Social Media and the Sanitarian- Part 1


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This is the first in a four-part series of articles for the Ohio Journal of Environmental Health on how environmental health professionals and health departments in general can get started using social media. The articles will also discuss the benefits of the use of social

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Social Media and the Sanitarian- Part 1

  1. 1. Social Media and the Sanitarian, Part 1 Jason Menchhofer, R.S. Van Wert County Health DepartmentThis is the first in a four part series of articles on how environmental healthprofessionals can benefit from the use of social media.These days, social media seems to be all the rage. With laptops or smartphones in nearly every office, home, belt holster or coat pocket, people can stayconnected with friends, family, colleagues and clients more easily than everbefore. This all sounds great, but what is social media? For many of us, theterm social media calls to mind things like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. Whilethese are examples of three major social media platforms, the point of socialmedia actually becomes clearer when the term is defined much more broadly.Chris Brogan, author of the book Social Media 101 defines social media as the“two-way web”.We have all known for years that the web is full of useful (and not-so-useful)information. Social media allows the user to go beyond finding valuableinformation, providing endless opportunities to discuss and share that informationwith others who are interested in the same subject matter. Before modern socialmedia platforms existed, this could be accomplished using a combination of aweb browser and e-mail. Modern social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter,Linkedin and scores of others serve as one-stop shops to monitor and shareinformation on the user’s area of interest, whatever that may be.Let’s begin our exploration of social media by taking a look at the most commonlyused and well known social media platform, Facebook. Facebook reportedlynow has over 800 million active users- more than twice the entire population ofthe United States. More than 350 million of these users currently accessFacebook on their mobile devices. These numbers add up to a huge network ofinformation that is available anytime, anywhere. If you have read this far and youdon’t have any firsthand experience using Facebook, you may be thinking that itamounts to little more than millions of people sharing pictures of their kids, ormaybe commenting on their latest meal or what kind of day they had at the office.While plenty of this kind of material can be found on Facebook, it is much morethan that. Before we dive into using Facebook for professional purposes, let’slook at the basics of how Facebook works.In order to use Facebook, a new user must first establish a profile. This can bedone in a matter of a few seconds by visiting and providingyour name, e-mail, password, sex and birth date (Facebook users must be atleast 13 years of age). Once your basic profile has been established and yousign into Facebook using the e-mail and password you signed up with, you can
  2. 2. edit your profile to share as much or as little information about yourself as youlike. Facebook also allows you to establish your own security levels. It’s OK toshare your birthday, but to help protect against identity theft it is recommendedthat you don’t make your birth year public. You may also want to considermaking most of your profile information visible only to your “friends”. The samegoes for information and pictures you share on Facebook.Once you have signed in and established your profile, you can do a simplesearch to find people you know, or information on subjects that interest you. Inorder to connect with someone you know on Facebook, you must first send thatperson a “friend request”. Once your request has been approved, you will beable to read everything your friend posts on their “wall” and you will be able toview pictures that they have uploaded to Facebook. Each new post your friendmakes will show up in your “news feed”. In the same manner, no one will beconnected with you until you have approved their friend request. Once you haveapproved another user’s friend request, that user will be able to see informationyou post on your wall and pictures you upload to your albums. In addition toconnecting with individual “friends”, Facebook users can also form “groups”. Agroup allows for sharing of information that is only seen by members of thatgroup. OEHA has a Facebook group, and President-Elect Jennifer Wentzel hasbeen sharing updates with the group periodically. To join the group, simply logon to Facebook and do a search for “OEHA”.So far, we have learned how to establish a profile and connect with others onFacebook via their profiles. Many active Facebook users do everything theywant to do on Facebook using only their profile. However, many individual usersand most companies or organizations on Facebook also establish “pages”. AFacebook page can be used by an organization to share more detailedinformation and even hold discussions on specific issues. In order to follow apage that interests you, you must “like” that page. Often no approval is requiredin order to like a Facebook page. Once you have liked a page, any newinformation that is added to that page will show up in your news feed.Now let’s look at a few examples of information found on Facebook that isrelevant to environmental health professionals, as well as other public healthprofessionals. Ohio Department of Health has a Facebook page that is updatedseveral times a week with information about topics ranging from birth defects, toticks, to radon and beyond. Ohio Department of Agriculture and OhioDepartment of Natural Resources are a couple of other relevant state agenciesthat have a presence on Facebook.Professional associations like the National Environmental Health Association,National Onsite Water Recycling Association, Ohio Onsite WastewaterAssociation and the Soil Science Society of America also maintain Facebookpages as a way of sharing information with their members and other interestedparties. Toledo-Lucas County, Williams County, Union County, Sandusky
  3. 3. County, Columbus Public Health, Wyandot County, Hamilton County, MiamiCounty Public Health and Delaware County are a few county health departmentsin Ohio who have also established a presence on Facebook to share importanthealth information with their constituents.Armed with the basic information above, anyone with basic computer skills canmake use of Facebook. If you haven’t considered social media as a legitimateinformation-sharing and communication tool in the past, hopefully you’ll takeanother look. Facebook and other social media platforms may provide you withanother viable option for sharing important information with an ever-growingpopulation of users.ReferencesFacebook Statistics!/press/info.php?statisticsIntro to Social Media: Part 1, What Is It?