: Tamia Vayson, Web manager for Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH), maintains the ACH Facebook fan page.
LITTLE ROCK—When the Arkansas Children's Hospital launched its Facebook page in September 2009, initially it had six fans. It took off faster than anyone expected.
"Within 30 day's time we leapt 15,000 fans and soon thereafter we had 30,000 fans," said Dan McFadden, communications director, Arkansas Children's Hospital.
McFadden believes a big reason the site got popular so fast is because of the public health crisis with the H1N1 virus. The site was used to communicate key prevention tips and information to parents.
Unlike a press release in a newspaper, a Facebook site is interactive. Arkansas Children's Hospital has used the Facebook live chat forum feature to tap into the growing group of people using Facebook. Parents have the ability to ask questions of the experts.
The hospital can post information, but also receive feedback from patients and parents of patients.
"It is a great opportunity for patients to share their incredible stories of hope and inspiration," McFadden said. "The ones that really tear you up are the parents who have had a loss, but have gained inspiration from the care they got at the Arkansas Children's Hospital."
Arkansas Children's Hospital Web Manager Tamia Vayson said social networking such as the Facebook page and Twitter are very inexpensive and effective ways to communicate.
"We post to Facebook and Twitter several times a week," Vayson said. "It is definitely worth the amount of time it takes. It doesn't take a lot of time for staff to monitor it several times a day to see what some of the parent's comments are."
An example is a post June 1 from Leah Helms: "I just want to say thank you to the whole transplant team in the CVICU unit. Dr. Jake, Ebble, Saib, Garcia, and all nurses. I miss you guys and you did a wonderful job taking care of my little Pierce while we were there."
As of June 1, the Arkansas Children's Hospital had 47,702 fans on Facebook.
The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) began a Facebook page in April.
"Use of the Web and social media has grown at an incredible pace over the last several years and now they have become major communications channels in public health, as well," said State Health Officer Dr. Paul K. Halverson. "Social media like Facebook and Twitter provide us ways to reach a new audience in a lively, timely and interactive medium. We also have begun to tweet messages on Twitter. It just makes good sense that we rely more and more on innovative ways to get our messages out. Our ability to communicate has taken a big leap forward."
Ed Barham, public information officer for ADH, said Facebook and Twitter are exciting new ways to get connected with people who are otherwise pretty hard to get in touch with. The ADH can't afford to advertise on television, but has an important message to get out.
As of June 1 the ADH had 369 fans, and more than 100 friends.
"This is a small start, but as we go along I think we will begin to see a stronger and stronger following as people who are interested in health related issues will be turning to us for more content and information," Barham said. "There is a huge amount of information the health department is responsible for, and people can find it by connecting through our new website, www.healthyarkansas.gov
or through Facebook. Facebook and Twitter are nice tools that let us stay in touch with people on a more frequent basis at almost no cost to us. It is very much bold new ground for us to break. We're excited about it."
Barham said Twitter might be especially useful for communicating information such as swim advisories because of unsafe E. coli levels at state swimming areas after rainfalls.