Using applications like Facebook and YouTube means we can provide health promotion messages with humour, rather than just relying on static posters in GPs’ waiting rooms.
“There really are massive opportunities for increasing the public’s engagement in health using social media,” says Professor Paula Ormandy, from the University’s School of Nursing, Midwifery & Social Work.
The University has a long history of promoting public health across the region and Ormandy, along with her colleague Professor Ben Light from the College of Arts & Social Sciences, has recently been working on awareness campaigns that have harnessed the power of social media.
Their work with Brook Manchester, a charity that provides free and confidential sexual health services and advice for young people under 25, was part of a wider campaign to help reduce Manchester’s high youth pregnancy rates.
It looked to change the way they delivered health care education for young men and instead of relying on practical demonstrations to show young men how to use a condom, the campaign used a mobile phone app instead. Developed in conjunction with Brook staff and service users, it proved a huge success. “It’s allowed Brook staff to deliver the information in a much more sensitive way, taking away much of the embarrassment,” says Light.
The University has also been working with the Lesbian and Gay Foundation (LGF) to raise awareness about the importance of cervical screening for women in same sex relationships across the North West of England. Such women face a number of additional barriers to screening because of their sexuality, so a focused mixed media campaign was developed with the LGF around a Hollywood ‘screen test’ theme.
“We found the site certainly increased people’s engagement,” says Light, “and the LGF has since been asked to take the campaign forward on a national basis.
“Of course there are lots of digital campaigns promoting health but what’s innovative about this project is that it embedded an evaluation mechanism into it so that we could constantly audit its performance, and change things if they weren't working or became tired.”
The University’s biggest, and current, campaign is The Cat That Got the Screen. Commissioned by the NHS Cervical Screening Quality Assurance Reference Centre in the North West, it aims to encourage 24-29 year olds to go for a cervical screen, and pushes the message that early detection is critical.
What’s innovative about this project is that it embedded an evaluation mechanism into it so that we could constantly audit its performance.
The campaign was developed in collaboration with students from the School of Arts & Media, the project team and women in the campaign’s target age group.
As Light explains, the ads are designed to get people talking about, and engaging with, cervical screening. It rests on the internet ‘meme culture’ (a concept that spreads from person to person via the internet) and engages seriously with ideas of user-generated content and user participation.
As the campaign moves forward it will, for example, deploy short promotional videos, mash-ups of cat images (because funny cat pictures are some of the most viral and most searched for on the internet), and an app to allow users to create their own health education promotional materials – ‘the Mogatron.’ The campaign also uses a monitoring system called Brandwatch alongside other software such as Google Analytics to collect real-time evaluation data.
Maria Rossall-Allan, the campaign’s project officer, explains: “Such an approach allows you to see who’s talking about the topic you are campaigning about online and then follow up those links, to push the campaign within targeted groups.”
And word has spread about the innovative nature of the projects, with extra funding now coming from Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale Primary Care Trust, to create a targeted cervical screening campaign for ethnic minority communities.
Ormandy can see many other applications for the technology and is currently working with Cristina Vasilica, a PhD student at the University, who is developing a new interactive patient hub for people with chronic kidney disease.“Like the cervical campaigns, it places a huge emphasis on interaction, encouraging people to leave their own comments about their experience so the site actually starts to generate its own content, rather than simply relying on the words of health care professionals,” she adds.