Research article

BMC Public Health

, 13:1129

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Social media use by community-based organizations conducting health promotion: a content analysis

  • Shoba RamanadhanAffiliated withCenter for Community-Based Research, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Email author 
  • , Samuel R MendezAffiliated withCenter for Community-Based Research, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
  • , Megan RaoAffiliated withUniversity of Michigan School of Public Health
  • , Kasisomayajula ViswanathAffiliated withCenter for Community-Based Research, Dana-Farber Cancer InstituteDepartment of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard School of Public Health



Community-based organizations (CBOs) are critical channels for the delivery of health promotion programs. Much of their influence comes from the relationships they have with community members and other key stakeholders and they may be able to harness the power of social media tools to develop and maintain these relationships. There are limited data describing if and how CBOs are using social media. This study assesses the extent to which CBOs engaged in health promotion use popular social media channels, the types of content typically shared, and the extent to which the interactive aspects of social media tools are utilized.


We assessed the social media presence and patterns of usage of CBOs engaged in health promotion in Boston, Lawrence, and Worcester, Massachusetts. We coded content on three popular channels: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. We used content analysis techniques to quantitatively summarize posts, tweets, and videos on these channels, respectively. For each organization, we coded all content put forth by the CBO on the three channels in a 30-day window. Two coders were trained and conducted the coding. Data were collected between November 2011 and January 2012.


A total of 166 organizations were included in our census. We found that 42% of organizations used at least one of the channels of interest. Across the three channels, organization promotion was the most common theme for content (66% of posts, 63% of tweets, and 93% of videos included this content). Most organizations updated Facebook and Twitter content at rates close to recommended frequencies. We found limited interaction/engagement with audience members.


Much of the use of social media tools appeared to be uni-directional, a flow of information from the organization to the audience. By better leveraging opportunities for interaction and user engagement, these organizations can reap greater benefits from the non-trivial investment required to use social media well. Future research should assess links between use patterns and organizational characteristics, staff perspectives, and audience engagement.


Community-based organizations Social media Health promotion Content analysis