How we drive positive health outcomes with Facebook and Instagram

2021 was rough for nonprofits trying to reach people with COVID-19 vaccination and safety information. Social media was – and continues to be – a repository for ever-changing health mandates, research flip flops and outright conflicting COVID information. We wouldn’t have blamed communications managers had they backed away from delivering COVID safety content on social platforms. But, that’s not what happened.

In the second half of 2021, global health organizations – from Senegal to Singapore and Slovenia to South Africa – banded together to run social media campaigns to drive positive COVID-19 prevention and vaccine confidence. Capulet supported global health organizations in using Meta social platforms to persuade people to follow COVID-19 public health guidance and to move them closer to getting a COVID vaccine. Here’s what we learned.

Spoiler alert . . . social media can contribute to knowledge, attitude and behavior change

Social media as a tool for health social behavior change is a relatively new concept. More than half of the health partners’ 113 campaigns showed a statistically significant uptick in knowledge, attitudes and self-reported behaviors – three cornerstones of social behavior change. 

These results were measured by Meta’s Brand Lift Study (BLS) tool. The tool surveys two audiences – one that’s exposed to campaign content and one that’s not – and measures the difference in knowledge, attitudes and behaviors between the two audiences. That difference represents the campaign lift.

“Our Facebook campaign ran in India when the country was going through the second wave of the pandemic,” said Stephen Maina, Social Media Optimization Manager at Population Services International. “Our messaging resulted in an increase in the number of self-reported people wearing masks.”

Black woman standing in a room with a camera and lights

CARE US reached young, vaccine-hesitant men with personal stories from people who chose to get the COVID vaccine. The audience exposed to those stories showed increased acceptance of friends and family getting the shot compared to those who didn’t see the ads.

CARE included a “social norming” question in its Brand Lift Study to learn whether personal stories can help normalize getting the vaccine. After seeing the ads, CARE’s target audience was asked, “When you think of most people whose opinion you value, how much would they approve of people getting a COVID-19 vaccine?” This question showed the greatest overall lift for the campaign – the largest lift of +4.9 percentage points with males ages 45-54 and a +3.2 percentage point lift with men ages 25-34.

FHI 360 Indonesia measured its campaign impact by tracking links from Facebook ads to a national vaccine tool. They pushed more than 300,000 people from ads to a national vaccine appointment booking tool. “I was impressed,” said Benjamin Eveslage, the Technical Associate Director at FHI 360.

These results are encouraging when it comes to using social media for health SBCC, but the struggle with online SBC measurement is real, in part because a disconnect often exists between what happens online and on-the-ground health programs. Plus, tracking uptake on health services from a Facebook or Instagram campaign isn’t a closed loop. How many of those who booked a vaccine appointment from an online ad showed up for the shot? 

Still, Catholic Relief Services says the campaign results are convincing enough to open up a discussion of field teams incorporating social into on-the-ground work.

Programs + Comms = SBCC impact ❤️

If you’ve worked inside a health organization, or at any NGO, you know program and communications teams often work in silos. We hypothesized that if country teams could provide local context and inform priority goals and messaging, and health technical staff could layer in social behavior change best practices, then communications teams would be well equipped to design SBCC campaigns. Fortunately, investigating social media as a tool for health social behavior change was a juicy enough topic to get all these teams to the table.

Digital and Social Media Manager, Jim Stipe, observed cross-functional teamwork emerge at Catholic Relief Services. “A side benefit of participating in the program was that our social media and SBC staff truly worked together for the first time, hopefully kicking off a long-term relationship for future collaboration and impact.”

Experimentation for the win

We all had a lot to learn as part of this pilot. More than a hundred nonprofit campaigns used Brand Lift Study data for the first time to measure campaign results, and many of us took our first deep dive into Social Behavior Change Communications. But, perhaps the most important learning was . . . keep learning! 

Some country teams learned the value of A/B testing for the first time and benefited from iterating and sharpening ad content before launching paid campaigns. Senior Communications Officer Sarah McKee at Management Sciences for Health, learned the power of flexibility and iteration. She tossed out her carefully-designed campaign plan to respond to on-the-ground reports that Guatemalans needed help locating where to get second doses of the vaccine. “Seeing the number of people who actively interacted, not just saw the ad and scrolled past, but actually clicked the link and went to the Ministry of Health website blew my mind. It was pretty amazing.” The campaign results showed a +3.7 percentage point lift in the number of Guatemalan women who were confident they could get a COVID-19 vaccine if they wanted to.

Learning from the AB testing, Save the Children Bangladesh recorded pro-vaccine messages from doctors and public figures, including a prominent influencer food blogger. When the food blogger became a target of hurtful comments, the team quickly pivoted to an alternative strategy. They turned off those ads and launched new public health influencer videos featuring medical experts like Dr Firdausi Quadri. Dr. Quadri is a renowned scientist who specializes in immunology and infectious disease research and who was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2021. 

Deep social listening, flexibility and the choice to showcase a medical expert like Dr Quadri resulted in the video receiving over 640K link clicks. The videos by Bangladesh medical experts garnered the highest link clicks both globally and at the country level. Overall, the campaign resulted in more than three million visits to a Bangladesh national website sharing vaccine information. 

From selfie videos in Laos to Messenger chatbots in India and “click-to-call” creative in the US, having resources to iterate powered creative learning and output.

At a time when anti-vaccine groups are actively targeting health organizations online, spreading misinformation and launching personal attacks on doctors and citizens, collaborations between trusted health NGOs are needed to spread accurate information on social platforms and counter dangerous misinformation. While each country team ran a campaign specific to their COVID context, the collective impact certainly made its mark and moved many towards choosing to get the COVID vaccine.

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