By Robyn Kalda, HC Link

Star Wars Day (May the 4th Be With You), seemed like a good day for a webinar on new technology trends and uses and some health promotion implications. As health promoters, we like to be sure we stay on the light side of the Force, and to do that we need to think about new technology as it develops as well as paying attention to research findings about the best ways existing technologies are used.

I discussed trends in new technology generally, including the Internet of Things, wearable technology, virtual reality / augmented reality, and the growth of the Internet as a shrinking collection of walled gardens.

Design trends I mentioned included the massive growth in mobile traffic, leading to trends such as responsive design (where the various parts of the page display differently depending on the size of your screen) and infinite scrolling (endless webpages that keep loading content, such as your Facebook homepage); the tendency for design to now be slightly less "flat" than has been the trend for the past few years; the increased use and acceptability of images and video; and the inclusion of nonstandard interface controls such as sideways scrolling (instead of the usual vertical scrolling).

I encouraged health promoters not to ignore the world of apps, which suffers from the same content-quality controls as the rest of the Internet. Whether we choose to create our own apps or whether we choose to help highlight the pros and cons of various existing apps, health promoters can play a useful role.

While research on social media has challenges -- by the time you conduct and publish your research, the technology has probably changed -- I discussed some findings from existing studies and reviews.

One main finding is that two-way communication in any kind of health promotion social media effort is critical for success. Just putting information out there is not enough.

Another main finding is that while many studies have assessed the reach of social media -- and of course it can be very good at expanding an intervention's reach -- many fewer have assessed behaviour change. However, one meta-review did find no negative behaviour changes occurred as a result of social media interventions, so at the very least we can be reasonably sure we are not causing harm.

HC Link has a number of resources on social media including policy and plan outlines, a starter sheet to fill out before you set up a social media account, and a communications inventory to help you figure out what you already have that you might effectively repurpose with social media.

You can view the webinar recording and download the accompanying handout on our webinar archive page.