Healthcare practitioners need to recapture the agenda from corporates on popular networking sites such as Facebook, say public health researchers.
A new study into social media’s impact on health reveals an online world where corporate brands are able to market their products to teenagers and young adults in a way that makes them “friends” and co-creators, instead of passive recipients.
Young people are being increasingly targeted in this way by the producers of tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food products, the authors say.
Dr Sally Dunlop and Dr Becky Freeman from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health, along with Professor Sandra Jones from the Australian Catholic University, discovered the target audience for digital marketing of food and beverage products in Australia is primarily children and adolescents aged 17 and under.
“Industries that are harming your health – alcohol, tobacco, junk food – are using social media in a very sophisticated way to advance their interests,” says Dr Freeman, who has written extensively on tobacco control.
“Common techniques used to engage children and adolescents with these unhealthy food and beverage brands include flash animation, music and games,” say the authors.
Marketing features unique to social media such as competitions to increase engagement with followers are also widely used.
According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the majority of teenagers are users of social media, with YouTube and Facebook topping the list of most popular websites with kids aged 8 to 18.
The most popular activities include playing games, private messaging, viewing content, posting comments, and posting their own status updates.
“In other words, they ‘like’, they post, they share just the same as their older counterparts,” says Rosalie O’Neale, a senior advisor with the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Cybersmart Outreach division.
“In the absence of effective regulations, it is important that young people and their parents are educated about the extent and nature of marketing on social media, so that adolescents can develop into media-literate consumers,” conclude the authors of the paper.
Dr Freeman says those working in the healthcare industry need to learn to utilise technology in order to spread better messages to young people.
“It would be great for people working in healthcare to learn to utilise the technology to share public health findings,” Dr Freeman suggests.
Social Media Statistics Australia – Active Users
- Facebook – 15,000,000 (62.5% of the total Australian population)
- YouTube – 14,000,000
- WordPress – 5,650,000
- Instagram – 5,000,000
- Tumblr – 4,500,000
- LinkedIn – 3,700,000
- Twitter – 2,800,000
Source: Social Media News, January 2016
Read the full study here.