New York, Jan 1 (IANS) When using Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms to nudge people towards safe and healthy behaviour, it is critical to make sure the words match the pictures, says a new study.
After looking at social media posts, parents of young children were better able to recall safety messages such as how to put a baby safely to sleep when the images in the posts aligned with the messages in the text, said the study published in the Journal of Health Communication.
"Many times, scientists and safety experts aren't involved in decisions about social media for health agencies and other organisations, and we end up seeing images that have nothing to do with the safety message or, worse, images that contradict the guidance," said lead study author Liz Klein, Associate Professor at The Ohio State University in the US.
Take the safe sleep example, for instance.
The researchers found posts that advocated a bumper-free crib for the baby but used an image of an infant in a crib with bumpers.
They saw posts about preventing head injury with bike helmets illustrated by pictures of kids without bike helmets.
"In this study, we were trying to understand how much those mismatches matter -- do people understand the message even if the picture isn't right? Does the picture really matter?" Klein said.
Their answers came from research using eye-tracking technology to gauge the attention young parents paid to various posts, and subsequent tests to see what they recalled about the safety messages.
When the 150 parents in the study were shown a trio of posts with matched imagery and text and three other posts with mismatched visual and written messages, they spent far longer on the matched posts -- 5.3 seconds, compared to the 3.3 seconds their eyes lingered on the mismatched posts.
Further, the matched messages appeared to make a difference in understanding and recall of safety messages.
After accounting for differences in health literacy and social media use among participants, the researchers found that each second of viewing time on matched posts was associated with a 2.8 per cent increase in a safety knowledge score.
"As more health organisations and public health agencies use social media to share health information with the public, the findings of our study underscore the need to ensure that the imagery and text in social media posts are aligned," said study co-author Lara McKenzie from Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Klein said she understands that those managing social media accounts may be drawn to images that are the most attention-grabbing. But when it comes to health and safety, this study suggests that making sure the image and the text are sending the same message is more important.
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