Social media safety message text must match with images: Study

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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According to the study published in the European Journal of Health Communication (EJHC), it is vital to ensure that the words match the photos while using social media to nudge people towards safe and healthy actions.

The researchers found that after looking at the images in the social media posts aligned with the messages, the respondents of the study were better able to recall safety messages related to it.

Liz Klein, lead author of the study and the associate professor of public health at The Ohio State University said, “Many times, scientists and safety experts aren’t involved in decisions about social media for health agencies and other organizations, and we end up seeing images that have nothing to do with the safety message or worse, images that contradict the guidance.”

Take the safe sleep example, for instance. The researchers found posts advocating a bumper-free cradle for the baby but used a picture of a baby in a cradle with bumpers.

“In this study, we were trying to understand how much those mismatches matter — do people understand the message even if the picture isn’t right? Does the picture really matter?” Ms. Klein said.

Their responses came from experiments using eye-tracking technology to assess the attention provided to different posts by young parents, and subsequent assessments to see what they remembered about the safety messages.

When a trio of posts with matched imagery and text and three other posts with mismatched visual and written messages were shown to the 150 parents in the study, they spent much longer on the matched posts that the mismatched ones. Besides, the matched messages tended to make a difference in interpreting safety messages and remembering them.

“With nearly 70 percent of adults reporting use of social media, and many parents using social media and other internet sources to keep current on injury prevention strategies, social media is a great opportunity to broadcast safety and injury prevention messages,” said study co-author Lara McKenzie, a principal investigator in the Centre for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.

Lara McKenzie
Lara McKenzie
Principal investigator
Centre for Injury Research & Policy
Nationwide Children’s Hospital

“As more health organizations and public health agencies use social media to share health information with the public, the findings of our study underscore the need to ensure that the imagery and text in social media posts are aligned. If you want people to put their medicine up and out of reach of children, kids to wear their bike helmets, or new parents to remember that babies should always go to sleep on their backs, alone and in a crib — that’s where matching matters. Maybe save the eye-grabbing stuff and the humorous posts for different purposes.”

Ms. Klein said she understands that those managing social media accounts may be drawn to images that are the most attention-grabbing. But when it comes to health and safety, this study suggests that making sure the image and the text are sending the same message is more important.

Also, she added that the results in this study are likely to extend to any range of health and safety initiatives beyond child safety messaging, but that there is further work to be done to understand how best to use the power of social media for various forms of public health communication.

“We need to pay more attention to how we communicate with the people we’re trying to influence with health and safety guidance. All of us can do a better job of thinking about how we use our social media accounts to contribute to better public health,” concluded Ms. Klein.