meant being on people’s timelines constantly and consistently — preferably using messages in a language that is relatable to Guinean parents.
  • Paying attention to the tonality of messages and the related imagery, to make people curious
Examples of Campaign Messages Related to Family Planning and Vaccination

2. Craft messages rooted in people’s lived experiences at a granular level

In order to better engage the audience, it is critical that online content reflects their lived experiences. This entails understanding the audience’s interests outside the focal issues like vaccines and family planning. For example, we identified three top areas of interest for parents. These include . Approximately 91% of parents expressed an interest in technology and motor vehicle business pages. Similarly, about 84% of parents indicated an interest in Beauty & Fashion, especially in discovering products to purchase. Lastly, 59% of Guinean parents follow celebrities and entertainment news sites, which implies the significance of influencers’ voices in their lives. Thus, social media usage is more than just a lifestyle habit and can be leveraged to engage parents through topics of their interest.

As parents interact with these topics on a daily basis — they become a hook to incorporate into a communications strategy that engages parents. Since messages are not limited to just issues of vaccines and family planning, it also allows for content to have a wide range of tones and messages to use for testing and targeting. First identifying other topics of interest and then incorporating them within messages on family planning and vaccines allows for content to build engagement with parents.

3. Sizing narratives and online behaviors can help hone in on targeting and messaging

Offline campaigns use methods like focus groups and interviews to understand people’s attitudes and behaviors. However, these methods are unable to quantify the size of behavioral segments on such a large scale. Through online campaigns, it is possible to identify behavioral trends among thousands of people and also segment and clearly define several behavioral types or categories. Sizing segments allows us to better target and allocate resources and content toward those whose behaviors can be shifted in a positive direction.

In this campaign, we quantified various narratives on social media related to vaccines and family planning to understand what dominated the discourse on social media. We found that the narrative reflecting “distrust in the government and NGOs” dominated vaccination and COVID-19 discourse by 60% and 70% respectively. Thus, it became important for campaign content to focus on debunking this narrative. The second-most popular narrative was on “safety concerns related to vaccines”. This included social media posts that warned others about the potential side effects or safety concerns of incomplete vaccines (20%), infertility after birth control (15%), or not following COVID-19 safety measures (10%).

Way Forward

As Internet penetration increases so do access to both information and misinformation. During a disease outbreak, the Internet only facilitates the spread of health-related misinformation at a larger scale and speed. This misinformation, in turn, fuels hesitancy and denial. Countering this requires organizations to develop strategic digital interventions. For instance, behavior change campaigns can become an integral part of organizations’ communication strategies. Adding a digital component to one’s research enables one to meet people where they are.



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