Part One: Overview

Social media has been presented within the GCP within the discussion of channels and media delivery systems. Nevertheless, we feel that the topic of Social Media merits its own module because of its unique role in modern communication. "Social media" is defined as "forms of electronic communication (such as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos)."  The unusual nature of social media is evidenced by its definition alone.  Social media refers to at once communities, the sites those communities are built within, and the creation and sharing of media.   It wasn't until 2004 that the term "social media" was even used.  Fast forward to 2016 and there are now 1.71 billion monthly active users on Facebook, 1.3 billion on YouTube, 648 million on Qzone, 550 million on Tumblr, 500 million on Instagram, 450 million on LinkedIn, 313 million on Twitter, 150 million per day on Snapchat, 100 million monthly active users on Pinterest, while between 4 to 6 million users are active on Google+. Stastica is a good resource for a summary chart of users of social media and chat sites (some numbers may appear different due to reporting periods).

As a public health practitioner, it is not enough to simply know that "lots" of people use social media.  A deeper understanding of the demographics of users of each site is necessary.  If a behavior change or awareness campaign has a presence on a particular social media site, the managers of that campaign must know not only the broader demographics and use behavior of the total population of that site, but also that same information for the followers or fans of their campaign.

Broad demographic information for each major social site is available online, because marketers and advertisers require it in order to buy advertising.  Though public health practitioners typically have very small budgets themselves, they can take advantage of the wealth of information generated by the need to sell advertising.  Forrester is a major market research company that regularly publishes reports on social media usage, as are eMarketer and Nielsen.  The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan research group, is an excellent source as well.  There are also many, many tech and media industry publications that voraciously cover social media.  Social media evolves at lightning speed, so regular check-in with Mashable, AdWeek, Wired, TechCrunch, Forbes, or any of the multitude of other industry news sources is advised.

Pew Research Center has current statistics for demographic information on U.S. social media users.  For global demographics see the embedded presentation below, by We Are Social, a NYC-based marketing agency.  There are many other sources of this information, We Are Social's report is comprehensive, but shouldn't be regarded as the definitive source.

Part Two: Evaluation

Not so long ago, it was difficult to convince a public health department or agency to use social media.  When the CDC's Tips From Former Smokers campaign launched in 2012 it did not have a digital strategy to speak of, much less one for social media.  The Tips From Former Smokers campaign is the largest behavior change campaign run by the CDC, with a budget of approximately $50 million.  And yet, leadership at CDC was still on the fence about the utility of social media.  At the state level there was reluctance as well; as recently as 2012 there were still state health departments that did not have Facebook pages (now they all do).  Industry has had fewer qualms, focusing instead on optimizing performance and return on investment.  The Tips From Former Smokers campaign now has a robust digital and social strategy, mirroring a change across public health toward embracing social media.  But now public health is faced with a different problem: what to do once it's on social media.

It is absolutely critical to evaluate the followers/fans of a public health department or agency's social media profiles, as well the performance metrics of a behavior change or awareness campaign.  At a minimum, campaigns should report:

  • Number of impressions (views of content)

  • Number of Likes, Comments, Shares or Reblogs

  • The average number of Likes/Comments/Shares per post

  • The top performing and least performing post on each social media site

  • The demographics, if available, for impressions, Likes/Comments/Shares.  Meaning age, gender, and location.

  • A "sentiment analysis" of comments.  This means a summary of the comments made on your social media site or content by users.  Sentiment analysis can be automated by third-party social media analysis tools (there are many) or done by hand.

  • If money was spent to promote a post or for an ad on a social media site, then

    • the average cost per Like, Comment, and Share

    • the average cost per view of any video

    • the number of video completions (number of complete views of a video)

  • During a campaign there are often "micro-campaigns," or smaller scale efforts to keep content fresh.  For example, it is common practice for public health departments to capitalize on holidays and other themed days/months by making posts relating health topics to these larger cultural events (Breast Cancer Awareness, Colon Cancer Screening Awareness, National Puppy Day, Mother's Day, etc).  Reporting on these micro-campaigns should be broken out from the rest of social media reporting and evaluating on their own. 

For sample social media reports, see DigitalGov's blog (specific to social media and digital for government), SimplyMeasured's blog (a good resource for social media news and tips), and a sample report by marketing company Brandwatch.

Some third-party social media analytics tools are listed here, in a comparison chart.

A good place to begin your training on social media analytics is Facebook, given that it is the largest social media site.  Facebook's own analytics tool is called Facebook Insights, and it is incredibly powerful.  Facebook Insights, a free tool, provides details on the people who follow and engage with your page, as well performance metrics for each post you've made.  Here is a link to Facebook's overview of Insights, and here is a link to Facebook's online training courses.  These are free courses, and are high quality.  Another excellent training resource is Hootsuite Academy.  Hootsuite is a popular social media marketing tool; it can monitor multiple social media accounts, track keywords (words users of social media sites have written in their posts), and allows its users to publish posts within its tool rather than needing to go to each social media site individually.  The Hootsuite Academy offers multiple courses that cover all of social media, for free.

Analysis Activity 1

  1. Review the deck below, containing a presentation by Facebook regarding their work with The Public Good Projects (PGP) to address the opioid crisis.

  2. Slides 3-8 describe how Facebook can be used for treatment and addiction support, and provides some examples of existing support groups.

  3. Slides 9-12 describe a study performed by Facebook and PGP, using publicly available Facebook data.

  4. Slides 13-15 provide examples of how two particular addiction and recovery nonprofits are using Facebook for opioid awareness campaigns.

Slides 11-12 describe the findings from Facebook and PGP's study.  Provided on slide 11 are the three primary findings, or insights, from the study.  PGP researchers examined 1.4 million aggregated, anonymized Facebook posts.  Researchers looked at posts that contained one or more of a series of opioid-related key terms such as "opioid" "fentanyl" "heroin" etc.  Once these posts were collected they were analyzed using Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning to sort them into categories, or themes.  The three insights listed on slide 11 are the three major themes in American's opioid-related conversation on Facebook, discovered by PGP.

Slide 12 is the "So What, Now What" of the study's findings.  PGP and Facebook are not solely research organizations; when they perform analyses of social media data they do so to provide action items, or tangible next steps, for public health organizations. 


Based on what PGP proposes on slide 12, provide an idea for a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that operationalizes one or more of PGP's findings and recommendations.  In other words, describe a PSA that makes use of PGP's findings and recommendations.

Describe your PSA in terms of Source, Message, Channel, and Receiver.