Usually when someone pulls out their phone to snap a picture at a restaurant, it’s to document a particularly delicious or showstopping meal. Now, people are using photos to tell North Carolina State University assistant professor Benjamin Chapman about food safety issues. Chapman asked readers of his Barfblog to send photos to Instagram and Twitter showing what they perceive to be food safety problems at restaurants, grocery stores and other public facilities.

His said his goals are to raise awareness and generate public discussion about what people know about food safety, and then later to use the data in a research project. And if the spotlight puts some pressure on the food industry, Chapman said that’s fine too.

Since he began collecting photos back in September, Chapman has received about 150 submissions, many of which can be seen at the Citizen Food Safety website.

From apples falling on the ground and dirty lipstick marks on a glass, to hand washing signs, thermometer use and some pictures of what might qualify for the world’s dirtiest bathroom, Chapman said the submissions show people really do pay attention to food safety hazards. (read more…)

When Facebook created a way for users to share their organ donor status and added links to make signing up as an organ donor easy, the social media site saw a 21.2-fold increase in new online registrations in a single day.

While very impressive, the results posted by Johns Hopkins University researchers in the American Journal of Transplantation really show the huge potential for social media as a public health tool.

“It’s the power of social networking as a source for public good,” said study leader Dr. Andrew Cameron, a transplant surgeon and JHU associate professor of surgery.

There certainly is a need for organ donors, with about 120,000 people on organ waiting lists — 96,000 for kidneys alone, according to statistics from the United Network for Organ Sharing or UNOS. The JHU researchers said average daily organ donor registrations total 616 per day nationwide.

Signing up as an organ donor in the event in the event of death is a great gift, no doubt. (read more…)

Researchers are testing how helpful social media can be for raising awareness of health care issues or as a tool for prevention.

In a study that hits on both counts, UCLA researchers set out to see if African-American and Latino gay men would voluntarily use health-related Facebook groups to discuss HIV issues, such as stigma and prevention, with a goal of getting them to request an at-home HIV test kit.

Study participants either were assigned to a general health group on Facebook or to an HIV-prevention group. Both groups were created by the research team and not accessible by the general public.

Peer leaders began the conversations to gain the support and trust of members, introducing topics using multimedia methods, said researcher Sean Young, assistant professor at the Center for Behavioral and Addiction Medicine, Department of Family Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Over time, participants took over the peer leader roles and initiated their own conversations. (read more…)

Social media is one of the most effective marketing channels for any company. Why? Most experts explain away the phenomenon with the how, not the why: “Social is an excellent venue for content sharing and a useful tool for subscribing to news of your favorite brands.” While that is true, it only scrapes the surface. There must be a better answer, and I’ve found it.

Social media is unlike any other marketing channel because it requires the customer to reach out to the brand before the brand reaches out to the customer with a message that leads to customer action. Normally, it works the other way around, but why is it so effective when the roles are reversed? The explanation boils down to a basic rule about relationships between people.

People don’t like to throw away relationships that they have worked to nurture.

A simple trick for making connections is that you should, at some point, ask the other person for a favor if you want them to really care about you. (read more…)

Twitter is growing up, evolving from a simple message system into a public health research tool.

Computer scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore are using Twitter to track fluctuations in influenza activity in the U.S.

JHU doctoral candidate Michael Paul said Twitter will never be able to provide hard and fast statistics the way hospitals do when they report flu admissions to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but monitoring tweets can show trends at a broader population level.

And it doesn’t stop with the flu. Paul said an earlier project used tweets to track seasonal allergies, mapping geographic trends and winter vs. spring. That could evolve into mapping allergy prevalence within a community or state.

Monitoring tweets could also be used to determine how people take medications. “We think it could be interesting to see how people are self-medicating,” Paul said. Are people, for example, using antibiotics to treat the flu, which is a virus and does not respond to them? (read more…)