Using Social Media Tools to Improve Health and Reduce Stigma

January 28, 2015

screenshot of video message on mental health, man in a car

This blog post was written in collaboration with Forum One in support of our USAID TASC4 ICT for Health contract.

At EnCompass, we believe in the power of technology- to connect people, to promote progress, and to improve communities. In order to share our knowledge and lessons learned, we recently launched a web series focused on Information Communication Technology (ICT) for health. Each month, we present a new topic designed to help health experts in the field better leverage technology for improved project outcomes.

One of those recent ICT webinars was led by Mike Shoag of Forum One- a partner on our USAID TASC4 ICT for Health contract- and focused on the power of social media to promote health in developing countries. The presentation generated a lively discussion, with lots of requests for examples of what a successful health campaign looks like.

As a follow-on, Mike has provided the following tips for, and examples of, successful campaigns to reduce stigma and improve health. Have a favorite health campaign of your own? Be sure to share it with us in the comments!


Best Practices

As you consider ways to use social media tools for your own public health campaigns, make sure to:

  1. Create infographics that are legible and easy to share. Often we see infographics that are not optimized for social media.  Viewers should not have to click on an image in order to view it! Taking key messages out and making each image easily shareable on social media will allow you to reach many more users than using images that require users to zoom in to view the details.  On some social media, even clicking on an image won’t show the full image.  On Twitter, for example, clicking will only show the image on full screen - but it may still be too small to read.
  2. Use images that are interesting and exciting. Pictures of people sitting around in suits are boring!  The best social media campaigns show a single individual’s face, looking at the camera, and tell a story about that individual. Then follow that user’s story over time - people love that!  Surprisingly, users are more moved by a single individual’s plight than a statistic about a million people (or a bunch of people in suits).
  3. Take advantage of tools that help you amplify your message. With literally hundreds of partners, the StopTB Partnership does a good job of retweeting partner tweets, and could do even more to amplify the message if partners retweeted the StopTB content as well. There are tools that would enable partners to auto-retweet messages from one another, thus reaching tens of thousands of more twitter users with each tweet.
  4. Use #Hashtags.  Hashtags have a number of functions on social media sites. Whether used as an advocacy tool (#StopTB), to generate conversation around events (#10toTASC), or to unite people around common interests and goals (#ICT4Health), hashtags can be a great way to connect with like-minded organizations and people. They also provide opportunities for you to expand your reach far beyond your current networks!


Some of the best examples of social media campaigns to reduce stigma are seen in the realm of mental health, where stigma is high and there is a lack of open communication about the illness and accompanying issues. There are several social media campaigns that effectively target the stigma of depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health diseases. There are also several campaigns to educate and reduce stigma around diseases such as HIV and Tuberculosis. Here are a few examples:

#BustTheStigma. Launched by the International Bipolar Foundation, this campaign is aimed at reducing stigma, and has integrated social media channels including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr and Pinterest, among others. One sign of an effective social media campaign is having a large number of people who take up the cause. If you look at the #BusttheStigma campaign on Twitter, you will see that it has a diverse set of followers who use the hashtag and help spread the word. This campaign also has professional images, videos and celebrity tie-ins, which help to increase the virality of the campaign.

Raising Awareness for Behavior Change: HIV Equal has a website ( and social media campaign aimed at reducing stigma associated with HIV. Although in the past their social campaigns focused on stigma reduction, recent social media activity is more focused on encouraging gay men to get tested.

Questions? Be sure to leave them in the comments. Or, let us help you create your own campaign! Contact our ICT project manager at

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About the Author

Crystal Cason has a passion for visual storytelling and nearly a decade of global, cross-...

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