Thursday, July 21, 2011

Comment Response - Data Mining #NCDs Hash Tags - Part II

Chris Hassell from The Healthy Caribbean Coalition made a comment about one of my blog posts and I thought I should post my response. Chris' comment:

Great work Kurry!

How can we simply the analysis of this data to tell a convincing story to the broader NCDs community about the benefits of using social media, and specifically twitter?

What's the proposed next step?

Chris Hassell, B.Sc., MPH
Social Media Coordinator

Referring to Chris' comment, I have to think about it more to give an in-depth answer. Here are the things that came to mind on the subway ride to work this morning.

How can we simplify the analysis of this data to tell a convincing story to the broader NCDs community about the benefits of using social media, and specifically twitter?

Here are the benefits of Twitter:

- Twitter provides one of the fastest modes of information transportation available. By limiting posts to 140 characters it minimizes users' time and thought investment which would have previously prevented the knowledge to be spread.

- The frequency at which people disseminate information is much faster through the use of Twitter, compared to email or formal blogs. Blogs are only updated once or twice a day, and people may only send out one or two informational emails, whereas it takes 1 week for users to send a billion Tweets (Twitter, 2011).

So I think there is a very strong argument that Twitter is the best way to spread information about public health issues. I don't think most people have subscriptions to The New England Journal of Medicine or The Lancet and so that information would not reach them if some informed users didn't tweet about it.
The better question is to ask whether social media does have or will have an affect on the non-communicable disease (NCDs) epidemic at all. What I personally think is interesting is the types of questions that we could answer using the data.

Broader Questions to Address:

1. For the tweets with a public health type hash tag and a link, what types of information do people click on, and also what types of information do people tend to share with there friends. 

For example, do people share more links that are informational or have an associated action. i.e. Sign XYZ petition vs. Obesity in the U.S. has tripled in the last 30 years, but fat intake has actually decreased. 

2. Where or who are the spheres of influence in public health. i.e. Does the World Health Organization have more influence than the American Heart Association? etc.

3. We could also look at the demographics of the people who tweet public health information, and those who consume it. 

This is important because it allows us to determine whether or not Twitter is an 
effective way of communicating with the people most at risk of chronic disease. For example, if the majority of people that are on Twitter are educated, wealthy, young people from New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, San Francisco and Boston, then Twitter may not be an effective tool for global health policy. Also, knowing the age of users allows us to determine if maybe Twitter isn't effective to mode of communication to older adults, but at least the data we could collect we allow us to realize that.

Anyways, Phil suggested that we collect information for about a month and we go from there.

In summary, what makes me want to analyze this data is that it allows us to determine if social media is useful in public health. In general, I think Twitter is an effective way to spread information to policy leaders and young professionals which will help improve public health policy, but I do not think that a lack of information is what has caused the chronic disease epidemic in the U.S.

Sent from my iPhone


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