Latest Research: Public Health Agencies Outreach through Instagram during COVID-19 Pandemic: Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication Perspective

I am pleased to share that my collaborative research has been published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. With my colleagues from Aalto University in Finland (Dr. Aqdas Malik, lead author) and Western University in Canada (Dr. Anabel Quan-Haase), we explored how public health agencies engaged with their audiences through Instagram especially during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The abstract of the research study is as follows:

Abstract: Governmental and non-governmental institutions increasingly use social media as a strategic tool for public outreach. Global spread, promptness, and dialogic potentials make these platforms ideal for public health monitoring and emergency communication in crises such as COVID-19. Drawing on the Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication framework, we sought to examine how leading health organizations use Instagram for communicating and engaging during the COVID-19 pandemic. We manually retrieved Instagram posts together with relevant metadata of four health organizations (WHO, CDC, IFRC, and NHS) shared between January 1, 2020, and April 30, 2020. Two coders manually coded the analytical sample of 269 posts related to COVID-19 on dimensions including content theme, gender depiction, person portrayal, and image type. We further analyzed engagement indices associated with the coded dimensions. The CDC and WHO were the most active of all the assessed organizations with respect to the number of posts, reach, and engagement indices. Most of the posts were about personal preventive measures and mitigation, general advisory and vigilance, and showing gratitude and resilience. An overwhelming level of engagement was observed for posts representing celebrity, clarification, and infographics. Instagram can be an effective tool for health organizations to convey their messages during crisis communication, notably through celebrity involvement, clarification posts, and the use of infographics. There is much opportunity to strengthen the role of health organizations in countering misinformation on social media by providing accurate information, directing users to credible sources, and serving as a fact-check for false information.

Table1_CERC_Theme_Content1Table1_CERC_Theme_Content2Table1_CERC_Theme_Content3

Table6_revised CERC framework

A promise of social media is that it provides a level playing field to any entity with varied budgets and mandates. Instagram can be an effective tool in crisis communication, reaching a large, engaged audience through celebrity involvement, clarification posts, and the use of infographics. From a CERC perspective, the current research has identified gaps in social media communication during a pandemic or crisis situation. Our findings also serve as a roadmap for strengthening the strategic social media communications of health organizations during public health emergencies such as COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally, Instagram is an ideal venue for reaching youth in crises and emergencies, as this demographic does not rely on mainstream media as their main source of news information. There is much opportunity to strengthen the role of health organizations in countering misinformation on Instagram and other social media by providing accurate information, directing users to credible sources, and serving as a fact-check for false information.

A pdf of the article can be downloaded here.

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