Partnering with social media influencers to boost mental health

October 18, 2023 – For the past eight months, social media influencers with millions of followers have been connecting with experts at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health toward the goal of improving online content about mental health.

An October 16 New York Times article described the effort in detail, highlighting the work of Amanda Yarnell, senior director of the Center for Health Communication, and colleagues, who sought to cultivate connections with online influencers because that’s where people are looking for content.

“People are looking for information, and the things that they are watching are TikTok and Instagram and YouTube,” Yarnell told the Times. “Who are the media gatekeepers in those areas? Those are these creators. So we were looking at, how do we map onto that new reality?”

Yarnell and her team identified about 100 social media influencers producing quality work with broad reach. The creators, Yarnell said, “have been a huge part of convincing people to talk about different mental health concerns. They are a perfect translation partner.”

Yarnell designed an experiment to see whether influencers could be steered toward sharing more evidence-based information. Half of the initial group of 100 served as a control group, and the other half were part of the experiment. Of those in the experiment, about half received digital tool kits on themes such as mind-body links and climate anxiety. Out of this group, 25 were invited to virtual forums, provided with a group Slack channel, and were invited to attend an August summit at which faculty shared scientific evidence on mental health-related topics.

Yarnell and the other researchers found that the 42 influencers who received the digital tool kits were 3% more likely to post evidence-based content—which meant that such content was viewed 800,000 times, far wider reach than a typical study would get.

Although the interactions with Harvard Chan faculty didn’t seem to have an additional effect, Yarnell said that was good news because the digital tool kits are inexpensive and easy to scale. Further, ongoing relationships have formed between Harvard Chan School researchers and the creators.

Read the New York Times article: Harvard Cozies Up to #MentalHealth TikTok

Learn more

Social media influencers, faculty connect to improve mental health content (Harvard Chan School news)

TikTok is a tool for mental health, not a threat to it (Harvard Public Health)