Social Media for Health Communication: Implementation Issues and Challenges for Italian Public Health Authorities

Social Media for Health Communication: Implementation Issues and Challenges for Italian Public Health Authorities

Elisabetta Cioni (Università Degli Studi di Sassari, Italy) and Alessandro Lovari (Università Degli Studi di Sassari, Italy)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 27
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6150-9.ch014


The aim of this chapter is to highlight the current issues and the challenging process of the adoption of social media by Italian local health authorities (ASL). After a literature review of the role of social media for health organizations, the authors focus their attention on how social network sites are modifying health communication and relations with citizens in Italy. They conduct an exploratory study articulated in three stages: after mapping the presence of local health authorities on the most popular social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube), they carry out a content analysis to describe the prevalent kinds of messages published in the official Facebook timelines; in the third phase, using several interviews with healthcare directors and communications managers, the authors investigate implementation issues, managerial implications, and constraints that influence proper use of these participative platforms by Italian public health organizations. Limitations and further steps of the research are discussed.
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Social media are becoming very popular and are widely used in Italy. New interactive media, and in particular social network sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, are rapidly gaining importance in people’s media consumption patterns: indeed much research, at both the national and international level, has emphasized the growing role that participatory media is assuming in the search for information and to connect and engage with peers and organizations (Censis-Ucsi, 2013; Istat, 2013a; Nielsen, 2011). For these reasons private organizations, such as companies and brands, and public institutions such as municipalities, universities and governmental agencies have begun to inhabit the social web by opening official accounts, pages or channels to interact and dialogue with customers and citizens (Comunello, 2012; Lovari et al., 2011; Lovari & Parisi, 2012). The social media wave has also begun to impact Italian health organizations, such as Local Health Authorities (ASL), hospitals and University hospitals (ICCR). This process is happening in the private and public health sector, at different rates, and using a variety of approaches (Fattori & Pinelli, 2013; Santoro, 2011). It is interesting to observe the organizational decision to open an official social media presence on popular platforms, whereby the owner directly manages content and relationships with a digital audience, composed of citizens, patients, associations, and media. This process of social media colonization (Lovari, 2013) strictly depends on the specific characteristics of the Italian healthcare framework, and it is influenced by the particular approach to communication and technology innovation in general (Contini & Lanzara, 2009; Ingrosso, 2008; Rubinelli, Camerini, Schulz, 2010). For this reason it is important to focus on the identifiable characteristics of the Italian healthcare framework and its organization at the national and regional levels.

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