Aimee Ferraro

Aimee Ferraro, a professor at the College of Health Sciences and Public Policy at Walden University, discusses how to use social media for positive change.

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Aimee Ferraro, a professor at the College of Health Sciences and Public Policy at Walden University, talked with Public Health Post during the 2022 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting & Expo about her presentation on how to use social media for positive change.

Professor Ferraro explained that the inspiration for her APHA talk stemmed from a leadership academy she attended. “One of the sessions was on personal branding and it really hit me. That’s something I had never thought about, and especially in relation to my professional life.” Her experience living in Peru contributed to this idea of better ways to use social media. “I think that we, as public health professionals, are challenged with our ability to communicate with the public. Maybe we’re all sitting behind a desk and we do data analysis and write papers, but we don’t do a lot of connecting with the communities we’re intending to serve,” she explained. “I’m an introvert, so it’s been a challenge for me.”

Part of her talk on how to use social media for positive change was about figuring out one’s strengths. “Certain people are more apt for TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter. But there are other options for people like me; I’ve done better with a podcast, where I can do a longer form speech. Or I end up doing a lot of HARO (Help a Reporter Out), which is a platform where reporters can connect with subject matter experts.”

Ferraro figured out what platform worked for her by learning what her strengths are. “There’s a lot of strength assessments in positive psychology that will help you tap into understanding your top five to ten traits.” She explains that like many other public health professionals, she is a strategic thinker, and also a data person. Her strengths do not lie on executing or influencing others. She notes that successful communication stems from “capitalizing on one’s strengths, and from collaboration with people who can complement our skills.”

She provides recommendations for crafting health messages: “Depends on what area you’re working in, what your passion is, what your focus is, who your audience is. Figure out your strengths. Then, craft science-based communication that is understandable by the general public.”

She notes that public health communication is not something many public health professionals are taught; many learn it on the job, so it’s bound to be challenging. “Your job is to always go back to the basic facts. Even when we don’t know everything, like in the COVID pandemic, we had evidence from previous respiratory pandemics that we could refer to. Largely, we should have still followed all of the same protocols.”

She has advice for beginners. “I would also encourage you, if you have people who are unwilling to listen to the information you’re delivering, instead of trying to force more on them, stop and listen to their truths. What is it that they believe? Usually, people who are falling back on misinformation and disinformation have beliefs that are rooted in fear. And if you can help them overcome those fears, or even just listen and let them speak, you will start to understand why some of these misunderstandings come about.”

For Dr. Ferraro, the take home message is that communication is key. “We probably go into public health because we’d like to help people. And the only way to do that is by connecting with them. And that’s not going to work if we’re just conducting research and running numbers and letting our findings sit on a shelf or in our computers. It is important and imperative that you build skills in health communication and figure out ways that you can go out and share your findings with people in communities you serve.”

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