Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Fall 2017

The BIT SIG Asks: What is the Value of a Social Media Presence for Behavioral Medicine Research and Practice?

Danielle Arigo, PhD; Danielle Jake-Schoffman, PhD; Carly Goldstein, PhD; Behavioral Informatics and Technology Special Interest Group (BIT SIG) Social Media Subcommittee members

#Hashtags, @handles, pages… You’ve seen them fly by on screens at SBM annual meetings, and you’ve seen them promoted in the SBM weekly digest emails. Maybe you’ve wondered what all the fuss is about. And if you use any of these regularly as a behavioral medicine professional, it’s likely you’ve been asked to explain why you do it. The BIT SIG’s Social Media Subcommittee explains the benefits here.

So, why? Nearly 70% of adults in the US use social media, including 35% of adults 65 and older. And 80% of those adults use social media at least once per day.1 (Younger than 18? The numbers skyrocket.) So if you’re looking to reach people who aren’t already visiting a research center or clinic, effective social media use can help you find and engage them. Social media has enabled healthcare systems to contact patients about signing up for health insurance, getting a basic health screen, raising awareness about physical and mental health conditions, and disseminating available community health resources. Social media can also connect patients to each other for tips and support with chronic disease management or other health behavior changes.

For an organization like SBM (@BehavioralMed) or a subgroup like a SIG, social media represents a way to connect with members and the broader community between annual meetings. For example, SBM and the BIT SIG each share new research findings and industry news relevant to our members. BIT SIG recently launched our #TechSIG feature on Twitter (@SBMDigitalHlth), which highlights a recent digital health publication each week. (Archived on our SIG webpage.)

In January 2017, BIT SIG also hosted a “Twitter chat” to discuss topics of interest to our members. A Twitter chat allows anyone with a Twitter account to participate in a conversation by using a particular hashtag (e.g., #TechSIG) and replying to the facilitator or other participants in the conversation. This chat allowed us to engage with our members in two ways.  First, we sent out a brief survey to BIT SIG members and members of other SIGs to determine the topics of greatest interest for the Twitter chat.  The results pointed to three topics, that were the focus of our chat:

Discussing challenges and solutions for ongoing research with technology

Use of emerging technologies (to help identify areas for collaboration)

Advice for junior researchers interested in digital health

Second, we engaged members directly during the Twitter chat itself. Overall, the 141 tweets included in this one-hour discussion received over 3,000 views and earned SBM a dozen new followers. If you missed it, this chat is also archived on our SIG webpage, and we have a follow-up chat planned for January. Please be on the lookout for input on the topics we’ll discuss!

What can you do with social media as a behavioral medicine professional? In addition to engaging in events like a Twitter chat, social media offers many opportunities to an individual professional. As a user, you can choose to follow or “friend” others with similar interests or expertise; this can enable professional networking, staying informed about the latest published research, and promoting your own work. Recent findings show an increase in downloads and citations of manuscripts shared via social media.2

With respect to research capabilities, social media can be used to target specific groups for recruitment into studies (e.g., focus groups, surveys, interventions) or to deliver health behavior interventions remotely. Because these processes differ via social media (vs. traditional methods) and their ethical implications are distinct, BIT SIG is offering several opportunities to learn from experts in these areas. At the SBM 2017 annual meeting, the BIT SIG and Health Decision-Making SIGs co-sponsored a pre-conference workshop titled “Using Social Media for Research,” featuring presentations by Dr. Lisa Carter-Harris (recruitment), Dr. Sherry Pagoto (intervention), and Dr. Camille Nebeker (ethics). As follow-ups, the BIT and Theories & Techniques of Behavior Change Interventions SIGs will offer the following learning opportunities this year:

Fall and winter webinars on recruitment and intervention via social media, featuring Drs. Lisa Carter-Harris and Sherry Pagoto

A 2018 pre-conference workshop on designing and delivering interventions via social media, featuring Dr. Brie Turner-McGrievy

Stay tuned for more information about both of these opportunities!

Doesn’t it take a lot of time and energy that you could be spending on other aspects of your behavioral medicine work? Yes, it does take time to cultivate a social media presence, learn whom to follow/friend, grow a network, and learn how to harness your network for research or clinical purposes. But as a user, you can engage as much or as little as you prefer and curate a feed that provides updates on your professional interests. And if you want to save time, get started by following SBM (@BehavioralMed) and the BIT SIG (@SBMDigitalHlth) on Twitter for all things #digitalhealth.  Another tool that SBM offers for SIGs who want to have a social media presence is the use of the SBM Twitter, @BehavioralMed, to host a Twitter chat like the one mentioned above or live tweet an event.  For more information on how you can leverage SBM’s social media, contact Lindsay Bullock, lbullock@sbm.org.


  1. Pew Research Center: http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/11/11/social-media-update-2016/
  2. Erdt et al. (2017): http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0183217