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Introduction to...

Social media in primary health care

Social media platforms have given organisations and individuals the opportunity to communicate, engage with others and build on-line communities in a way they have never been able to before. Social media is here to stay and its use and reach is growing exponentially.

This Guide identifies how social media can be used by the primary health care community to communicate, build networks, collaborate with others and access research and primary health care information. It also defines the major social media platforms available and their uses.

The “Five Cs” of social media

The primary health care community is able to consume, share, comment on and debate content with existing and potential stakeholders using social media and the benefits are best described as the five Cs of social media.

  1. Connect — Connect with others in your community, often in real time.

  2. Communicate — Through social media platforms, primary health care professionals and researchers can communicate with an online community and share health promotion messages and information.

  3. Collaborate — Social media allows for the establishment of a network or online community of global stakeholders and to share ideas, collaborate and develop alliances.

  4. Consume — By joining a social media community, the primary health care community has access to that community’s latest research information.

  5. Converse — Unlike traditional media which is a one-way channel of communication, social media allows for two-way conversations and knowledge exchange between members of a social group.

Glossary of social media terms

Social networking — A social networking service is a platform to build social networks or social relations among people who share interests, activities, backgrounds or real-life connections.  ( eg: Facebook

Social bookmarking — Social bookmarking sites allow users to store, tag, organise, share and search for bookmarks or links to resources online. (Social Media: A guide for researchers, Research Information Network)

Blog — A blog is an information site published on the internet that presents a mix of opinion, news and other types of content. eg: Croakey - the Crikey health blog and The Conversation - Health + Medicine Views and Research

Microblogging — Microblogging is a broadcast medium in the form of blogging.  A microblog differs from a traditional blog in that its content is typically smaller and allow users to exchange small elements of content such as short sentences, individual images or video links. ( eg: Twitter

Wiki — A wiki is a collaborative website whose content can be edited by anyone who has access to it.  They can be used as a source for obtaining information and knowledge and also as a method of virtual collaboration. Wikis, blogs and podcasts: a new generation of Web-based tools for virtual collaborative clinical practice and education.

Getting started with social media

Social media can be used by the public, patients and health professionals to communicate about health issues with the aim of potentially improving health outcomes.  Social media is a powerful tool which offers collaboration between users and is a social interaction mechanism for individuals.  Although there are several benefits to the use of social media in the primary health care context, the information exchanged needs to be monitored for quality and reliability and the users’ confidentiality and privacy need to be maintained.

The main uses of social media for health communication focus on increasing interaction with others and facilitating, sharing and obtaining health messages. Moorhead et al. (2013)

The most commonly used platforms and a great place to get started include those listed below.

Twitter Twitter is an online social networking and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read text-based messages of just 140 characters, known as tweets. ( Tweets can be linked to websites, photographs and videos.  Primary health care organisations and professionals can use Twitter and develop an online community by following others on Twitter with whom who they want to engage and follow.

Facebook Facebook is a social networking platform that allows users to create a profile, share information, upload photos and videos and send messages. Users invite friends, family and colleagues to become their Facebook friends and thereby share information on their Facebook profile.

LinkedIn LinkedIn is a professional networking platform where members establish a profile, connect with colleagues and other professionals and gain access to information about jobs, research grants, opportunities for collaboration, news and updates.

YouTube YouTube allows people to share and watch videos. It provides a forum for people to connect, inform, and inspire others across the globe and acts as a distribution platform for original content creators and advertisers.

Pinterest Pinterest is a pinboard-style image-sharing website that allows users to create and share theme-based collections such as research posters or events (or anything else).

Hints and tips

20 Stunning Social Media Statistics, Jeffbullas’s Blog, 2013
An article and infographic on global use of social media, accessed November 2017.

Bit Rebels — 5 Effective Social Media Strategies
An article and infographic on how to be successful with social media, accessed November 2017.

The New Networking: Ultimate LinkedIn Guide for 2012 Grads
Takes a look at how social media sites can be used as powerful networking tools for new college graduates. It shares tips, tools, and more for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, accessed November 2017.

Social media and research

Using Twitter in university research, teaching, and impact activities
Amy Mollett, Danielle Moran and Patrick Dunleavy. (2011). LSE Public Policy Group. Accessed November 2017.
This guide, available for download as a PDF, answers how Twitter, which limits users to 140 characters per tweet, can have relevance to universities and academia.

Ethical issues in using social media for health and health care research
Rebecca McKee. (2013). Institute for Social Change, University of Manchester. Accessed November 2017.
The ethical issues of using social media to disseminate health research information.

Social Media: A guide for researchers
Catherine Gray. (2011). Research Information Network. Accessed November 2017.
Social media for research and academic purposes and how media can help researchers find, use and disseminate information.

Social media for academia: some things I have learnt
Deborah Lupton. (2013). This Sociological Life. Accessed November 2017.
A personal experiment of what can be achieved through social media.

The Use of Social Media for Knowledge Translation
Alberta Addiction & Mental Health Research Partnership Program and Alberta Health Services. (2013). Accessed November 2017.
As the use of social media becomes more widespread, researchers may want to consider using it as part of their knowledge translation plan. This document outlines the pros and cons of the use of social media for research knowledge translation.

Twitter as a tool for communication and knowledge exchange in academic medicine: A guide for skeptics and novices
Esther K. Choo, Megan L. Ranney, Teresa M. Chan, N. Seth Trueger, Amy E. Walsh, Ken Tegtmeyer, Shannon O. McNamara, Ricky Y. Choi, and Christopher L. Carroll. (2014). Medical Teacher, 37(5), 411–416. doi: 10.3109/0142159X.2014.993371

Social media and the health sector

Innovative Social Media Health World
Illustrative examples of how others are using social media to engage in health research, health policy and clinical practice. Accessed November 2017.

Richard Smith: 10 tips on using and enjoying social media, BMJ Publishing Group 2013
10 tips on using social media from a workshop developed for students. Accessed November 2017.

A new dimension of health care: systematic review of the uses, benefits, and limitations of social media for health communication
Moorhead SA, Hazlett DE, Harrison L, Carroll JK, Irwin A, Hoving C. (2013). J Med Internet Res. 15(4), e85.

How to prepare for and establish a social media presence
This article explores the importance of establishing a digital presence for healthcare professionals and how to go about it. Accessed November 2017

Social networks, social media and social diseases
Enrico Coiera. (2013). BMJ 346, f3007.
This article offers a description of several current uses of social media in health care and also describes how our understanding of social networks and media could be harnessed for treating socially shaped diseases.

Social Media Myths
Read about the “common reasons we hear for why you can’t or won’t join social media”. Accessed November 2017

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Compiled by PHCRIS
Last updated Fri 13 May 2011
Suggested citation
Primary Health Care Research & Information Service (2017). PHCRIS Getting Started Guides: Introduction to... Social media in primary health care. From (Accessed 11 Dec 2017)