(Re) Introducing Social Change

Mar 27

For many years, Ogilvy Public Relations has used the term “social marketing practice” to refer to our team of experts in human behavior who are dedicated to helping people live healthier, safer, more secure, and happier lives.

Now, we are Ogilvy Social Change. Why?

In all honestly, it’s partly because I became exhausted by the need to constantly explain that, while social media is a key channel that we use in social marketing, I don’t simply “do Facebook and Twitter” all day long.

But much more importantly, Social Change is a term that looks outward towards the world, rather than internally at what we do. It describes the ultimate objective of our work and is better understood by clients and partners of all types. And, it encompasses the full range of client engagements that we support, including:

  • Working both upstream (policy, environmental and systems change) and downstream (individual change);
  • Employing multiple approaches: communications, marketing, earned, owned and paid media, stakeholder and partner engagement, and more;
  • Influencing the entire spectrum of social change: awareness to knowledge to interest/engagement to behavior; and
  • Developing initiatives across a wide range of disciplines: public education, social and behavioral change, health education, risk communications, cause related marketing, cause branding, corporate social responsibility, and more.

Hey, Vince Vaughn thinks it’s a good move, and we’re excited about it too!

iStock-Unfinished-Business-3

About Social Change
Ogilvy Public Relations has worked with clients at the forefront of social change for nearly three decades. Our Social Change team members are experts in human behavior who are dedicated to helping people live healthier, safer, more secure, and happier lives.

We understand behavioral economics, behavioral science, and social science, and put that knowledge to work on behalf of brands, associations, non-profits, and government agencies that are seeking to make a positive impact on society’s most pressing challenges. We have deep and wide-ranging experience across public health, wellness, safety, preparedness and mitigation, financial security, and energy and the environment.

White and Gold or Black and Blue…Should That Really Be The Question?

Mar 18

"The Dress"

For the better part of the last weekend in February, my parents (in their seventies) visiting from Brooklyn, my eleven year old daughter, my seven year old son, my nineteen year old au pair from Denmark, and various friends and family as far flung as France and as close in as a few blocks from my Capitol Hill home, debated whether or not “The Dress” was white and gold or  black and blue. (#thedress, #whiteandgold, #blackandblue.)

White and gold or blue and black...the dress that got the world talking.

“The Dress”

It went on and on, literally, day and night. And we weren’t alone…“The Dress” went viral in the truest sense of the word. A modern day word of mouth explosion witnessed online as people shared “The Dress’’ and declared that they saw white and gold or black and blue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, BuzzFeed, and so on. According to the New York Times, by Friday afternoon, a day after “The Dress” first got posted, it was viewed 28 million times…within a week more than 10 million tweets talked about it, and celebrities, who have millions and millions of followers, began commenting and sharing as well, which only fueled the fire and spread it more.

My circle didn’t begin the debate until after midnight on Friday. The nation’s, well let me revise that and say the world’s, attention towards “The Dress” carried on throughout the weekend. And people weren’t just viewing it, they were debating it. Full-fledged, passion-driven, answer-seeking, opinion-sharing debates.

In a field where I spend a lot of time thinking through how best to reach the public, develop key messages that resonate, and identify strategies and tactics that will engage people in a permanent way, I found myself wondering what it was about “The Dress” that captured the attention of millions around the world in a matter of days…and got them talking. Was it the opportunity to engage in a heated, yet benign debate? Was it the inability to fully understand or explain a very strange experience? Was it just so fascinating (and funny) that people couldn’t let go of their color side?

I just don’t know. But public engagement and enthusiasm for moments like “The Dress”  do make me ask myself how we, as public health professionals committed to social change, can harness the power of this kind of phenomenon to advance our missions and inspire people.

The Salvation Army seems to have asked themselves the same thing. The South African branch of the Salvation Army, seizing on the frenzy of “The Dress” conversation, created an ad that repurposed “The Dress” debate by using it to bring attention to domestic violence. How powerful, if in only a weekend, we could get the world talking about a problem that, according to the Salvation Army’s campaign, one in six women are victims of.

The South African Salvation Army repurposed "The Dress" to bring attention to domestic violence.

The South African Salvation Army’s Domestic Violence Ad

That would be a conversation I’d like to follow. But sadly, at least in my online circle, the campaign hasn’t surfaced once. How about in yours?

2015: Our Year of Responsibility

Feb 24

As we move into 2015, I can’t help but reflect on the complexity and enormity of the issues we bring with us from 2014. More than 210,000 have now died in the ongoing conflict in Syria, more than 9,000 have died from Ebola in West Africa, and climate change continues to bring unpredictable damaging weather across the globe, displacing millions and damaging food sources.

These challenges, among many others, are not easily solved even by the most powerful governments or individual organizations.  Addressing these wide ranging issues will require all of us to dig deep and take action across all social levels – individual, communal, non-profit, governments, and private sector. From my perspective, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the ideal mechanism to bring all these parties to the table – leveraging the strengths of each sector to accomplish real change. At Ogilvy, we can play our part by encouraging our clients, and prospective clients, to adopt strategic CSR initiatives and help them tell their story. This means forming smart partnerships between private and public entities that result in thoughtful, sustainable programs that generate real value for the company and organizations involved as well as society at large.

As I indulged in my guilty pleasure of watching The Voice Season Seven grand finale last year, I came across a CSR initiative that showcases a number of best practices for strategic CSR, Nissan’s Red Thumb campaign. Mid-way through the show, Adam Levine, one of the show’s celebrity judges and lead singer of Maroon 5, took the time to promote the Red Thumb movement and proudly waived his thumb on screen (along with the show’s entire audience) marked  by a red rubber band.

Two thumbs crossed over each other, one thumbnail is painted red

The campaign, inspired by EVB advertising’s Steve Babcock’s program “Red Thumb Reminder,” aims to combat the dangerous practice of texting while driving. According to the US Department of Transportation, cell phones are responsible for as many as 1.6 million car crashes annually. “Red Thumb” draws inspiration from the old-time trick of tying a string around one’s finger as a reminder for something. The campaign appeals to drivers to mark their thumbs red (using whichever creative strategy inspires you) as a visible reminder not to text while driving.

Nissan’s Red Thumb campaign meets a number of key criteria that are important to consider when designing a strategic CSR initiative, including:

  • Select a topic that aligns with the brand: CSR is truly strategic when the selected issue is clearly relevant and aligns with the brand’s purpose and values. When the connection between the brand and the issue is weak, the CSR initiative is less effective and appears less genuine. In this case, there is a strong connection between Nissan’s purpose, producing quality cars to enrich people’s lives, and the targeted issue, texting while driving.
  • Establish relevancy to your target stakeholder: Texting while driving is a problem that impacts one of Nissan’s core consumers, young adults. Thirteen percent of drivers ages 18-20 involved in car wrecks admit to using their mobile devise at the time of the crash. By addressing an issue of real concern and relevancy to its consumers, Nissan can establish an emotional connection with its consumers and increase brand loyalty.
  • Actively engage your target audience: There are a number of ways for consumers to engage with the campaign and join the Red Thumb “movement.” Consumers are encouraged to post pictures of their “red thumbs” using the handle #redthumb on social media to demonstrate their support for the campaign. Consumers can also stop by participating Nissan dealerships to pledge not to text and drive as well as win a chance to tailgate and attend the Season 8 finale of The Voice. To date, more than 4,800 have made the pledge in addition to 26,345 mentions of #redthumb on social media. The unique trademark of the campaign, the red thumb, creates a fun, easy, popular way for people to engage with the campaign, making it more likely for them to change their behavior.
  • Tap Influencers: Half the battle in achieving behavior change is increasing awareness around benefits of the new desired behavior. Nissan achieves this by collaborating with popular celebrity musician, Adam Levine. By lending his voice to the cause, Levine is able to reach his wide fan base and legitimize the problem. Using a celebrity spokesperson also provides the campaign with unique opportunities to cut through the clutter of other messaging (e.g. promoting the campaign on The Voice finale viewed by over 12 million viewers).

Two key areas where I think the campaign could be strengthened:

  • Collaborate with subject matter experts: Nissan has partnered with NBC and The Voice on this initiative to help spread the word about this important cause. However, the campaign would be further strengthened by also partnering with an organization that can contribute expertize in the areas of auto-safety or behavior change, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who leads the “Parents are the Key” teen driving safety campaign. Such a partner would also lend further credibility to Nissan as a leader in the prevention of texting and driving.
  • Further differentiate from competitors: Other car brands, such as Toyota’s TeenDrive 365, are also tackling driving safety with a focus on younger drivers. While Nissan is specifically focusing on driver safety related to phone use, the message does not particularly differentiate Nissan from its competitors. While it’s important for Nissan to take a strong stance against unsafe driving practices as a leading car brand, it does not particularly differentiate the brand from its competitors. Identifying a completely unique initiative which other car brands have not addressed would provide Nissan with a more distinctive message through which to connect with its stakeholders.

As we take on 2015, ask yourself, how can you inspire your clients to build strategic cross-sector CSR partnerships that blossom into innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems?

Fresh off ABC, from an ABC

Feb 09

Last Wednesday ABC premiered its new comedy Fresh Off the Boat, the first American TV show to feature an all-Asian cast in 20 years. As an ABC, (American-Born Chinese) I waited for this show with great anticipation and understood the high stakes associated with its success, given how quickly All-American Girl was canceled in 1995. Essentially, this is a one-shot kind of deal before the lid on Asians in mainstream American media may be closed for another 20 years.

In fact, a lot of the coverage surrounding Fresh Off the Boat’s development, including commentary from Eddie Huang whose life the show is based on, focuses on the balance between providing an authentic portrayal, while still appealing to a non-Asian audience.

I felt the show’s pilot accomplished sharing a universal story of a family that moves to a new, foreign place and struggles to make the best of difficult situations. The difference is the added layers of discrimination specific to Asian immigrants and Asian Americans that are very in your face, and written for ABCs like me.

Asian actors posing as a TV family

[Image courtesy of ABC]

Is this focus too specific? Possibly, but this shouldn’t be a bad thing. Although Asian Americans are arguably a niche audience, it’s one to pay attention to because our market is almost completely untapped. Fresh Off the Boat is the first platform that offers Asians a voice in American pop-culture to tell our story. This is (hopefully) just the first story. My hopes for the show’s success are as follows:

  1. It stays on the air.
  2. It will open the door for Asians to enter mainstream American media outside of our minimal stereotypical roles as the mysterious martial arts guru, submissive geisha-like love interest, or overachiever nerdy sidekick.
  3. Through a strong Asian presence in mainstream American media, there will be a greater reason and opportunity for marketers to delve deeper into understanding these cultures, my culture, to create targeted campaigns.

 

As more and more Chinese immigrants enter the United States, this audience will only grow and become even more essential to target for business growth. Or, as Eddie Huang puts it, “Asians have money. You want their money, make things for them.”

 

Does Prevention Have an Expiration Date?

Jan 28

Jason Karlawish

Photo credit: New York Times

I just read Jason Karlawish’s article Too Young to Die, Too Old to Worry.   Karlawish uses singer Leonard Cohen as a way to tee up a very compelling question: “When should we set aside a life lived for the future and, instead, embrace the pleasures of the present?”  Cohen celebrated his 80th birthday this past weekend, apparently by recommencing his smoking habit with a celebratory cigarette.  His argument –at 80, he is too old to worry about the health risks.

All of the health risks of secondary smoke and the impact on others around him aside, this act and attitude gave me pause.  My inner public health zealot immediately came up with multiple reasons why this was a ridiculous excuse to light back up – there are NO good reasons to ever light up in my heart of hearts.   However, the rest of the article went on to explore the deeper question of when or at what age risk reduction becomes unnecessary or ineffective.  Given all of the prevention messages we are exposed to throughout life (or that we, as public health professionals, are disseminating), is there a time where we should pursue not just living, but also happiness?

With the vast population of boomers aging into their senior years, we will likely see this question being asked more frequently.  We have more active and vibrant senior populations than ever – largely due to the advances in medicine; knowledge regarding the importance of prevention; and behaviors that result from that knowledge.  Still, at what point will these audiences grow fatigued with all the preventive efforts, and adopt Cohen’s philosophy of living in the present?   Will the tide shift overwhelmingly toward that philosophy, reaching a tipping point? And will it then start to ebb younger and younger, in a backlash to our current preventive efforts?   What may happen is still yet to be determined… until then, we each may want to give more thought to the question of at what point happiness becomes more important than prevention.   The answers may be telling.

 

Some Mo-tivation and Mo Wisdom – A Style Guide on Movember and More

Jan 15

When I moved in 2010 to Washington, DC, I noticed a “growing” trend that was sweeping the nation – Movember. Since then, the Movember movement keeps strong and as I commuted to work this past November, I saw the ‘staches sprouting prominently across men’s (and some women’s) faces. On December 1, participants begrudgingly woke up and the razor won the war.  Except for those who discovered they like their new look and are putting on an encore for all of us lucky onlookers. I do my part by giving them the disapproving, “no, you are not Burt Reynolds or Tom Selleck or The Swedish Chef” glance (the latter being my favorite by far).

 

Now that faces are clean again, the question remains: did the power of the ‘stache really impact the testicular cancer world?  Today, about 8,820 new cases of testicular cancer will be diagnosed in 2014 in the United States[1]. Now wrapping up its’ tenth year, the Movember 2014 Annual Report estimated $24.8 million raised in the U.S. and $136.6 million globally during the 2013 campaign[2]. Since 2003, Movember has raised $559 million dollars. This would be considered by most a hugely successful campaign. I don’t think anyone can argue this is a BAD idea for drawing the public’s attention and raising critically important research funds– it is a catchy way to battle a worthy cause. Like the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS, it branded a disease in a fun, interesting, light-hearted way without delving into the heaviness of the reality.  Eventually we need to see reductions in death from testicular cancer as a result of early detection.  Raising money can’t be the ultimate goal.  Movember needs to be saving lives, and now that it is a phenomenon, it can start to have that kind of impact.

So how do we shed a light on other not-so-sexy (that is, if you want to call testicular cancer sexy) causes?  Everyone would love to come up with that million-dollar baby that catapults an issue into the spotlight. But allow me to let you in a little secret – Movember was no accident, it took careful planning and some brilliant moustache-loving freaks to give birth to this phenomena.

Here are some personal insights on other case studies and my general musings that could perhaps serve as basic building blocks to your next earth-shattering idea:

  1. Mo’ Money, (potentially) Mo’ Problems: We saw a couple years ago with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure/Planned Parenthood controversy, your brand is only as good as your people. There was a huge backlash from the decision to defund Planned Parenthood, which was spearheaded by the then-VP of public affairs Karen Handel and chief executive and founder, Nancy Brinker (both of which resigned and stepped down into a more behind the scenes role, respectively). Despite being a reputable, well-funded organization, this decision was a PR nightmare by any standards. Susan G. Komen wasn’t careful when considering their audience and had some major brand rebuilding to do.
  2. Wait, what? Don’t make it more confusing than it has to be. Not a single person in the room should walk away not understanding what you’re aiming for. You have to keep the campaign simple for people to catch on. In the words of every Marketing 101 professor out there, remember KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid! Literally, these campaigns started on the premise of asking men to grow a moustache or dump a bucket of ice-cold water over their heads. This is NOT complicated.
  3. Heeeey, you guuuuys! The simplicity of the calls to action also lends itself to different interpretations, thus segmenting the brand without your having to do anything at all. Think about how many moustaches you saw in November – the handlebar, the regent, the box car, the connoisseur, and many more (click here). Also – the iconic black moustache is popping up on companies’ branding like Wheaties and Aer Lingus Airline. The versatility of the brand should be able to easily cross over into different mediums and audiences.

    Photo courtesy of Flickr.com.

    Photo courtesy of Flickr.com.

  4. Bueller? Bueller? One strategy we are seeing time and again is the power of CROWD SOURCING. Who doesn’t want to see their man comb his upper lip proudly for 30-days straight followed by the only time of the year he will willingly post a #selfie? Driving engagement through audience participation is a solid way to create the sociability aspect and produce a viral campaign.
  5. Tap, tap, – Is this thing on? Don’t ever underestimate the power of humor…or getting weird. The bandwagon effect or fear of missing out are powerful triggers for helping people get on board with an idea. If other people are getting weird with the idea, you can too! And do it better! People respond to humor, particularly when we’re talking about a very uncomfortable issue.  Of course, this has to be done with good taste, as well.
  6. One is the loneliest number. The ONE campaign came under fire in the press in 2010 when the organization revealed that they were only donating about one percent of their funding to actual charities and mostly lining their own pockets (oops!). While this didn’t bode well for Bono, transparency is beneficial to any organization. Don’t overstate, just give the facts. Gaining trust and legitimacy upfront are essential for you and your brand.

 

There you have it – I hope we continue to find ways to reach broad audiences on everything from testicular cancer to marriage equality. Raising awareness is the first step to helping a lot of people – even if it does mean picking crumbs out of your man’s ‘stache for a month.

BreakMedia-Featured1B15351

Photo courtesy of socialfactor.com.

 

 

[1] American Cancer Society, What are key statistics about testicular cancer? February 11, 2014. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/testicularcancer/detailedguide/testicular-cancer-key-statistics.

[2] Movember Foundation, 2014 Global Annual Report. 2014. Financial Overview

http://cdn.movember.com/uploads/files/Annual%20Reports/Movember%20Foundation%20USA%20AR2014.pdf.

Forging Connections through Storytelling

Jan 14

Over our holiday break, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel for ten days as a gift from Taglit-Birthright Israel. History, culture, religion, and nature intertwined to mold the perfect taglit (discovery, in Hebrew) of a newfound home away from home. We began our journey as a group of 40 Americans, and were joined by eight Israelis for the mifgash (encounter) portion of our trip. The word “encounter” does not do this experience justice, as our time together manifested in some of the most impactful memories from those ten days.

Graves in Mount Herzl CemeteryOne of the most moving experiences of our time with the Israelis was when we visited Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery. Our first two stops in the cemetery were the grave of Theodore Herzl and the Resting Place of Great Leaders of the Nation, the area reserved for Israel’s presidents, prime ministers, and other dignitaries. Though I knew of the great importance of the individuals buried there in those places, I admittedly felt a strange disconnect between the significance I could intellectualize and the level of emotion I was feeling. I reconciled that this was likely because I am not a huge history buff, and because the extent of my Jewish education stopped shortly after my bat mitzvah.

From there, we moved on to the portion of Mount Herzl dedicated to the Israel Defense Forces, where all soldiers are buried side by side regardless of rank. I thought about the dichotomy of beauty and sadness-one that was evident as we moved from one section to the next. My eye was constantly drawn to the ages marked on the graves…most in their early twenties.

We file into a row of graves and paused.  Amir, one of the Israeli soldiers on our trip, unfolded a piece of paper and waited for us to quiet down. He tells us the story of his friend, Oz Tzemach, whose grave we stood in front of. We learn about Oz’s selfless personality, passion for learning, and love of sports. We learn about his determination to serve in the combat field, recruitment to the tank unit, and how he was killed at the age of 20 while helping others.

Stone on a Grave in Mount Herzl CemeteryJean Luc Godard, a famous film director once said, “Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.” This quote epitomized the punch in the gut that I felt and unabashed stream of tears that rolled down my face while hearing about the Oz’s life and the lives of others, taken too soon. From this story came a newfound level of emotional connection between myself, Mount Herzl, and my Israeli peers.

Achieving behavior change or attitude shifts often requires cozying up dry hard facts with stories that touch the inner core of those we are trying to reach. The ability to intertwine this yin and yang of information into a compelling and effective story is an art form. An art form that is essential to our industry.

How do we make the leap from a face and name to a moving and memorable individual whose story strikes a nerve and evokes action with our audience? How do we transform background noise to information you cannot turn away from? Regardless of the method and end goal, it is essential to ask these questions at the forefront of strategy development. Without story supplementing our work, we miss out on key social and neurological connections that help our message hit home. Harrison Monarth writes, “Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act; to do that, you need to wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.”

What inspires behavior change?

Dec 15

Making lifestyle changes to lead a healthier life continues to be a challenge for many people, especially for many Hispanics at high-risk communities living without health insurance and with limited access to health information. Promotores or community health workers (CHW) play a key role in educating these individuals about their risk for chronic diseases and the challenges they need to overcome to stay healthy and achieve behavior change. They also provide ongoing support to help patients manage the disease. But, having worked with several promotores or CHWs in the past, many times I have asked myself, what leads that person to become a CHW?

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to talk to Juan Rosa, a CHW and the Healthy Living coordinator at El Buen Samaritano Episcopal Mission in Austin, Texas, to learn how being diagnosed with diabetes encouraged him to make the necessary changes and what led him to get involved in health education and help his community. Read below to learn his inspiring story.

 

When were you diagnosed with diabetes? How did it change your life?

I was diagnosed in November of 2012 and my life took a huge turn. So much so that my everyday life became very difficult, and the saddest thing was that I took the diagnosis so badly that it affected my life. I almost got a divorce, I started consuming alcohol, I was not eating healthy nor sleeping well and my body felt tired all the time. Also, I made the bad choice to stop taking my medicines and that did not help me at all with managing the diabetes.

Who or what motivated you to make healthy lifestyle changes?

Curiously, one day my daughter—who was 6 years old then—heard me talking about my situation and what I was not doing right and she came close to me and told me something that made me put my feet on the ground and “accept” my reality. I still remember it as clear as if she said it to me today, “Daddy, I don’t want you to lose your sight, your feet, or (you) to die yet. Take care of yourself so that me and my little sister can grow up with you.” She made a promise to help me remember the medicine schedule.

What was the biggest challenge you faced?

The biggest challenge was “accepting” that I had to live the rest of my life with a disease that I did not know anything about, much less all the complications that I would need to deal with if I did not take action at that moment. Now I see that you can manage diabetes, but most importantly that you can continue to do the best you can every day to not let your loved ones be affected by the disease.

Did you receive support from family members or health care professionals to manage the disease?

Unfortunately, in the beginning I did not get much help, and not because the help in the community did not exist, but more because I was not looking for it or I did not want to do anything for myself. But once I accepted my reality, I started to search for help with friends, family members and also talking more to my health care professional, and that’s how I started to improve my health.

What motivated you to become a health educator?

I saw the need to inform and educate people in the community, those diagnosed with diabetes, and to make them realize the importance of making the necessary changes to lead a healthier life. Also, I try to help them realize the importance of accepting that they are living with diabetes and that if they don’t take care of themselves, not only will they suffer, but their families with suffer too. One thing that I really like doing is that I dedicate time to them, one thing that unfortunately health care professionals cannot do, especially with those that do not have health insurance. Now, I give one to two presentations per month and my focus is to highlight the importance of going to the doctor and following instructions. I also provide them resources that are available in the community and I am also very honest and real with them and I tell them what can happen if they don’t follow the doctor’s instructions.

From your experience, what are the main challenges the Hispanic community faces regarding their health?

Lack of health insurance due to their legal status, language barriers, education level, fear to ask questions, lack of trust in the health care professional, and transportation issues (here in Austin, TX) many places do not have bus transportation available. The city is growing and in many places, especially in the rural area, there is no public transportation.

What do you think motivates people to make significant changes in their lifestyle? Do you have an example of a patient?

A woman that came from Mexico a few years ago and she was overweight. She was diagnosed with diabetes and I was lucky to be able to work with her closely. She understood that it was important not only for her to make the necessary changes, but for her children also, with both physical activity and nutrition. I spoke to her recently and she told me that she lost 70 pounds and that she feels a lot better. She is also no longer taking insulin, just other pills that help her manage diabetes. One key thing that helps people change their habits is that we talk to them one-on-one, face-to-face and we dedicate them time to explain everything step-by-step. I think that is what makes them so appreciative and encourages them to try their best to make the necessary changes.

How would you describe the promotores or CHW’s role in the health of the community?

It is a difficult job and many people do not recognize CHWs because many CHWs do not have a college degree. Many people do not have any idea of what “promotor de salud” (promoter of health) means, but it is something very important and I am a true example of that. Behind every CHW there is a personal story that ties him/her to the job he/she does, and that makes it that much more important because they have experienced these challenges on their own and they do it from the heart. Now, the CHWs work is being seen more as patient navigation, among other things we do, even the President Barack Obama has recognized the work that CHWs do.

Its Flu Season – You Can Take Action: Get a Flu Shot

Dec 10

Its flu season, in case you didn’t know, but I’m guessing you know since if you’re anything like my family, you’ve been struck with a number of germs and bugs over the past several weeks. Head colds and stomach bugs, unfortunately. But, at least it hasn’t been the flu. All of us – me, my husband, and my son – got our flu shots about a month ago, and I’m so happy that we did if it saved us from another episode with the sick monster, or a prolonged or serious one (not that stomach bugs don’t feel serious enough at the time, but you know what I mean)!

More Americans than ever before are getting their flu shot, but the numbers are still low – less than half of Americans got a flu shot last year. There are several barriers to selecting the flu shot, including fear of needles, potential side effects, and myths that you can get the flu from the flu shot – even though you may be sore or achy after, that’s not actually true. And the flu shot isn’t a guarantee. Flu is a tricky little bugger and mutates so that some flu shots are ineffective in preventing it. Last year it was just higher than 50% effective. But that’s still considered successful by the CDC.

I’ve gone back and forth over the years as to whether or not to receive the shot, but for the last two years, I’ve determined it’s better to air on the side of caution, especially with an infant in the house. While I’ve become a little immune (no pun intended) to all of the warnings about the flu, this year with so much discussion about life-threatening diseases such as Ebola, it peaked my desire even further to protect myself and those that I love from the threats that I can impact, like flu. Did you get your flu shot this year?

How Federal Health Agencies Can Drive Engagement on Twitter

Nov 24

A study came out in PLOS ONE earlier this month that looked at the factors associated with Twitter engagement, as measured by retweets, of Federal health agencies. As someone who’s worked with numerous Federal health agencies on their Twitter content, I found the study findings particularly intriguing. Looking at 130 Twitter accounts from 25 agencies, the authors collected 164,104 tweets and examined them based on a number of factors including tweet count, number of followers, use of hashtags, user-mentions (a combination of @replies and @mentions), URLS, sentiment, and topic area, among others.

The authors found that hashtags, user-mentions, and URLs are positively associated with retweets, as is follower count. Based on my experiences at Ogilvy, I find these results unsurprisingly. With roughly half of people who use Twitter using it as a news source, users expect tweets to contain links. It is easy to see that a tweet without a link would be seen as less valuable in this context. For example, for one of my clients, we found that when the Twitter account posted open-ended questions, the tweets performed more poorly than when we posted similar open-ended questions with a link. People want to retweet tweets that they think their followers will find useful. A link is a sign of usefulness.

The author also found that a higher number of tweets is associated with fewer retweets. They note:

“This suggests that an agency might consider only tweeting posts that it regards as important so as to not ‘dilute’ the public’s attention. However, this observation must be balanced against the fact that information dissemination on a topic may be an organization’s main goal and not necessarily public response.”

They raise an important point: quite often an agency may find that one of its mission areas is not consistent with what is popular among its followers. In that case, the agency must determine how to make it more popular. Because ultimately, by driving a greater number of retweets, agencies are able to distribute their message to a greater number of people, and to those outside of their core audience base – both vital to improving reach. Experimenting with how you structure the tweet, when you send it, and how often you send the message becomes so much more important when you are dealing with an unpopular topic area.

We are seeing the co-dependent relationship between reach and engagement on many social channels now. Facebook’s algorithm is making it increasingly challenging to garner organic reach — no matter how great your content is — and encouraging fans to share your posts on their wall is pretty much the only way to spur organic reach. Plus, Facebook just announced last week that it is cutting organic reach even further for certain types of posts (although this is more likely to affect brands, not health agencies). On Pinterest, a channel growing in popularity for Federal health agencies, much like on Twitter, reach is dependent on getting people to re-pin content.

The PLOS ONE study points to the importance of 1) understanding that engagement and reach are critically intertwined on social media, and 2) optimizing your content ruthlessly for channel best practices and what is popular with followers. You have to know which of your content is popular, and which isn’t. For the content that isn’t popular, agencies have to think: how necessary is the content? If it is necessary, they need to determine strategies for making it more popular so that they can drive the engagement that leads to more reach.

What have you seen on Twitter? Do the authors’ findings mesh with what you’ve experienced?