A systematic analysis of online public engagement with 10 videos on major global health topics involving 229 459 global online viewers

Iain H Campbell, Igor Rudan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Online interest in issues specific to global health outside of times of pandemics or other crises is rather limited. To achieve long term global health goals, public support and engagement needs to be fostered on a continual basis. Strategies for capturing the attention of the general public online for the persisting problems outside of emergency situations are poorly defined. There are only a few isolated examples of success. In this study we explored the engagement of the viewers with different global health topics that were provided on public and privately advertised YouTube channels.

Methods: We developed the Massive Open Online Course "Survival: The Story of Global Health", consisting of 10 educational videos on major global health topics. We conducted two experiments in two separate samples of viewers. The first was based on posting videos on a YouTube channel between August 30 and September 30, 2017 and collecting analytics on the viewership. By June 30, 2019 this approach attracted 41 305 viewers. The second experiment was more controlled and conducted on a private YouTube channel and the videos were advertised to reach a high number of viewers. This attracted 188 154 viewers and we collected data on viewers' behaviour using YouTube Analytics. We investigated the nature of engagement, which was defined by 22 different parameters.

Results: In the first experiment, there were clear differences in all measured parameters of engagement based on the topic of the video. Episodes on pandemics (14 594 views) and human evolution (10 761 views) were clear outliers, while the remaining 8 episodes received between 1110 and 3197 views. In the second experiment, there were several clear differences between the 10 videos in the parameters analysed through YouTube Analytics. Episode 2 on maternal and child health had the highest view rate (18.90%), followed by Episode 7 on international organisations in global health (16.83%). At the bottom of the rank were Episode 6 on ageing and dying (view rate of 13.83%) and Episode 5 on non-communicable diseases (view rate 14.59%).

Conclusions: We determined that 5 main interdependent factors contributed to the success or failure of our global health videos: Responsive content, timing, contribution to public debate, emotional valency and endorsement from an authentic scientific voice with a strong public profile. Several of these factors are also recognised as important in marketing research which may indicate the value of such techniques for use in a global health context. In order to communicate long term sustainable solutions to complex issues in a capricious media landscape focused on transient issues the global health community needs to embrace novel marketing approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)010903
JournalJournal of Global Health
Issue number1
Early online date29 Feb 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Feb 2020


  • Global Health/education
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Newspapers as Topic
  • Online Systems
  • Public Health
  • Social Media
  • Social Networking
  • Video Recording


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