Government communication and online engagement during “the summer of Zika”: Examining content and social media metrics of posts addressing the Aedes aegypti mosquito
Keywords:Government communication, Health communication, Political image, Public communication, Public interest, Social Media
Over the last few years, health communication has become central in an environment characterized by disinformation and a pandemic. This paper investigates how official institutions have used social media to communicate about health issues and the effects of government-sponsored content on online engagement. Considering the need for a perspective that takes us beyond case studies from the United States and Europe, we examine the Brazilian Ministry of Health Facebook page during the Zika outbreak in 2016. Our research questions are: How does the Brazilian Ministry of Health use Facebook to communicate about Aedes aegypti? To what extent have the communication campaigns been used to promote the image of political actors and institutions? How do the Ministry’s communication strategies on Facebook affect users’ engagement with the content about Aedes aegypti? Using quantitative and qualitative methods, we combine content analysis and social media metrics to study posts addressing the Aedes aegyptimosquito. We discovered that publications recurrently adopted a preventive approach. However, posts focused on addressing diseases were those leading to higher user engagement. The data also indicated that emphasizing attributes favorable to government officials negatively affected user engagement, reducing the effectiveness and reach of the Ministry’s messages. This research allowed us to grasp the diversity of emerging practices in online government communication. It will potentially help policy-makers, communication managers, and scholars utilize the most effective communication strategies during health crises.
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