Please tell us a little about yourself
My name is Lilian Chan and I’m a PhD candidate with the Prevention Research Collaboration, which is part of the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney. I’m passionate about improving the health outcomes for communities, reducing inequalities and tackling social injustices. Before undertaking my PhD, I did a Master of Public Health at the University of Sydney, and in my previous experiences, I worked as a Communications Officer in the aid and development sector – which is when I became interested in how social media and other digital platforms can be used for social good. I also currently work part-time as a Project Officer on a social marketing campaign with NSW Multicultural Health Communication Service, and am also a mum of 2 young kids who keep me very much on my toes!
What is your research on?
My research explores how we should evaluate public health campaigns that use digital media channels. Public health mass media campaigns have been around for decades – I’m sure many of you will remember seeing ads on TV or billboards about the harms of smoking, importance of ‘slip, slop slap’, etc. These campaigns have been extensively evaluated and found to be an important tool for governments and health advocates to raise awareness of health issues and promote behaviour changes.
Over the past two decades, these campaigns have slowly taken to digital platforms, such as websites, Facebook and other social media, online videos and digital advertising, to spread health messages. But there isn’t much evidence showing how effective these digital campaigns are in raising awareness of health issues or changing behaviours.
My research tries to understand how we can evaluate digital health campaigns – are ‘likes’ on Facebook enough? Should going ‘viral’ be the objective of a digital health campaign? Why do (or don’t) people engage with health campaigns online? Does online engagement translate to health behaviour changes in real life?
To try to understand these questions, my research includes conducting evaluation studies on several public health campaigns that use digital media channels, as well as conducting focus groups and interviews to explore why people engage on social media and how professionals across different industries assess digital campaigns.
What are the real world consequences of your research?
As digital channels, such as social media, TV streaming, online ads are fast becoming the main way of communication and entertainment, health organisations need to use these channels to reach people. This research aims to help government and health organisations understand how they can use digital channels effectively, so that valuable and limited public health resources are used in the best way possible. Ultimately, it’s about figuring out how to get important health messages to the community in a way that helps improve health outcomes.
What does digital health mean to you?
To me, digital health means using digital technologies to improve health outcomes for people. This encompasses such a wide range of things – from using a fitbit to track your physical activity levels, to using telehealth to bridge geographical and physical barriers to accessing health services, to a video on TikTok of a doctor correcting COVID-19 misinformation. In relation to my research, it’s about bringing some of our public health strategies up to date to where people are at, and using digital technologies that are embraced in other sectors, such as marketing and advertising, to help improve health outcomes for communities.
Do you have any resources or links you would like to share?
A couple of articles if you’re interested in this type of work:
- Social media campaigns that make a difference: what can public health learn from the corporate sector and other social change marketers? – An excellent article by one of my supervisors A/Prof Becky Freeman
- Trending now: future directions in digital media for the public health sector – a bit old, but a good outline of some key topics in this area
- Review of evaluation metrics used in digital and traditional tobacco control campaigns – looks at what measures are reported in campaign evaluations (full disclosure – one of my research papers!)
Some of the campaigns I’ve been privileged to be involved in their evaluations:
- Shisha No Thanks – raising awareness of the harms of shisha smoking
- Movements Matter – raising awareness of the importance of decreased fetal movements
- Still Six Lives – raising awareness of stillbirth in Australia
- Cancer Council NSW’s Healthy Lunch Box – promoting healthy eating for families
You can contact me or follow my research on Twitter @lil_3c
A very big thank you to Lilian for being our April research student feature!