Social media’s health equity potential proving powerful during the pandemic

Social Media, Part 1

January 14, 2021

Being stuck in the confines of our homes has made many of us turn to social media to connect with others and maintain some sense of social normalcy. In fact, so many of us have upped our usage of social media, recent trends are now showing 46-51% of adults are using it more ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, before Challenge project teams begin to finalize and implement some of their communications strategies this year, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the ways the pandemic has changed how we use technology and the new opportunities for both the Challenge and other public health initiatives. 

In November, HCCC advisory council member Sarah de Guia highlighted how constituents have turned to social media to engage in advocacy, while simultaneously complying with COVID regulations. From Tik Toks to connecting with the social media accounts of local governance, advocates are finding innovative ways to call for action. Regardless of your methodology, leveraging social media both during the pandemic and after is a resourceful way to connect with decisionmakers and potentially influence important decision-making processes. Constituents can take questions and concerns to their local elected representatives and be just as effective advocates for change by informally connecting with policymakers during a time and space that is most fitting for them.

APHA’s Speak for Health and NACO’s #WeAreCounties campaign are two powerful examples of social media advocacy. Speak for Health provides resources for APHA members and others to share on their own social media accounts to raise awareness on some of today’s top public health priorities. Similarly, NACo’s #WeAreCounties campaign recognizes county employees on the front lines of COVID-19 and advocates for federal decisionmakers to provide support for public servants. The campaign calls for county front-line workers to share photos and videos with the sign “We Are Counties” and provides social media resources, county video highlights and calls to action.

Social media and social media campaigns don’t have to be solely centered around advocacy. One of the key components of the Challenge is to develop diverse, cross-sector partnerships that can holistically address community health needs, and social media is a tool that can help accomplish that! Pittsburgh’s Food Policy Council created the #Power_Of_We campaign where they asked affiliated communities, food businesses, farmers, organizations, universities and government partners to reflect on how they’ve worked together this past year to overcome the challenges of 2020. This campaign is a great example of how organizations/projects are sharing their stories on social media to emphasize the importance of multi-sector collaboration within a community. Voicing what community connections can look like can pique stakeholder interest and provide the catalyst needed to get other partners involved in public health initiatives, like the Challenge.

The internet has also enabled allies to make investments to social causes they weren’t able to support in-person due to the pandemic. A new trend that has continued to grow in popularity is crowdfunding and direct donations. Venmo, CashApps and GoFundMe requests for financial support have become a way for people to remain civically engaged and address public health challenges. For example, as food insecurity became more widespread during the pandemic, many organizations requested direct donations to supply meals to food-insecure community members. In New Brunswick, Elijah’s Promise saw a drastic increase in the demand for meals to be served at their community soup kitchen. To meet the food needs of their city,  Elijah’s Promise used social media to accept donations, while also highlighting how their funds were successfully being used, thanking sponsors, and engaging in nationwide social media campaigns like “Giving Tuesday” to gain more traction for their initiative.

Social media will continue to play a major role in the promotion of the COVID-19 vaccine, a critical component of advancing access to care for communities of color, which are being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Photos of politicians, front-line workers and others being paired alongside resources detailing important information about the vaccine have already played a large role in improving public perception of the vaccine and debunking harmful conspiracies. Tailored, culturally appropriate messaging on the right platforms, and from trusted sources, can be an effective way to reach communities that have vaccine hesitancy due to a history of being excluded from the health care system.

We can leverage social media in endless ways to advance public health. Entire communities have developed and grown together over social media, and this has exponentially strengthened the ability of public health initiatives to bloom as well. Your posts can go beyond just being words/images on a screen; they can shape policies, change politics, and influence the steps your community takes to achieve health equity.


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