Last week, I attended CDC’s National Health Communication, Marketing, and Media conference in Atlanta. And whether you call it new media, social media, or Web 2.0—the new tactics available online and via mobile devices took center stage at the conference. The presentation, “Social Marketing and the Uses of Social Media: Cases from the American Red Cross, American Legacy Foundation (Legacy), U.S. Census Bureau, and Ad Council” provided the most thought provoking example of the diversity of outcomes that can be influenced by social media.
Throughout the conference, presenters reiterated that social media is a tool or tactic to be used to achieve a goal. Often, because people get excited about the next new things, they say, “We need a Twitter account!” instead of, “What could a Twitter account do for us?” The desired outcome needs to drive the choice of tools. Perhaps the best example of that oft-repeated maxim is Legacy’s two-pronged approach to reducing the rate of smoking in the US, the truth® and EX® campaigns.
You are probably familiar with truth’s hard-hitting, eye-catching ads that position rebellion against big tobacco as a better way for teens to assert independence than smoking. This campaign is all about viral communications—pushing out edgy, fun, sharable materials for teens to take ownership of and pass on. Recognizing that most smokers start as teens, Legacy’s goal with truth is to reduce the number of teens who start smoking. To do this they try to “infect” teens with truth so that they’ll spread it to their friends through YouTube, e-cards, computer games, Facebook, and other truth social media assets. truth uses social media to push out messages to their target.
While pushing information is a classic paradigm of health communication, the “be an EX” campaign uses social media as a tool to pull people into the website. According to the American Legacy Foundation, 34% of smokers say they want to quit each year, but only 10% succeed. EX is designed to support current adult smokers in their decision to quit. So while EX uses many of the same tools (e.g. YouTube, Facebook, and online discussion groups) the goal of EX’s social media is to draw the audience into becomeanex.org to connect them with cessation tool, support, and resources.
Looking at the two programs side-by-side the push-pull distinction seems intuitive. However, most conversations about social media focus on pushing out messages, raising awareness, or educating. The Legacy Foundation’s programs illustrate how outcomes need to drive social media engagement, rather the social media driving the outcomes.
Laura Howe, from the American Red Cross, cautioned that not only must social media strategy be outcome driven, but it also must take into account audience expectations. An American Red Cross survey discovered that one in six people look to social media sources for information on disasters. Knowing this, the Red Cross is better able to meet those expectations by live-tweeting important information, including shelter locations, safety tips, numbers of people sheltered and fed by the Red Cross, evacuation routes, etc. Unfortunately, sometimes expectations are ahead of capabilities; three out of four people surveyed believed that if they posted a call for help to a social media platform, emergency responders would arrive within an hour. Some believed their friends or family would call 911, but others believe that emergency services are, or should be, monitoring social media platforms.
I walked away from the session with the basics (outcome-driven efforts and targeting programs to the audience) and the possibilities (how do we mitigate audience expectations of social media?) swirling around in my head and reminding me why social media is such a powerful and misunderstood tool of the trade.