The SIP provides high quality topics about Paediatrics and Health care to discuss actuality and new Research published in order to promote health care professional training about Paediatrics issues and Scientific Research and communication. We recognized that the recruitment of paediatric influencers has increased communication and interaction of the Italian Paediatric Society Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/societaitalianadipediatria). In particular, we documented that a correct use of social media platforms can be a great instrument to spread information. A limit of the study is that we did not analyze the effect of pediatricians’ actions on the health of children and adolescents. We focused on the potential role of influencers in communication. Our results are similar to those of other social campaigns promoted, such as a big campaign conducted in the USA to inform about flu vaccination using influencers and a social media influencer marketing campaign about children’s food intake. The studies reporting on this campaign proved the positive of social media influencers on health promotion [16, 17]. Moreover, a UK Survey conducted to investigate health care professional opinions on social media demonstrated that a percentage of 73.3% of responders considered social media as a negative instrument of communication . Our experience is in contrast with this report. In order to overcome negative experiences of clinicians with social media communication, it is important to follow specific guidelines and criteria . Otherwise, strategies for social media and web presence should be applied. For example, some reports described the “best times to post content in social media” considering 1–4 pm and 2–5 pm as the best hours to post and 1–2 times a day the best frequency to post . In contrast, our social media strategy did not follow any specific time or frequency to post, pointing out the same efficacy and strength. Indeed, the paediatric influencer group used to post the contents suggested at the time and frequency they preferred.
Our project has been involved in the implementation of social media communication through a group of medical doctors concerning paediatrics topics. The simple size of PI was small as it was a pilot study, conducted to verify the usefulness of their involvement in scientific communication. To our knowledge, this is one of the first Italian studies investigating this kind of strategy directly involving clinicians. Some Researchers recommended the creation of a network between clinicians and social media influencers and with “mommy blogs” [20, 21]. Moreover, a Netherlands study conducted on vaccine hesitancy demonstrated how social media influencers can be considered as partners for vaccination and health strategies . Our study is in line with these findings, considering influencers as an instrument to implement health communication . Conversely, our project defined and studied as influencers a group of medical doctors skilled on Paediatrics and communication strategies, documenting a potential role in health promotion to combat medical misinformation.
Pediatric influencers were asked to disseminate validated messages performed by the Italian Pediatric Society, which represents the filter of the information spread and may certify the validity and trustiness of the material. In this way, young and Internet-savvy pediatricians contributed to the spread of official and certified messages on health. In the digital era, the scientific community has to be actively involved in social media communication. Our data revealed that a percentage of 90% of clinicians participating in the study used social media as a communication tool: Facebook has been the most common choice among participants (55%), followed by Instagram (25%) and LinkedIn (15%). These observations are in line with literature showing an increasing frequency of social media usage for scientific communication among clinicians [24,25,26]. On the contrary, previous studies showed that a percentage of 73% of involved researchers declared to never use social media for scientific communication .
The important role of PI in sharing information is mainly evident analyzing the short time frame. As well as in our study, recent reports underline the role of medical social influencers in facilitating the dissemination of information to rapidly reach a larger audience and deliver health care information. The successful dissemination of health-related information by social networks depends on effective dialogic communication and interpersonal influence that facilitate the sharing of information with the public. As well as in our study, previous researchers demonstrate the role of medical social influencers in terms of the number of likes, comments, and especially shares of contents . In the USA, social campaigns on flu vaccination and alimentation using influencers highlighted the positive role of social media influencers for health promotion about children’s food intake [16, 17]. Moreover, sharing information as a form of engagement, which enables users to link the medical social influencer post to their social group have been help increasing trust and disseminate health-related information more widely and rapidly .
The efficacy of this communication process may be enforced if medical health influencers are trained by communication specialists on the choice of social media profile - personal or professional –and on the engaging strategy to increase the popularity of the posts. For example, health information communicated through photos and videos may be more appreciated and facilitate the public perception that the information is useful, while hashtags enable the users to share important topics in social media conversations [30, 31].
Of note, there is an increasing number of users that try to obtain health-related information on social network. As a consequence, it is important to provide an interactive communication and a dialogue with the followers to answers relative questions but avoiding substituting a direct medical clinical visit of the patient .
Considering contents shared on social media, our results showed the most successful post to be about “health education”, specifically on Covid-19 (“Mask for children: how to use?”, see Table 4). Conversely, some researchers documented that the posts concerning personal stories more than posts about health and education have been the most appreciated having a greater number of total reaches per post . For that purpose, we aimed at providing more posts about personal stories.
Day by day, communication strategies are becoming more important, so that paediatricians should consider social media algorithms to optimize the content for any social media platform. The Facebook algorithm controls the ordering and presentation of posts. Rather than publish content chronologically, posts are presented based on what Facebook sees as relevant to the user. Everything we see in Facebook’s homepage - the so-called Newsfeed - is controlled by an algorithm that takes into account several factors in order to establish which post to show first to each user. Communication experts partially know how to deal with this algorithm even if nobody exactly understand how it works. This mean we can never be completely sure of how many people will see a determined post we decide to publish on a Facebook page. As suggested by communicators, creating and sharing great contents, adapting them to the audience, posting frequently and promoting interactions may be good strategies to face the problem. As a consequence, it is important that PI should be trained on social media algorithms in order to increase post shareability. In our experience, the recruitment of paediatric influencers increased interaction with the SIP Facebook page, and favored the communication of health messages to the children’s’ caregivers. In this scenario, the effective use of social media platforms helps to convey correct scientific information, while contrasting fake news. Using PI to spread health messages proved to be a successful strategy in spreading health messages, likely because influencers were all medical doctors. According to a UK survey, the health care professionals’ opinion on social media as a means of communication was overall negative . In our study, 90% of the PI reported a positive experience as for their engagement. In order to overcome negative experiences of clinicians with social media communication, it is important to follow specific guidelines and criteria, such as the use of privacy setting, separating personal and professional content online . Our study has a main limitation. As the study period overlapped with the first wave of Covid-19 pandemic in Italy, this may be a potential confounder in increasing the use of social media among the users. Anyway, we considered the Engagement Rate (ER) to assess the efficacy of a post or of a Facebook Page, which may be calculated as the number of Engaged Users divided by the total reach of that post, multiplied by 100 to turn it into a percentage. Comparing our results with the average ER on Facebook for posts of any kind during first months of 2020, we can note PI activity efficacy in spreading medical information. In fact, we found out a better ER with PI involvment. In the long time frame, the SIP Facebook page without PI had an average of 6.45% ER and an average 8.27% with PI involvement. In the short time frame, SIP Facebook page had an average 6.89% ER without PI and an average 11.15% with PI. It as an important result, considering that, according to one of the most famous digital metrics’ report, due to lockdown, the average ER on Facebook for posts of any kind during first months of 2020 went up to 3.41%, with just a growth of 0.7% compared to the last quarter of 2019 .