Suellen Hopfer, University of California Irvine – Social Media Strategies to Educate Young Adults on Vaccines – The Academic Minute

Photo of Suellen Hopfer

How do we best educate young adults about vaccines?

Suellen Hopfer, assistant professor of health, society, and behavior at the University of California, Irvine program in public health, discusses social media’s role.

Suellen Hopfer has a PhD in health communication and post-doctorate training in prevention methods and randomized trial designs. She has been teaching and conducting research at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) since 2015. She teaches health communication, risk communication, and qualitative methods at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Dr. Hopfer and her research team are passionate about addressing health disparities through research to improve public health outcomes and advance communication theory to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Dr. Hopfer’s research team collaborates with interdisciplinary teams across academic fields of computer science, urban policy, engineering, linguistics, statistics, and pediatrics and collaborates with community partners engaged in important work to improve the lives of communities who are disproportionately impacted by adverse health outcomes or adverse neighborhood environments.

Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are the most common sexually transmitted infections in the U.S., yet vaccination rates among young adults aged 18-26 have dropped drastically during the pandemic. Healthcare providers are now looking to social media to promote HPV vaccination uptake and awareness.

As a public health communication researcher, I was motivated to study how HPV vaccination information could be effectively distributed on social media.

My team and I conducted an observational study to determine two things:

One, how to build a social media following for our HPV vaccine account to gain attention and influence on social media; and

Two, how do platforms compare when examining which one performs better for spreading HPV vaccine messaging across social networks. We looked at Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter.

We used a “push-pull” framework to “push” or disseminate HPV vaccine messages and anticipated “pull” or engagement from social media users. Knowing the difficulties that come with increasing engagement on social media, the team implemented and tested 12 messaging strategies.

Results showed that engagement with the online profile we created, and its content increased across all platforms. We observed that Instagram and TikTok, outperformed Twitter on several metrics.

We also found that segmenting videos and emphasizing vaccine messaging with captions or questions, using more hashtags, posting frequently during certain times of the day and on certain days of the week, and using tag-and-follow influencer strategies were most effective.

To our knowledge, our study was the first of its kind to implement vaccine intervention information in a “real-world” message environment in the social media space.

Findings further highlight the importance of studying health messaging on social media platforms given that they function differently, and certain engagement strategies work better to reach target audiences.  

Posted in