The world’s best public health social media campaigns

Best Public Health Social Media Campaigns

Earlier this year, four authors from the Sydney School of Public Health and Cancer Council NSW published a detailed study on the lessons the public health sector could draw from nine public health social media campaigns by the corporate and the social change sector.

As the authors note, there is a great deal of enthusiasm and interest in using social media for public health communications, “but few research studies have examined its success in promoting and adopting protective health behaviours”.

The authors aimed to address this gap by taking a close look at the social media campaigns of three corporates – IKEA, Cadbury, and Smirnoff – and six social change organisations – Burnett Institute, World Lung Foundation, the New Zealand health Sponsorship Council, Smokefree South West UK, the Queensland Association of Health Communities, and the New York Alliance for Donation.

While not all of the health-related campaigns remain online, outlined below are some of the best social media health campaigns (or examples of something very similar). Public sector organisations can now heed lessons learned and incorporate findings into the planning and delivery of effective public health social media campaigns.

Best Public Health Social Media Campaigns


Burnett Institute – FaceSpace



The above video is from the Burnett Institute’s sexual health campaign, FaceSpace, which features on the project’s YouTube channel, Being Brendo. It is just one is series of short films about a variety of health issues that confront gay men in particular. Please note, the video is hilarious and may cause you to laugh out loud. BUT there is a language warning on this. It may not be suitable for office viewing.

The Burnett Institute established the FaceSpace project to examine whether social networking sites could be used successfully to deliver health promotion messages:

During 2009 and 2010, we implemented a novel health promotion intervention using social networking sites – “The FaceSpace Project”. This pilot intervention trialled the delivery of sexual health promotion via social networking sites to two key at-risk groups: young people aged 16-29 years, and men who have sex with men (MSM).

The project concept was to use fictional characters to interact and post content (primarily videos) on various social networking sites, with sexual health promotion messages embedded within some of these postings. The young people’s arm was developed and implemented first, with learning’s from this arm applied to the development of the MSM arm.

FaceSpace is a great example of using humor, narrative and character as part of a successful social media for public health campaign.


World Lung Foundation


The World Lung Foundation runs many public health behavioral change campaigns using social media; these three were examined by the authors of the report.




The World Lung Foundation released an application on Facebook that allows users to add rotten teeth, throat tumors, bleeding brains and other smoking-related illnesses to their profile pictures or pictures of friends. Users placed the altered images on a generic pack of cigarettes and shared them. The application, named PackHead, was intended to raise awareness and support for graphic package warnings, which are more effective at communicating the harms of smoking than standard text.


Smoke-Free Alexandria



The Egyptian Ministry of Health, in coordination with World Lung Foundation, has launched a two-stage “Smoke-Free Alexandria” media campaign, stretching a small campaign budget by using innovative tactics to attract additional media interest and attention.

In order to avoid expensive Ramadan-priced mainstream media, they launched perhaps Egypt’s first Facebook ad campaign for public health. The campaign, starting at the beginning of smoke-free legislation enforcement and messaged to publicise the high level of public support for the law, saw wide coverage in newspapers and online media.

The advertisements achieved an astonishing 11.5 million impressions and more than 5,000 “friends” in under ten days—all for a cost of only USD$3,500.


Chew On This



The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare’s (MOHFW) Tobacco Control Programme launched a nationwide television, radio and YouTube campaign called “Surgeon.” The campaign featured cancer patients at Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital’s neck and throat cancer ward and highlighted the devastating consequences of smokeless tobacco to warn against its use. The campaign was produced in association with World Lung Foundation (WLF) and the Bloomberg Initiative to reduce Tobacco use.

The campaign video shows cancer surgeon Dr. Prashant Pawar as he conducts his rounds in one of the busiest head, neck and throat cancer wards in the world. The viewer sees the horrifying effects of mouth cancers caused by chewing tobacco as the surgeon consults with his patients – some as young as 18-years-old.


New Zealand Health Sponsorship Council

 Online Anti-Smoking Games

The New Zealand Health Sponsorship Council created a series of online games targeted at younger children to discourage the uptake of smoking. The games were distributed for free via a number of online gaming sites.

These included:


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Butthead Bash

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Along similar lines is Interactive Biopsy. Another great interactive feature, this from OxyGen in Australia, that lets YOU play doctor with a tobacco victim. Use a scalpel, syringe or tweezers to take body samples and see why this tobacco user may have died. This is definitely for older kids and inappropriate for elementary school-aged children.


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These types of games fall into a category of educational games called “serious games“.


Smokefree South West UK – Be Smoke-Free


Smokefree South West is commissioned by eleven public health teams based in local authorities across the south-west of England. The project aims to deliver an evidence-based programme to create a smoke-free future for children by making tobacco use less desirable and accessible as well as accelerating a reduction in the smoking rate across the region.

Smokefree South West runs a wide range of campaigns to encourage individuals to quit smoking but also influence public policy by encouraging local authorities to adopt smoke-free homes, hospitals, and public area policies.

Smokefree South West makes great use of all social media channels including Facebook and Twitter.


Smokefree South West UK - Be Smoke Free Facebook Page

Smokefree South West UK – Be Smoke Free Facebook Page


Smoke Free South West Twitter Page

Smoke Free South West Twitter Page


Queensland Association of Health Communities

Rip & Roll


The Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC) is an independent community-based health promotion charity. QuAC was formed in 1984 by a group of largely gay men in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Queensland. From that time the Queensland AIDS Council grew to deliver HIV prevention programs, client services for people with HIV, peer support through Queensland Positive People and we provided a strong voice on HIV and gay issues.


Rip & Roll

In 2011, QuAC launched a series of bus shelter billboard safe sex advertisements targeting gay men.

Adshell, the company that managed the bus shelters advertisements received a number of complaints about the ads and decided to take them down. There was a subsequent “anti-homophobia” campaign (and Facebook page) that developed significantly more publicity than the original campaign.

The ads were the most complained about advertisements of the year! They were, nevertheless, reinstated and the campaign was extended through the creation of a YouTube channel and a series of “the making of” style videos about the Rip & Roll campaign.



In the words of QuAC:

Men4Men’s HIV prevention and sexual health education in traditional and social media was significant. Campaigning in the variety of media formats contained advertisements as well as sexual health articles with a focus on the core issues of this program – condom reinforcement and risk reduction strategies; the lived experience of HIV; and HIV and STI testing.

Rip & Roll (two and three) focusing on the importance of condoms and lube appeared at the start of this year and its further development occurred towards the close of 2011-2012. Following the publicity boost from the unwarranted controversy of two men hugging, Junior our advertising and communications company, created four short YouTube clips using the history of the campaign to promote the importance of condom reinforcement.

Six new poster executions were created for LGBT settings and outdoor advertising again. These outdoor advertising opportunities are the shared, mainstream spaces were gay men spend much of their time. The Rip & Roll campaign was, and will be, seen this year at bus stops and billboards across Queensland.


New York Alliance for Donation

Organ Donor


The mission of the New York Alliance for Donation is to increase organ, eye and tissue donation in New York State through collaborative advocacy, education, promotion, and research. Their goal is to ensure a transplant for every New Yorker in need.

Every year, more than 1,500 people receive kidneys, livers, and hearts that have been donated for transplantation. However, with more than 10,000 New Yorkers still on waiting lists, the need for organ donations far exceeds the supply. One person who donates organs (hearts, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas and intestine) can save up to eight lives, while tissue donors (corneas, bone, skin, heart valves, tendons, veins, etc.) can improve 12 or more lives by restoring eyesight, helping fight infections in burn patients and prevent the loss of mobility and disability.



This animated video explains the transplant waiting list, how someone becomes a donor, the process of matching organs, and signing up to share the gift of life.

They also have Facebook and Twitter channels to reach out into the community.


Organ Donor Facebook Page

OrganDonor.Gov Facebook Page


Donate Life New York Twitter Page

Donate Life New York Twitter Page


All of these terrific health campaigns show the scope of public health social media campaigns that engage people and have the potential to bring about health awareness, education and change. What are your thoughts on these list of public health campaigns and their impact on community engagement?


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Published Date: 15 July 2015 Last modified on March 15, 2019

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