Story-Driven Instagram Content is Key for Promoting the HPV Vaccine

Instagram stands as a pivotal social media platform to promote getting human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations, and organizations and individuals looking to do so should aim for creating more story-driven posts, according to the findings of a new study published in Health Education & Behavior.

“With its growing popularity, inclusion of image and text, and user-friendly interface, Instagram is uniquely positioned for exploring health behaviors and sources and types of informational exposure related to the (HPV) vaccine,” the researchers wrote in their abstract.

In this study, the researchers utilized Netlytic to collect 3,378 publicly available English-language posts using the search terms “#HPV,” “#HPVVaccine,” and “#Gardasil.” They then randomly selected 1,200 posts to content analyze before ending up with a sample comprised of 360 posts after exclusion.

The Narrative is Key

According to the results of the study, pro-vaccine posts were more prevalent on Instagram, however anti-vaccine posts had higher engagement rate and typically included misleading information about the HPV vaccine. The researchers observed that narratives skewed toward anti-vaccine sentiments were mostly produced by individual users. Pro-vaccine narratives tended to portray individuals who received the vaccine, but provided limited details on vaccine experiences, which the researchers noted was in stark contrast with the depth of details in anti-vaccine personal narrative posts.

These results build upon the findings of a study published in 2018 which offered insights on how and when health professionals discuss the HPV vaccine on Twitter. The researchers are now embarking on NIH-funded study to elucidate those findings and will specifically focus the effectiveness of narrative- versus non-narrative-focused tweets.

“In recent years, we’re seeing a resurgence of misleading anti-vaccination messages and related misinformation spreading through social media,” said senior author Philip M. Massey, PhD, an associate professor of community health and prevention in the Dornsife School of Public Health in a press release. “By studying what makes these messages so effective online, we can improve fact-based, pro-vaccination messaging aimed at improving public health.”