By Silje Lier, MPH, SVP, Social Strategy
Defined as the ability to find, understand, and act on health information and services, health literacy affects everyone – between doctor visits or hospital stays, when we’re feeling okay, and when we’re not. As we manage and protect our health, we can all face health literacy issues that impact our ability to make informed health decisions due to a multitude of factors from lack of familiarity with medical terms to the stress or fear experienced with a new diagnosis. 
As professionals in public health, communications, or any company or organization developing health information for the public, it is our shared responsibility to consider health literacy throughout our work. That’s why I’m proud to work for Evoke Kyne, an agency that champions and embraces principles of health literacy within the work we do and the patient communities we engage with in partnership with our clients.
Then and Now: A Look Back at Health Literacy Milestones
When I first started my public health career at the Department of Health & Human Services in 2010, health literacy in the U.S. was having a moment. The adoption of plain language was being written into law, through legislation like the Plain Writing Act of 2010  and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act , both of which called for clear communication and the release of the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy  outlined a multi-sector blueprint to improve health information and services. And then, for the first time in decades, Healthy People  – the nation’s 10-year data-driven roadmap for improving health and wellness – included objectives to improve the health literacy of the U.S. population. This period, as my early mentors described it, was a tipping point in health literacy, rooted in the understanding that health communication is vital to improved health outcomes. That was my spark, and it still drives me today.
Throughout my professional career and in my social media-focused role today, foundational principles of health literacy have been my North Star. Are we using plain language when communicating key health information? What is resonating with patients and caregivers? And how can we make our materials inclusive for all digital users? In collaboration with teams across Evoke Kyne, these are the types of questions we challenge ourselves with when developing campaigns that authentically and effectively connect with communities on social media.
Creating Accessible Social Media Content Earlier this year, the Institute for Healthcare Advancement (IHA) hosted their Annual Health Literacy Conference. A theme throughout the sessions was a need to address inequities that contribute to lower health literacy (e.g., access to care in rural communities, systemic ageism in healthcare, and language barriers among non-native English speakers and the deaf community) as well as driving solutions that lead with empathy to develop health programs and materials.
I had the honor of presenting on how to make social media content accessible to all audiences. With 90% of U.S. adults turning to social media for healthcare information and nearly 75% using social to research symptoms , it’s critical to adopt inclusive language, visuals, and storytelling on social media to ensure information is received and understood by all. Examples of this include leveraging social channels’ built-in accessibility features like alt text (HTML code that describes the appearance or function of an image on a page), writing legible hashtags by camel-casing (capitalizing the first word of a compound or phrase, e.g., #MentalHealth), captioning videos, and voicing over text or concepts in animations.
Building Health Literate Social Communities, Together For health communicators, regardless your role or direct connection to executing social media content, there are efficient, actionable ways to ensure health literacy is incorporated into your digital strategies.
Collaborate with creative and design teams. Visual storytelling has a major role in social media, and for that we work closely with our specialty in-house creative team to incorporate functions of accessibility into posts, assessing color contrast ratios, legibility, photosensitive triggers, and other factors that contribute to a user’s overall experience.
Seek input from end users of your social media content. We’ve received feedback from numerous patient advocates on their own experiences navigating digital spaces, and we’ve also seen through social listening that many social media users express feelings of isolation when scrolling through their feeds. Some people may not feel represented, or others may feel frustrated by the inability to engage in content lacking captions. When developing content for social media channels, it is our responsibility to honor these experiences and to do our part to make content accessible to everyone.
Invest in health literacy trainings and approaches. Over the summer, Evoke Kyne brought together team members for two regional offsite events, an incredible in-person opportunity to bond, give, grow and play. As part of the agenda, we hosted a session on plain language writing and social media accessibility, to provide best practices on how to develop accessible content while also sharing the context that helps us understand why we do it. Further, along with our partner agencies and global DEI team, Evoke has designed a multi-part series of health literacy trainings for all employees.
In addition to professional development, whether you’re a social media manager, copywriter, creative director, or project manager, I encourage you to make accessibility and inclusive design part of your project planning. For example, incorporate alt text and video captioning into social media content calendars, and integrate user testing into timelines and budgets.
What’s Next for Health Literacy on Social?
Over the years, social media channels have launched numerous features to ensure compliance with digital accessibility guidelines, even rolling out accessibility centers, like Meta Accessibility, outlining their accessibility-focused technology and ways their designers are continuing to work towards optimal experiences for all users.
We’ve also seen several channels making huge strides in meeting the diverse preferences of their users. LinkedIn, for example, has partnered with Microsoft to provide their AI-powered immersive reader, to support professionals with dyslexia in consuming content. Additionally, TikTok recently announced that all videos will have default captions as of November 2023. As the social landscape evolves, I’m hopeful we’ll see these platforms continue their momentum in building digital inclusivity across social channels.
In the meantime, let’s work together to create inclusive content for all communities. Here are some of my favorite resources. What are yours?
1. Understanding Health Literacy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last reviewed May 19, 2023. 2. Plain Writing Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-274 (2010), https://www.govinfo.gov/app/details/PLAW-111publ274. 3. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Pub. L. No. 111-148 (2010), https://www.govinfo.gov/app/details/PLAW-111publ148. 4. National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010. 5. Healthy People. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, last updated October 24, 2023. 6. Bishop, M. 2019. Healthcare Social Media for Consumer Informatics. In Consumer Informatics and Digital Health, edited by M. Edmunds, C. Hass, and E. Holve. Springer, Switzerland. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-96906-0_4.