Global Handwashing Day 2012: A Qualitative Content Analysis of Chinese Social Media Reaction to a Health Promotion Event

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Background: Handwashing with soap has been shown to reduce the risk of diarrheal diseases and respiratory diseases. Global Handwashing Day (GHD) is a handwashing promotion campaign organized by the Global Public-Private Partnership of Handwashing with Soap. In China, it has been promoted by the Chinese public health authorities, international organizations and multinational corporations, through various channels, including social media. Weibo is the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

Methods: We conducted a qualitative content analysis of 552 Weibo posts generated on GHD 2012 by Weibo users with 1,000 or more followers with the Chinese keyword for “handwashing”. The Weibo data were obtained from the Weiboscope database (The University of Hong Kong). Our samples represented the most influential Weibo users who contributed a majority of contents in the Weibo universe, and drew the most attention as far as comments and reposts were concerned.

Results: Of the 552 posts, we identified 56 posts related to the Chinese government’s official GHD promotional event, and 50 posts quoted a People’s Daily’s report of a survey of handwashing prevalence. 52 posts mentioned handwashing for “20 seconds” in their contents. 29 posts mentioned six steps of handwashing, including the contextualized version as the “Buddha’s palm”. There were Weibo posts that described the importance and benefits of handwashing and those that were creative comments in reaction to GHD.

Conclusions: We observed the interconnections between traditional mass media and social media in handwashing promotion, as social media are amplifiers of contents provided in traditional mass media. We observed the contextualization of global hygiene messages in a unique national social media market, as in the case of “Buddha’s Palm”, representing the six steps of handwashing. The themes and topics identified in this study will help public health practitioners evaluate future social media handwashing promotion campaigns.


International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases (ICEID)


Atlanta, GA