Health organizations are increasingly turning to social media to distribute information and engage with their target audiences. But getting people involved is more complicated than simply posting to Facebook. New research out of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications by Yulia Strekalova, research assistant professor and director of Grants Development, and Rachel Damiani, a graduate student, suggests that the way Facebook posts are worded has an impact on who engages with them.
In the study, published in the Journal of Cancer Education , the researchers examined 233 Facebook posts created for the Tobacco-Free Florida campaign. The posts were shared on the campaign’s page between July 2015 and June 2016. The researchers analyzed each post for a variety of characteristics, including its target audience (smokers, non-smokers, people who had quit smoking, or a mixture of people) and whether it featured a call to action, such as asking the audience to share.
They also looked at whether the posts used language that conveyed a sense of authority, scientific evidence, or appealed to common values and norms. For example, the post “Five years after you quit smoking, your risk of bladder cancer is cut in half!” uses authority and scientific evidence to convey the message. The post, “Happy Parents’ Day! Share if you are a tobacco-free parent,” on the other hand, stresses the shared value of spending time with family and keeping loved ones healthy.
The researchers found that it is important to tailor language used in social media health campaigns to the intended audience.
Here are four findings on tailored Facebook posts:
1. Posts addressing nonsmokers and mixed audiences of smokers and nonsmokers tended to use evidence-based language that provided a sense of control. These posts were more likely to include a call to action than posts using values-based language.
2. Posts with a call to action received a greater number of comments than when direct toward nonsmokers and active quitters. However, calls to action has no effect on smokers and mixed audiences.
3. Posts that used evidence-based language that provided a sense of control received more comments when addressed to nonsmokers.
4. Messages using common values language, however, got more comments when they spoke to people who were quitting smoking.
Overall, the research suggests that while the goal may stay the same, message framing does influence audience engagement. “The findings presented here suggest that strategic message-framing decisions can lead to more effective engagement,” explain the researchers.
Yulia Strekalova is a research assistant professor and the director of Grants Development in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida where she studies how health-related knowledge is shared, translated, and managed by lay consumers and healthcare professionals.
Rachel Damiani is a graduate student in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.
This post originally appeared on the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Research and Insights blog.