By Jeffrey V. Lazarus, Secretariat Director and co-founder, Health Systems Global, and Tim France, Managing Director, Inís Communications
The presentation of the first-ever Health Systems Social Media Awards at the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research provided a few light moments after some intense days of sessions, meetings and other health systems-focused activities. As the winners were announced in categories such as “Best on Twitter,” “Best on Facebook,” and “Young Leader,” a large audience responded with enthusiastic rounds of applause. Health Systems Global was proud to sponsor the awards, not least because their significance reaches far beyond the symposium.
The use of social media is rapidly transforming many realms of life for many of the world’s inhabitants. It might sound like a cliché, but we are struck by the power of social media time and again – as when we recently learned about the first US ebola case via Twitter six minutes after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the diagnosis at a press conference. A mere six minutes – and we learned it while sitting in a conference hall in Cape Town, South Africa.
How many other people first learned of this significant development via Twitter, Facebook or some other social media platform? How will news about the current ebola outbreak and future public health crises be shared through social media? How might the nature of the sharing affect how the public responds? (If you doubt the power of social media to influence people’s behaviour on a large scale, here is some recommended reading from researchers at the University of Washington: Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?)
In an era when it is not uncommon to peruse a morning Twitter feed in lieu of looking through a morning newspaper, rapid assessments are constantly being made regarding the credibility of informational sources. These assessments come into play not just in realms where we are generalists, but also in relation to our work expertise. In the health policy and public health fields, people who seek to remain up-to-date in their areas of specialisation are unlikely to do so by relying solely on journals and conferences. Social media platforms are certainly not the only way to stay current, but they are becoming increasingly important and influential.
The challenge is this: as more and more people become “producers” of social media content, how do the “consumers” avoid information overload? How do us Twitter users, for example, determine where to go searching for the 140-character pearls that will help us do our work more effectively?
A friend of ours who is transitioning into the field of global public health policy adopted a straightforward strategy: knowing how much we draw on Twitter for information and context in relation to our work, she simply asked us to recommend some people for her to “follow.” Guided in part by her professional objectives, we spouted off a list of suggestions that she reported to be quite useful, even if a bit random.
What about those folks who are interested specifically in health systems issues but do not know a social media aficionado who can recommend where to go for information? That’s where the social media awards come in. While they are certainly not tailored in the way that our recommendations were to one person’s interests, they are to our knowledge the only existing effort to identify which individuals and organisations are valued as informational sources by people who are addressing health systems issues in their work.
Characterising this recognition as “awards” is actually a bit limiting, because we do not view what we did as an awards event that has now concluded. A valuable component of the undertaking is the Health Systems Social Media Awards website, which will remain as a repository of information, listing the award winners chosen by juries along with all other short-listed nominees in every category.
We anticipate that the Health Systems Social Media Awards competition will continue to be held on a regular basis. We are almost as certain that the specific awards categories will change over time. This is because it is safe to assume that social media will continue to evolve rapidly in the coming years. What matters to Health Systems Global is not the linking of members of health systems communities via Twitter or LinkedIn or any other particular platform. The beauty of social media is that you, the content producers and consumers, decide by opting in or out which forms of communication are most relevant in your work. We look forward to accompanying you on this ever-unfolding social media adventure, and to seeing you at the next round of the Health Systems Social Media Awards – either in person or virtually!