Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How and Why Should We "Pin" Public Health?

I regularly participate in the social media for public health (#sm4ph) twitterchat.  The chat (sponsored by the Public Health Management Corporation and hosted by Jim Garrow) explores various forms of social media use and how they impact (or could impact!) public health.  Back in March, the following question was posed to twitterchat participants:

At the time, I took note that several participants (including me) thought that Pinterest could be "the next big thing" (FYI: Pinterest is an online pinboard that allows users to create and share image collections):

Then this week, Nicole Ghanie-Opondo posed an important question to the field:  "Is Public Health Pinnable?"  She does a great job of breaking down all the "stuff" public health people want to pin (i.e., campaign posters, event information, staff photos) and analyzing why or why not it is a good fit for this particular communication channel.  She also emphasizes the key principle we need to remember and revisit in health communication:  

Think About Your Audience!  

When exploring any new communication channel, we need to review available data regarding the demographics and online behaviors of those users (whether it be Pinterest or Facebook or Twitter) and then tailor our content/strategies to those users.  The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project is a great resource for social media user data.

In preparation for this post, I followed up with Nicole to see if she had received any feedback from public health colleagues on her post.  She shared the major theme from her (informal) feedback so far:  

Public health is not creating content to optimize pins.

I thought that was really interesting and it changes the conversation for me.  The question is not: "Should we use Pinterest- yes or no?"  There seems to be enough evidence that Pinterest is a promising communication strategy.  For instance we have: (1) strong interest in Pinterest from the field (as seen above), (2) available data on its users, (3) key audiences represented among users (e.g., women), and (4) colleagues that are successfully integrating this channel into their social media plans (e.g., CDC and Hamilton County Public Health).

Therefore, the question should become:  "How can we use Pinterest strategically in public health?"  This approach would require a discussion of the following questions:

  • What audience/s should we be engaging on Pinterest?
  • What kinds of content/images are most likely to be re-pinned or shared?
  • How can we optimize our content for pinning?
  • How are we evaluating our Pinterest efforts? (*Note that CDC's National Prevention Information Network (NPIN) recently had a wonderful webcast on social media evaluation. While Pinterest was not one of the featured channels, many of the concepts and resources would still be applicable.  The slides are available here).

Tell Me What You Think

  • Why (or why not) should we "pin" public health?
  • How should we "pin" public health?
  • What other planning questions should be considered?
  • Please share examples of Pinterest being used successfully (or unsuccessfully) in public health!


  1. Great questions, here are the health orgs (Canadian-biased of course ;) ) that we found using Pinterest: http://wp.me/P2CylZ-j

    I would like to see visually delicious, funny and inspirational content from public health. Thinking 'why would someone want to re-pin this' as the foundation in creating visual content.

    Thanks for writing! :)

    1. Nicole- thanks for sharing that list of health organizations that are using Pinterest! It will be great for my readers to visit and click through to see different approaches to Pinterest.

      Thanks again for writing such a great post and getting the conversation going.

    2. Thanks Leah! At the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, we always want to be where our audience is at. A lot of what we do involves the sharing of information, and what better way to do so than in a place where our audience already exists!

  2. Thanks for mentioning our Pinterest page! We replied on Twitter with some tips we've used to make our boards better. -HCPH

    1. Ham Co Health- thanks so much for your responses on twitter and the share on G+. You mention how you've changed your boards since you got started and how you decide which images would be best for re-pinning. I (and my readers) would love to hear more details about these lessons learned and how you evaluate your efforts in an ongoing way. So please accept an open invitation to guest blog for Pop Health anytime to share what you've learned regarding how to strategically use Pinterest.

      Thanks again!

  3. I am an irregular Pinterest user but what I mostly use it for is either something visually striking or something I want to do or buy. I don't pin that much that is informational or educational, aside from the random infographic that is just too cool. My instincts are to make any public health message for Pinterest something actionable or else the message/image has to be provocative, something people haven't seen before. The thing that comes to mind are the images of young pregnant men that somebody geniusly (I can't remember who/where)came up with to talk about teen pregnancy. Those I bet get pinned or at least viewed more than your average public health pin.

    1. Nicole- thanks for your comments. I believe you are referring to the pregnancy prevention campaign out of Chicago:

      In your comments, both you and Nicole Ghanie-Opondo (above) discuss what kinds of Pinterest images you'd like to see from public health. This makes me think that we need some good qualitative data from users to be really effective. We need to know more than just demographics...it would be great to actually run some focus groups with a new campaign and test out images- ask questions about their behaviors on Pinterest, identify which images they think would most likely be re-pinned (and why). While time consuming, I think qualitative data would really help.

      Thanks again!

  4. Great post! I do (still) think that Pinterest is an important platform for public health, and one that's perhaps being used less frequently than say, twitter, but offers a different demographic base. (I haven't reviewed the user info, but personal observations lead me to believe there's lots of young moms on Pinterest, who aren't also on twitter.) I think the point you make about Nicole's post is so important - public health may be on Pinterest, but isn't using it effectively. And as you alluded to, this comes down to the nature of Pinterest - you have to pin something that people want to re-pin!

    I guess the question then, is what do people want to re-pin? I have some ideas - I often see lists of tips or tricks pinned over and over again, so things like what vaccinations are needed when, health hotline numbers, or what health-related things to pack for a trip might be practical and appealing to those who use Pinterest as a sort of virtual filing cabinet. People also seem to enjoy funny pins, so things like Jim Garrow's public health memes might be a good fit (although I imagine the audience for this is still somewhat limited). Finally, I go back to my point during #sm4ph - there is a lot of unhealthy information out on Pinterest, much of it around dieting and exercise. There's a real need for better information (and from credible sources!) to help pinners find safe, healthy advice, eating plans, and fitness regiments.

    Having said all that, I admit it's been quite a while since I've been on Pinterest, and I can't say I've pinned much related to public health - might be a project for the summer!

  5. Leah,
    Great post! I love finding ways to integrate social media with public health. I think you hit the nail on the head when you talked about understanding your audience and your intention. Pinterest could be the vehicle to move women (since most Pinterest users are women) from precontemplation to contemplation, if we look at the Stage of Change. It is certainly a more passive way to communicate.

    However, taking notes from other social media marketers, asking for calls-to-action and optimizing pins create the best Pinterest campaigns. Sharing relevant, appealing content is certainly necessary too! An infographic about mosquito-borne illness is more appealing than a picture of a mosquito back linking to a blog post.

    So yes, we should absolutely pin for public health if the message fits the demographics of the audience. We should pin like marketers and regular users. While our intention may be different, Pinterest focuses on sharing interesting content in an organized way. So let's pin about summer safety. Let's be Positive, Informative, and Empowering. I think American Heart Association does really well. Their pin boards cover a variety of topics, share other users content, and s till promote their message.

    Let me know if you'd like to partner on a post or need a guest writer. I'd love to help out Pop Health!