American Marketing Association of Las Vegas

Health Care Communications in the Age of ‘Sharenting’

Today’s parents are raising kids in a digital-first culture, facing more unique parenting questions and challenges than previous generations. Health care marketers h​ave a role to play in helping them navigate this new normal, but first they have to understand the new digital parenting landscape themselves.

In December 2014, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based C.S.Mott Children’s Hospital conducted its National Poll on Children’s Health (NPCH), a survey of parents with children age 0 to 4 years old, that discussed the benefits and concerns of sharing parenting information on social media—so called “sharenting.” According to the survey, half of mothers and 34% of fathers share information related to parenting on social media. The majority found “sharenting” to be a useful way to avoid feeling a​lone during the challenges of parenting, and 70% found social media to be a good way to get advice from more experienced parents. However, 74% of parents also felt that another parent they know has shared too much information about a child online. Fifty-six percent report seeing parents share information that might embarrass a child, and 51% reported seeing information that could potentially reveal a child’s location or other sensitive information.

Marketing Health Services caught up with Sarah Clark, associate director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, to learn what the study means for parents and the role that health care marketers should be taking in today’s world of social-media-enabled parenting.

Q: What are the risks and rewards of “sharenting,” and what should health care marketers know about it?

A: This is a reflection of the reality of how we live our lives today, which [includes] both in-person interactions and these digital interactions. One of the reasons we wanted to emphasize both the positive and the negative aspects of [“sharenting”] is not to say, ‘Wow, parents, don’t interact with each other digitally.’ That’s nuts. But more importantly, like everything else, like in-person interactions, there are more positive and less positive ways that we can carry out those interactions.

Q: What do parents need to be more conscious of and cautious about when interacting with social media?

A: The vast majority of people need to learn more about the privacy policies, settings and opportunities for their digital interactions. Most people might know certain things, like how to do some privacy settings on Facebook, but quite honestly, for the vast majority of us, our knowledge is pretty limited. We may think some things are more private than they really are. …

The second thing is just to be considerate in thinking about what you’re putting out there, knowing that it’s really hard when your kids are really young to imagine them as they get older. … The challenge is [that] there’s no single definition about what’s OK. … You may put up a picture of your young kids in the bathtub, which you think is hilarious because there are bubbles all over the place and they’re making the little Santa [beard]. There are other people out there who look at that and say, ‘Those are naked kids. You can’t put that out there.’ … People are going to have different opinions, so that’s why it’s hard for any one individual to say, ‘Oh, I know exactly what to do,’ because I don’t know that we have a lot of established social norms yet. This generation of parents is doing that work.

Q: What role do health care marketers and providers play in helping navigate and establish these new social norms for the digital space? Are they communicating the risks and rewards to parents?

A: It’s an opportunity for health care professionals to direct parents to accurate and helpful online sources of information. … When kids become tweens and teens, there are some conversations that come up with health care professionals about if it’s OK for a kid to have his own Facebook [account] or things like that, but I don’t think this is something that health care professionals have really done. They haven’t really entered the fray with this conversation yet. And if you think of, let’s say going to your kid’s pediatrician, [there are] all of the different posters and brochures and booklets that are sitting around the office or up on the wall for information on all kinds of different topics. I cannot imagine a pediatrician’s office in this country that has information about creating a healthy digital environment for your child. That’s a new territory that the community of health care professionals might need to think about, and maybe establish a consensus statement on what the appropriate role should be for health care professionals.

Q: Many marketers—especially in health care—consider social media as a sort of modern-day word of mouth. How can health care marketers work with the trend of soliciting advice online instead of against it?

A: I would bet that if we asked 100 doctors if they felt well-informed about privacy and how to keep things secure, I actually think that they, themselves, would say, ‘Well, I know about HIPPA. I know we have a lot of rules in the health care setting, but once we venture into social media, I’m less sure about that.’ There’s an important interim step there where we help the health care providers learn more so that they, in turn, help the parent. It is a new area for health care, but we’ve got to get into this.

This article was originally published in the June 2015 issue of the Marketing Health Services​ e-newsletter.

Author Bio: Julie Davis is a freelance writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. 

Categories: Healthcare,Marketing,Strategies.