Digital Media as a Health Intervention versus a Health Campaign

This is going to be more of thought piece… it isn’t evidence-based or driven by numbers. It’s based on my random thoughts as I navigate the world of public health and social media.

Throughout my work in this area, I am regularly confronted by two different realities when it comes to digital media – those that are true media campaigns and those that are digital health interventions. While you might be furrowing your brown right now, and wondering, “What’s the difference? Aren’t all digital media campaigns meant to be health interventions at some level?” Well, don’t worry, you’re not the first person to react that way.

And I am not sure that I disagree with you. If we think about health behavior models, building awareness and educating people are key to that process of behavior change. And isn’t that most often how digital media campaigns are used? So yes, they do overlap.

But I also think that they are different. And this belief is based on 3 main concepts –

  1. Time in-market: Media campaigns are flighted. This means that they run for a couple of weeks or months at a time. The ads go up and come down. There is a beginning and an end. Health interventions are… well, ok, they’re flighted too. But the difference here is that more often than not, they run for a longer period of time than a traditional media campaign.
  2. Audience identification: Media campaigns target based on demographic information, geographic information, socioeconomic data, language, and now with digital media, online behavioral data. Health interventions may actually leverage much of the same data but the identification of the audience in a health intervention involves knowing much more about your audience members than just segmentation data. It may involve knowing their names or emails or phones numbers. It could also involve engaging with them back and forth on a regular basis.
  3. Communication paradigm: Media campaigns traditionally have been 1-way messaging with an ad broadcast out to people. Even with the advent of social media which has distorted the ‘one-to-many’ model, health interventions still differ in the way in which they communicate with participants often times requiring action on behalf of the participant and the brand in the form of a subscription, ongoing participation, etc.

But wait – doesn’t this sound remarkably like how we talk about social media? So if health interventions differ from media campaigns but are similar in nature to social media, then, it stands to reason that the difference resides not between media campaigns and health interventions, but rather between social media and traditional media. And, that social media is where media and health interventions can intersect and open up the possibility for measured health behavior change.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this. Please post here or find me on Twitter at @socialibriumm.

This post was originally posted to Path of the Blue Eye’s WalkingthePath blog.

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