Connecting Communities: Using Social Media as a Mechanism to Address Barriers to Health Equity
October 2018

States are urgently responding to the widening gaps in health equity across socioeconomic, racial, and geographically diverse groups. In an age where online connectivity is at its highest, health departments and community organizations alike have turned to social media to expand their programmatic reach.

The following two articles show how. One highlights Women Online, a strategic communications firm rooted in online advocacy, shares broad strategies and techniques to use social media to connect with desired populations. The other highlights Montana, a current “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” state systems grantee, and its innovative use of social media to better reach its diverse populations.

Engaging Your Audience on Social Media

Melissa Ford
Digital Campaign Manager
Women Online

Everyone has heard a story about a positive message that accidentally became “viral” and spread like wildfire from account to account. But those situations are rare. More often, the spreading of ideas takes careful planning and strategic execution to reach the end goal of engagement.

So how can you ensure that your ideas spread across the Internet?

Match Your Message

Match your message to the correct platform. Facebook is known for longer conversations and live video. Twitter works best if you’re trying to convey quick thoughts on a single topic or event. Instagram is visually-focused but doesn’t allow easily link to additional resources . If you’re not seeing the results you were expecting, it may be that the content would work better on a different platform.

Consistency Matters

It’s better to put up something on social media three times a week, every single week, than to put up 10 posts the first week and then forget to come back to the site for three weeks.

Use an editorial calendar to ensure that you know what you’re posting. It’s okay to reshare other people’s content by putting up links to their work if you don’t have new content to promote. In fact, sharing other people’s work helps build and strengthen relationships online.

Diversity Matters

Diversity always matters, but it becomes doubly important when putting together your social media strategy. Audiences overlap, and if you target influencers with similar backgrounds, you may end up having the same people see your message multiple times while others never encounter your message at all.

To get your thoughts to the widest possible audience, pay attention to all forms of diversity including age, race, ethnicity, sex, political beliefs, and location. But also pay attention to medium, platform, and writing style to engage bloggers and social media users.

Use a Hashtag

People often use a hashtag on Twitter to enable others to find content around a single idea. Women Online consistently uses the hashtag #MilestoneMonday when we post content about developmental milestones every Monday. Other people were invited to use the hashtag and began using it to talk about their own children’s milestones and to spread information about the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” program. That’s exactly what we wanted to happen!

You can use established hashtags – such as #MilestoneMonday – with your own content or ride trends on Twitter such as #TuesdayThoughts or #WordlessWednesdays to loop in new audiences.

Create Ads

Many things you read on the Internet enter your feed because someone paid to promote them. Facebook allows any users to create affordable ads for their content. If you find that a status update is resonating with a lot of people, you may want to use it to increase your audience by promoting it in a Facebook ad.


Far Out — Reaching Frontier Communities in Montana

Martin Blair
Executive Director, Rural Institute
University of Montana

In February 2018, a Washington Post report identified the top 10 “middle of nowhere” towns in the continental U.S. Not only did a Montana community claim the number one distinction, but Montana’s Big Sky Country communities took numbers two and three also. Clearly understanding the reality of disconnected lives here, the Montana Act Early Initiative state team outlined a clear directive: Use social media to connect with families in remote frontier communities.

Say what you will about Facebook, but it is still an economical, efficient way to get focused information to defined audiences. A clever media team and a $200 budget got the Milestone Tracker Mobile App and the Watch Me! training ads viewed over 16,000 times in four weeks. The ads were “clicked” 275 times by 251 different users. That means users were sent directly to the “product” website to get more information. For the accountants out there, that’s just over 72 cents per click by individuals who specifically chose to see the information. Efficient? Yep! This is cheaper and more direct than driving the 1,500-mile, week-long route to tiny towns dropping off pamphlets and flyers to anyone who will listen.

Last Thoughts – Ready, Set, Connect!

Social media is social. It’s not just about pushing out content; users need to listen and engage with the words that come into their feed. Follow the people who have interesting things to say.; Hopefully, the conversation will begin to flow in two directions.

The different experiences of groups impacted by public health initiatives such as “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” require decisionmakers to think creatively on how to reach every family they serve. Despite the challenge of addressing the complexities of social determinants of health, the strategic use of social media allows organizations like the University of Montana Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities to reach families through a health equity lens.

For more tips on social media strategies outlined by Women Online, check out its website.

For more information and resources on “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” check these websites: