Handbook of Health Communication

By Teresa L. Thompson; Alicia M. Dorsey et al. | Go to book overview

22
Using Computers to
Narrowcast Health Messages:
The Role of Audience
Segmentation, Targeting, and
Tailoring in Health Promotion
Rajiv N. Rimal
University of Texas
A. Dawn Adkins
Texas A&M University

Use of the Internet as a source of health information continues to soar with the popularity of the Internet. It is estimated that the number of adults who use the Internet for health-related information increased from 60 million in 1999 (Fox & Raine, 2001) to 97 million in 2001 (Harris Interactive, 2001). Researchers believe that this new technology can help transform both personal and public health (Eng & Gustafson, 1999; Sonnenberg, 1997). The increased reliance on the Internet, however, has also raised concerns about the quality and ease of retrieving relevant health information (Biermann, Golladay, Greenfield, & Baker, 2000; Kassirer, 1995; Widman & Tong, 1997). A recent study concluded, for example, that searching for health information on the Internet is not efficient and that the coverage is often poor (Berland et al., 2001).

It thus appears that, to meet the public's growing appetite for health-related information, providers need to do a better job of marketing their product. In this chapter, we argue that social marketing, which is “a comprehensive approach to health behavior change” that “fuses commercially tested practices of business marketing with responsiveness to the program audience's preferences” (Cirksena & Flora, 1995, p. 211), can be used to ensure a better fit between the public's demand for health information and providers' supply of such information. The technique of narrowcasting health information (i.e., providing timely and relevant information according to the needs of the consumer) can be developed from the extant literature on health promotion and behavior change.

One of the primary goals of health promotion efforts is to maximize message exposure among the target audience. Indeed, exposure to the message is a necessary, though certainly not a sufficient, condition for campaign success (Hornik, 1989; E. M. Rogers & Storey,

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