It’s not by accident that the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) has been in the news a lot in the past couple of years – researchers are unveiling breakthrough studies; professors and lecturers are opining on the latest health crises in major media outlets; and noted guest lecturers and fellows are visiting the school.
And it almost goes without saying that the school’s social media presence has risen dramatically as well, walking hand-in-hand with this rise in visibility.
While YSPH faculty have been publicly vocal, working quietly and modestly behind the scenes is Kayla Steinberg, the school’s digital and social media strategist. She and her team of mostly students have provided a steady drumbeat soundtrack of YSPH’s accomplishments on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and TikTok. The number of followers and engagements has risen exponentially in her short time at the school.
Her boss, YSPH Assistant Dean of Communications Kira Howell, put it this way: “Kayla has done an exceptional job transforming our social media strategy and content to amplify the amazing work of our school, attract prospective students, and educate the public on public health. Her creativity has been a key asset to YSPH’s Office of Communications and our school. I am honored to work alongside Kayla.”
Steinberg arrived at YSPH’s Office of Communications in July 2020 from the Washtenaw County Health Department in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where she had been a communications coordinator. She started at YSPH as an associate communications officer, and in February became the school’s first digital and social media strategist.
“Before I began at YSPH, there was not a staff person directly dedicated to social media,” she said. “Now we have a staff person (me), as well as an entire team of brilliant student workers creating social media content.” Current students working with Steinberg to create content for Instagram and TikTok include Dharmi Desai, MPH ’23 (Health Policy), MiChaela Barker, MPH ’23 (Health Care Management), Yashna Nainani, MPH ’23 (Social and Behavioral Sciences), and Chidum Okeke, MPH ’23 (Health Care Management).
And the investment, Steinberg said, has paid off.
“When I began this position in July 2020, YSPH had 41,400 followers across our social media channels,” she said. “We have 132,500 followers as of July 2022, so we now have over three times the number of eyeballs on our content.”
Part of the reason for this rapid uptick has been the amplification of the school’s presence on Instagram, which was added in 2018, and especially the addition of TikTok to the social media mix. It’s not unusual to see YSPH students and faculty on both outlets. Steinberg and her student content creators have transformed YSPH content to be more accessible and relatable to large audiences.
“We started posting public health memes to Instagram in early 2021, and in late 2021 we began one of the first, and currently the largest, school-of-public-health TikTok accounts,” Steinberg said. “These super-sharable and trending types of content have helped us share information about public health and our school to larger audiences in more engaging ways.”
YSPH posts had nearly 750,000 engagements (likes, shares, comments, clicks) in 2021, compared with almost 40,000 engagements in 2019 and just under 120,000 engagements in 2020, Steinberg said. The sharp increase in visibility and clicks came at a crucial time, having been implemented when the COVID-19 pandemic was raging. It also came at a time when a lot of false information was being spread across social media platforms.
“For much of the pandemic, we’ve had to keep up with and communicate nuanced information that’s changed nearly daily, on top of many other crucial public health topics,” she said. “There has also clearly been a large increase in public health mis- and disinformation in the past few years. We’ve seen it across the internet, as well as in our comment sections.”
Working to combat mis- and disinformation while providing accurate and useful information can be a challenge, Steinberg said, but is also a reason why YSPH’s role in public health communication is so important. The school is now dealing with the challenge of figuring out how to keep people informed and engaged with COVID and other public health content while many are dealing with COVID fatigue.
That doesn’t mean that the job can’t be enjoyable. And it’s rarely boring – not with all the work that’s being done by YSPH faculty, staff, and students.
“Every day is different in my role!” Steinberg said. “Content creation could entail anything from researching public health topics to graphic design and video editing to investigating the latest social media trends. The topics and content change daily based on what’s happening in the world of public health and at YSPH.”
At day’s end, the work itself can be quite rewarding for Steinberg and her team. And one never knows what will stick – and just who will see their work.
“The most rewarding aspect of working at YSPH is when I can help get useful and vital public health information out to a large number of people,” she said. “One moment that sticks out for me is when pop star Ariana Grande shared our educational Instagram post about the Delta variant to her hundreds of millions of followers. I also love being able to amplify the amazing, lifesaving work of our students, faculty, and staff."