Introduction: Social media have changed the landscape of health communication for nonprofit organizations (NPOs). Yet, adoption and use of social media lag among NPOs in rural Appalachia due largely to limited infrastructure development.

Methods: Semi-structured phone interviews were conducted in January–March 2018 with 21 NPO representatives in an 8-county region of rural Appalachian Tennessee. NPO representatives were asked questions pertaining to social media use and message content, effective communication strategies, and best practices in social media use. Transcripts were analyzed in April–May 2018 using thematic analysis.

Results: The majority of NPOs had a Facebook page and recognized its promise as a communication tool. However, due to resource constraints, most NPOs used social media as a secondary communication strategy to complement traditional approaches. In terms of messaging, NPOs used social media primarily to share information and solicit donations or volunteers. Representatives identified several obstacles to social media use among NPOs in the region. These included limited organizational resources, community infrastructure, and household resources.

Implications: Social media are inexpensive communication tools that NPOs in rural Appalachia can use to expand their digital footprint into hard-to-reach populations. Therefore, eliminating the digital divide across the U.S. is an important step toward enhancing rural NPOs’ capacity to serve their communities well. Opportunities for NPO staff to access low-cost professional development and training in the use of social media, specifically for social marketing purposes, are also essential.



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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Recommended Citation

Liegel M, Southerland JL, Baker K. Social media use among nonprofit organizations in rural Appalachia. J Appalach Health 2019;1(2):44-55. DOI: https://doi.org/10.13023/jah.0102.05.