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The Big Story: Doctors, influencers call on their peers to use social media to ‘pre-bunk’ dangerous misinformation – Fierce Healthcare

“Dr. Sasha Hamdani began creating content after patients came to her using misinformed TikTok videos as evidence of the condition. The algorithms that govern [social media] are interest-based and therefore pose the threat of entrenching users in a self-diagnosed condition.”

What it means for you

By Pattie Cuen
3-minute read

While the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency officially ended this month, the pandemic of misinformation continues unabated. It is its own health emergency and requires some strong treatment.

Those creating and propagating health disinformation on social media are doing so for “profit or social power.” And the cost of this spinoff crisis is high: Society is facing a bill of between $50 and $300 million every day to pay for bad information related to the COVID-19 vaccines alone, according to a study out of Johns Hopkins.

The battle here is one for trust. White coats and healthcare providers should have the upper hand. But those trusted voices have to step onto the field to take advantage of their, well, advantage.

Enter “pre-bunking.”

Debunking – correcting information already swirling in the atmosphere – can be challenging, endless work and require considerable resources. Even then, it’s often a bandage on damage already done.

Pre-bunking, however, is preventive medicine. It anticipates an information outbreak and acts before it spreads. It recognizes that the most effective way to combat the disease is to inoculate against it.

“If [debunks] do reach us, they generally struggle to erase the misinformation from our debates or our brains,” says First Draft News. “Even when we’ve been told that the misinformation is false, research suggests it continues to influence our thinking.”

How can MarComm leaders work towards inoculation? A few thoughts.

Be ready. Obvious? Maybe. But easy to miss when information flies around at the speed of light and stories mutate faster than viruses. Make the conscious decision to strengthen your own radar, constantly keeping one ear out for anything that might become an issue. Then, instill that sense of perpetual alert across your team, divvying by topics or channels so you can cover a wide swath of scuttlebutt. One person might be tuned in to the morning news shows and notice a celebrity talking about a recent diagnosis – that’ll trend. Another person might be heavily involved in the school PTA and hear a conversation about childhood illnesses – that’ll trend in a different way.

Segment your audience. Your audiences likely fall into three groups:

  • Those closely tuned in to their health who seek out every bit of information about the latest procedures and medicine.
  • Those who are more skeptical and prefer to take the holistic or natural route.
  • Those who don’t care unless something goes wrong and they need to.

From there, build and spend accordingly. Since you won’t be able to convince or even reach 100 percent of your audience, don’t waste resources trying. Focus on building content that’s optimized to give people concise, actionable information so that when they are looking to learn or do need care, they’ve got something they can understand and trust.

Focus on what matters. Once segmented, you can speak to what each audience needs. This is particularly important as it relates to health equity and community benefit. You likely have a community benefit plan you need to be performing against – especially if your organization is a non-profit. Part of the role as a provider is to provide solutions for the social determinants of health affecting their community. Staying true to this work and being proactive with resources related to those issues is a good way to play offense against misinformation.

Get the headlines right. Skimming is more prevalent than reading.  According to a 2018 study, 70 percent of people who share articles on Facebook do it without reading the article first.  Make your headlines catchy and clear so they hook people in to read further or, at least, get the key takeaway of what you want to convey.

Check your digital efforts. This applies to both your organization’s actual presence and how you monitor it. Check in with your digital experts to review the tools and processes you have in place for keeping an eye on health-related stories and posts. Then, audit your digital presence. Are your social media accounts optimized for recent algorithm changes? Is your website following best practices for SEO? Do your graphics and headlines draw attention? Are you using varied media – ranging from infographics to sound bites to video – to keep things fresh?

Branch out. Once you’ve audited your digital efforts, consider whether your organization is absent from platforms where you can gain a voice. Misinformation is on many social media platforms. It’s on Twitter. It’s on TikTok.  Don’t be afraid of being on those platforms if you’re not already, but be sure to have a strategy for doing it well. You can only play a role in heading off misinformation at the pass if you’re there to see it coming.

Activate your people. Your doctors and nurses are on social media – use that to your advantage. Give them guidelines, expectations and toolkits for how to represent your organization online. Empower them to speak up to educate on the facts. And remember that because they’re at the interface between your organization and the community, they’re hearing things that you might miss, identifying potential misinformation trends before they manifest.

Stay Consistent. Often, plans to stay ahead of the cadenced content curve get swamped by in-the-moment, urgent requests. Make content hygiene and long-term editorial planning a priority. As part of your digital listening, check for content that’s already been created on a particular topic of interest so you’re not duplicating effort. Consistency will help you always show up as a calm, informative voice that your audiences can look to for good information in those brief moments they’re looking for it. Be there for them.

Looking to engage, train and activate your healthcare workforce to advocate for your organization and combat misinformation? Get in touch using the form below.