Background: Governmental and non-governmental institutions increasingly use social media as a strategic tool for public outreach. Global spread, promptness, and dialogic potentials make these platforms ideal for public health monitoring and emergency communication in crises such as COVID-19. Objective: Drawing on the Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication framework, we sought to examine how leading health organizations use Instagram for communicating and engaging during the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: We manually retrieved Instagram posts together with relevant metadata of four health organizations (WHO, CDC, IFRC, and NHS) shared between January 1, 2020, and April 30, 2020. Two coders manually coded the analytical sample of 269 posts related to COVID-19 on dimensions including content theme, gender depiction, person portrayal, and image type. We further analyzed engagement indices associated with the coded dimensions. Results: The CDC and WHO were the most active of all the assessed organizations with respect to the number of posts, reach, and engagement indices. Most of the posts were about personal preventive measures and mitigation, general advisory and vigilance, and showing gratitude and resilience. An overwhelming level of engagement was observed for posts representing celebrity, clarification, and infographics. Conclusions: Instagram can be an effective tool for health organizations to convey their messages during crisis communication, notably through celebrity involvement, clarification posts, and the use of infographics. There is much opportunity to strengthen the role of health organizations in countering misinformation on social media by providing accurate information, directing users to credible sources, and serving as a fact-check for false information.
- Coronavirus pandemic
- Crisis and emergency risk communication
- Public health surveillance
- Social media
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
- Safety Research