Local health departments with a public information specialist and those that tweet regularly were more likely to have used Twitter during the 2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, according to research from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.
Researchers examined tweets sent by 287 health departments from Sept. 3-Nov. 2, 2014, to determine how health departments were using social media to communicate about Ebola. About 60 percent of the departments using Twitter tweeted about Ebola, for a total of 1,648 Ebola-related tweets during the two-month study period.
Of all the tweets, 78 percent were information-giving, 22 percent concerned preparedness, 20 percent were news updates and 10 percent promoted events like public forums to discuss Ebola. Five waves of tweets corresponded with major Ebola news events, such as when the first case was diagnosed in the U.S.
“Social media has become a common mode of communication for health departments and others during emergencies like the Ebola outbreak, but messaging strategies vary widely and we need to learn more about which messages are effective,” said Dr. Jenine K. Harris, an associate professor at the Brown School and co author of the paper, which offered recommendations for health departments using Twitter. The lead author was Mr. Roger Wong, a doctoral student at the school.