Social media can have a positive impact on people’s health

By Dante Licona & Sari Setiogi— the World Health Organization Social Media team.

Everyone at WHO works towards a shared goal: improving people’s health. Thousands of colleagues are working all over the world with governments, partners, and public health professionals to find better ways for attaining the highest standard of health. Through social media, we share every day stories and information on how WHO delivers, and how people can make healthier choices for their lives.

Social media is at the digital frontline of every organization. Social media is the fastest tool WHO has for widely communicating important information to a global audience in real time. Through social media, WHO finds out in real time what people are saying about our work, how communities perceive our impact, how news organizations report on our work. Through posts and comments, we can catch and correct rumours, address misinformation that might be circulating, and we do it as fast as we can!

We know that interest in health is quite high, in fact one in 20 Google searches is for health-related information. People want to find out information about situations that directly affects their health: How often should I visit a clinic if I’m pregnant? Is one dose of yellow fever vaccination good for life? What is Zika and how can I protect my loved ones? WHO has evidence-based answers and the fastest way we get this information out when it matters the most is via our social media channels.

With every Facebook post, Twitter message or photo on Instagram, WHO makes public health information accessible to our audience, reaching people in places where they consume information regularly. While users are scrolling on their phones through photos of friends and family, we share with them the latest infographics on tuberculosis, antimicrobial resistance or any of the other important topics WHO is working on.

We are constantly finding ways to make our content more shareable. We deeply analyse our analytics to improve our performance, and we invest countless hours understanding the social media platforms we use. Our goal is that people find our content useful, understandable, and visually attractive. That way, if one of our posts ever reach you, you might be more open to share it and spread our messages with your loved ones.

Making a difference in people’s health

Depression can affect anyone, anywhere. Every time we communicate about it, we see a substantial increase on social media engagement. In fact, WHO’s 3 most retweeted tweets ever are about depression and mental health.

One of our most popular WHO social media products is the video “I had a black dog — his name was depression” by Matthew Johnstone. That piece of storytelling has been shared at least 130 thousand times (organically — WHO does not pay for social media ads), and it has been watched widely across different WHO platforms including 7.6 million times on Youtube, and over 7.3 million views on Facebook.

As part of our year-long #LetsTalk campaign to raise awareness on depression, on 29 December 2016 we re-posted on Facebook the black dog video. With that single post, WHO reached 10.4 million people (that’s about 40 times our average performance!). From those, 8.4 million were outside of our “fan zone” — meaning that even if they don’t follow WHO’s updates on a regular basis, the video reached them through their friends. 👇

👆 This single piece of visual storytelling has generated -across several posts- over three thousand comments from our community. Our team has read each and every single one of them (thanks for your efforts, Nakil), and crafted several hundreds of personalised replies. Many of those are not just comments, but extraordinary stories. Here are some examples:

Thank you for this because it has made me realise that it’s time to reach out for help” — T. S. C.
This video emancipated me from my unawareness of my depression at the time and I’m forever grateful for it making me feel heard and understood, better than I understood myself. It’s the most powerful video I’ve ever watched. THANK YOU so much to the creators. I’ll never forget that moment.” — J. A.
This is totally about me. At least, I know I am not the only one and that something can be done about it.
Thank you WHO!!!!
” — A. T. G.

Through several hundreds of comments like this, we have witnessed the real power of our tools. This is a concrete example of how WHO is having a direct impact on people’s health via social media. Receiving such positive feedback is our motivational engine to keep communicating better.

Are you on social media? If you are, help us spread WHO’s messages for a healthier world.

A version of this article was featured in UN Special.