Pinning Public Health: A Spotlight on Hamilton County Public Health

On June 18, 2013 "How and Why Should We Pin Public Health?" became one of Pop Health's most popular blog posts.  So you can imagine my excitement to share a follow-up piece that spotlights the Pinterest work at the Hamilton County, Ohio Public Health Department! 

Today's post is written by Christy Cauley, M.Ed., an Electronic Communications Specialist, who is responsible for the department's social media strategy.  Hamilton County Public Health (HamCoHealth) was established in 1919 to serve more than 460,000 Hamilton County residents living outside the cities of Cincinnati, Norwood, Sharonville and Springdale. With a staff of more than 80, including sanitarians, plumbers, health educators, nurses and epidemiologists, Hamilton County Public Health strives to prevent disease and injury, promote wellness, and protect people from environmental hazards.  

I am very fortunate to work for a local public health department that understands the value of a strong social media presence. Hamilton County Public Health  has a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and now we’re expanding our presence on Google+ and Pinterest. The latter’s image-centered format poses many challenges to public health entities. After all, who wants to look at pictures of syphilis?

That simply means we have to get creative. Rather than pinning a picture of syphilis, I’ll pin a picture of a cute stuffed amoeba that represents syphilis. The photo still links to an article that lets everyone know there is a syphilis epidemic in Cincinnati and what they can do about it, but they are spared the sometimes graphic images that are associated with public health.

We also have to consider our audience. Our Pinterest audience is quite different from other social media outlets. For starters, there is a much stronger female presence on Pinterest. In fact, the vast majority of our followers are women. That affects our pins and our boards – we have a Women’s Health board for example. Our pins have much more to do with family health and safety than our other social media pages. We tend to focus on health, nutrition and fitness, things that matter more to women than men. We have many pins on Pinterest that do not make it to our Facebook or Google+ pages because the audience just isn’t right for it.

Growing our audience has been challenging on Pinterest. Few people outside the profession are really interested in public health until there is a reason to be interested – like an outbreak of West Nile Virus, for example. We take the usual steps – following others’ boards, liking, commenting and repinning when possible. But what we really want is interaction with our stakeholders on our own boards. We want to get our messages out and know that our audience is hearing them.

To help with that goal, we have “public” boards where we allow others to post to our boards (and we have been invited to do the same). This creates boards with people of similar interests who can share pins more easily. We are careful to include a disclaimer on these boards however, and we do monitor outside pins. Our public health and safety boards can only be pinned on by us, but our recipe and fitness boards are open for our followers to share their favorite pins and they do. We pin to a public board called Health Communication & Social Media from Raed Mansour, where social media and communications professionals can share their ideas. Before, our only interaction with these professionals was on Twitter.

Interestingly enough, the place where we receive the most interaction on Pinterest is one of the public boards we were invited to pin to – Cat World, a board by Joyce Egoodman. Yep, you read that right, Cat World. What does that have to do with public health, you ask? Not a lot, although we can connect pets to our emergency preparedness and heat safety topics quite easily. But, people who love cats are our stakeholders. Public health affects everyone, even our pets. And who doesn’t like cute cat pictures?

How it works is we will find the cutest cat picture on our following boards in the morning and repin it to Cat World with a message about public health or safety. That pin then gets repinned by anyone who likes the picture – not necessarily the message. In turn, our message gets disseminated all over Pinterest and it only took a few seconds of our time. Our Cat World pins get commented on, liked and repinned much more often than our other pins because that board has a wider audience (for now).

One of the Social Media for Public Health (#SM4PH) Twitter chat participants (@AmandaMPH) mentioned that there is a LOT of unhealthy dieting information on Pinterest and we have also found that to be the case. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important for health departments to have a presence on Pinterest, so we can put out accurate information that people can trust.

We’ve found that the image is as important as the message. As a result, we keep our messages short and sweet and we keep our pictures creative. For example, did you know Ryan Gosling is the poster boy for public health? There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of Ryan Gosling memes and many of them are public health centered. We try to utilize them on “Fun Friday” as much as possible.

Another small thing we do is change our board covers often. When new stakeholders visit our page, we want them to see a captivating image that makes them want to view the board, but we also want to make sure that the pin in question is toward the top of the board. I can’t tell you how many pages I’ve visited where I wanted to repin the board cover image, but once I clicked the board, it went on forever and the cover photo was nowhere to be found. We want our stakeholders to find things easily. It’s a small thing, but don’t underestimate its importance to the aesthetics of your page. And don’t neglect the description and category areas either.

We have also taken advantage of @PinGraphy, which allows us to schedule pins for certain times and days. When interaction matters so much and we do not have someone on social media on the weekends, this tool is invaluable. (We use HootSuite for scheduling our other social media sites.)

Getting our feet wet in Pinterest has been challenging. We have made a lot of changes to our boards since we started in response to feedback from users. We’re still learning, but we hope that Pinterest will be a valuable tool in spreading our messages about public health and safety issues in Hamilton County, Ohio and throughout the world.

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