US Public health agencies on social media: User engagement and risk communication during the covid-19 pandemic


Social media are integral components of public health communication. As of April 2021, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) main Twitter page has over 3.8 million followers, and a similar number of followers on its main Facebook page. Every state public health agency has a Twitter or Facebook presence or both. Many agencies also have accounts on other platforms such as Instagram. It is clear that social media and social networking sites are a major channel of communication between government health agencies and the public.

Although a number of studies have examined characteristics of social media use by public health agencies, there are a number of important questions about this phenomenon that can be further addressed. Moreover, given its gravity, the covid-19 pandemic is an important context in which to examine how public health agencies are using these channels to communicate about risks to the public. Since social media sites are also sites of public engagement, it is also possible to study the accounts of public health agencies for how the public is responding to the various types of risk communication strategies adopted by health agencies.

To learn more about public health agency use of social media, and user response to risk communication strategies, LHEI and collaborators are working on a study to address the following research questions:

  • To what extent are local, state and federal agencies communicating about covid-19 on the most popular social media platforms?
  • How is social media use by public health agencies related to the progression of covid-19 infection and death rates over time?
  • How does the public engage with health agencies information throughout the progression of covid-19?
  • How do distinct risk communication strategies impact user engagement? What are the differences across local, state and federal agencies?

We expect that addressing these questions for various types of public health agencies in the US will contribute knowledge and theories about risk communication on social media, user response to risk communication strategies, and public health agency engagement with social media channels during an emergency and crisis situation as the covid-19 pandemic. Results from this study will be highlighted in this site, and links to its publications will also be published here as these become available.