How Are Hospitals Using Instagram to Promote Masks?

Pill graphic. Text on pill reads "It doesn't matter how much you hate wearing your mask"
The University of Alabama Birmingham Hospital used a series of “Hard Pills to Swallow” posts to communicate about COVID-19. (Image- @uabmedicine on Instagram)

Many government and non-government organizations alike are currently communicating the importance of wearing a mask. Strategies for communicating this, along with reactions to these strategies, have varied.

Much to the reflection of America’s attitude towards masks, hospitals have mixed strategies towards mask encouragement on Instagram. Some take a more passive, “all in this together” approach, while some take a more aggressive and forceful approach.

Let’s look at three large hospitals in the Birmingham, Ala. medical community: University of Alabama Birmingham Hospital, Children’s of Alabama Hospital, and St. Vincent’s Hospital. All three hospitals have a significant presence in the Birmingham medical community, ranging from ambulatory, primary, and specialty care services.

First, let’s look at St. Vincent’s (@stvhealth). This hospital, a nonprofit, has not used their Instagram extensively to promote pandemic guidelines. In fact, almost all of their coronavirus-related posts since March are pictures and videos thanking their employees, or “healthcare heroes.” There was not a single post related to masks specifically, only general encouragement to “do the right thing.”

As for Children’s Hospital (@childrensofal), their Instagram page contained more of an educational tone to promote mask wearing. For example, a graphic was posted to their page on Sept. 10 that explained how exactly COVID-19 particles spread, and how masks prevent the spread of the disease. Their tone never appears to be aggressive, but rather educational through the use of graphics, pictures, and testimonials.

UAB Hospital (@uabmedicine) took the more aggressive road to encourage mask wearing. Their post on July 23 was a graphic featuring a series of large pills that say “hard pill to swallow” above each. Inside one of the pills reads “It doesn’t matter how much you hate wearing your mask.” This was one of many posts regarding masks that target a younger audience. Their largely aggressive yet educational tone appears to target those that are not following pandemic guidelines; however, no individuals or group of individuals are mentioned.

As for these three hospitals, it appears that the community involvement status of the hospital largely dictates their messages surrounding COVID-19 and wearing masks.

UAB Hospital, the largest hospital in the state of Alabama, has deep roots within the public health of the city. They are not seen by most citizens as just an organization, but a healthcare system that is involved with every aspect of the city. They could possibly feel more responsibility than St. Vincent’s and Children’s Hospitals would when encouraging their publics to wear masks.

UAB also has the largest and most diverse population of Instagram followers out of the three hospitals, as dictated by their patient population. They have a wider audience that would be more likely to adhere to strong social media messages, given the respect UAB has in the Birmingham medical community.

There are seemingly endless ways to communicate a message, especially one that is geared to have a large reach. Something that students should consider when crafting messages for their Chapters or organizations is the target audience. Does that audience need friendly approach, or an assertive one? A formal one, or a colloquial one? These and many other considerations must be taken in order to communicate responsibly on behalf of an organization.

Carson Caulfield

Carson Caulfield is a junior journalism and mass communications major at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Upon graduating, he plans to pursue his master’s in healthcare administration and work in the healthcare communications field. He is originally from New Orleans, Louisiana.

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