Sarah Van Velsor

Photo of Sarah Van Velsor

Vice President/Digital Strategist
Washington DC
Posts: 5

Sarah brings five years of experience leveraging the power of the social web for national non-profit organizations, government agencies, and corporations. At Ogilvy PR, she currently works with clients such as the Lance Armstrong Foundation, NHLBI, Lipton, Quaker and Ford to produce interactive social media campaigns as a part of the Digital Influence Team.

Prior to joining Ogilvy PR, Sarah worked for the American Red Cross where she implemented communications campaigns for the Fundraising department. She provided PR support for the “Be Red Cross Ready” line of preparedness products, led disaster fundraising communications, and provided strategic communication guidance to the online fundraising program. In her role, she was involved in online communications and social media engagement – working with the Facebook Causes application to implement a charity gift program benefiting the Red Cross and several other top non-profit organizations.

Sarah began her career at the Hodges Partnership, a public relations agency in Richmond, VA. Her clients included the Virginia Department of Taxation’s Tax Amnesty Program, Comfort Zone Camp, a camp for children that were grieving the loss of a parent, and REACH, a non-profit that assists the uninsured in Richmond. She assisted with major media relations campaigns and event management.

Sarah holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Virginia. Currently, she resides in Arlington, VA and enjoys reading, knitting and volunteering in her free time. She is on the board for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life event in Arlington and is a member of the Red Cross Disaster Public Affairs Team. You can reach her on Twitter, @sarahmarchetti.

Introducing Social Squared: Ogilvy’s Framework for Applying Behavior Change Theory to Digital and Social Media

Aug 28

Behavior Change Theory should underlie all health communications campaign planning. However, often communication professionals decide on a Tumblr or Pinterest account because it’s the “latest thing,” instead of having solid theory-based reasoning for engaging on a particular social or digital platform.

To ensure Ogilvy’s approach to digital and social media was always strategic, Ogilvy designed the Social Squared Framework and business offering to bring together the three key aspects of an effective behavior change program in social media:

  • Strategy-Based Theory Constructs
  • Audience Insights
  • Digital Solutions

Levers for Behavior Change

We identified theoretical constructs that are most applicable to digital and social media. Many behavior change theories are used in designing behavior change programs. They work for individual, community change and system change. We use these theories to underlie our social marketing strategies. Each of these theories is made up of constructs that point to ways to intervene in behavior.  Ogilvy identified the constructs that are best supported by social and digital media.  They include but are not limited to:

  • Cues to Action
  • Intentions to Act
  • Normative Perceptions/Subjective Norms
  • Observational Learning
  • Outcome Expectations
  • Reinforcement
  • Perceived Behavior Control
  • Perceived Severity
  • Perceived Susceptibility
  • Self-Efficacy
  • Social Support
  • Spheres of Influence

Audience Insights

The Social Squared Framework puts a digital lens on audience insights. In additional to traditional research, we analyze the following questions using social media listening tools to answer them.

  • What digital platforms are our audiences using?
  • How often do they use them and for what purposes?
  • What is their behavior like on these platforms?
  • How can we capitalize on their current behaviors to achieve our goals?
  • How does our audience leverage search to find the information they need on our topic?
  • Is our audience discussing or searching for our issue, topic or client online?
  • What are they saying about it?
  • How can we fill a gap or need in the online landscape to further our behavior-change goals?

Digital Solutions

After bringing together our theory-based strategies and social insights, we then pick the most appropriate digital solutions or platforms to develop the communication program that helps move the behavior change needle. These solutions might include community creation and management on social sites, a mobile application, visual content creation, and more.

In additional, to this business offering and framework, Ogilvy has a Social Squared team, a group of digital specialists with a comprehensive offering of products and services that are at the forefront of digital trends.  We customize all our solutions to meet the unique needs of our clients and achieve their communications and behavior change goals.

How to Apply the Social Squared Framework

The Social Squared Framework is a great planning tool and here’s an example of how we used it for The Heart Truth® . (click to enlarge)

The Heart Truth® kicked off American Heart Month with the #MyHeart28 Challenge, an action-oriented program platform to continue to emphasize heart healthy behavior change in program messaging.  We used the Social Squared Framework to plan the campaign using our behavior change constructs and audience insights to come up with the most appropriate and strategic digital solutions (See graphic).  Facebook was used as the core platform for the challenge, as it is where our audience is most engaged around taking action. Throughout the month, fans accepted the daily challenges and shared how they were making changes for a healthy heart and reducing heart disease risk in 2014. This small-step approach included actions for making heart healthy lifestyle changes including increasing physical activity, and stress management, smoking cessation, blood pressure and cholesterol control, and healthy eating.

The Results

  • #MyHeart28 Challenge created more than 7,550 Facebook actions (e.g., likes, shares) and engaged more than 750 unique Twitter followers,which generated 9.5 million impressions.
  • Throughout the #MyHeart28 Challenge, the daily posts received a cumulative 447 comments, 5,404 likes, and 1,703 shares.
  • The Heart Truth’s® Pinterest board received 1,527 new followers,567 repins, 32 likes, and 6 comments during the month of February.
  • Facebook fans expressed enthusiasm, posed and answered questions, offered tips, and shared the actions they took to lower their risk for heart disease during the #MyHeart28 Challenge.
  • The Heart Truth® engaged bloggers to be Ambassadors for the challenge further solidifying social norming. As an Ambassador, the blogger added to that day’s social content, posted quotes and advice on Twitter, and shared photos/posts on Facebook. Combined, the Challenge Day Ambassadors had over 5,000 unique monthly visitors, 6,000 Twitter followers, 2,000 Facebook fans, and 1,500 Pinterest followers.
  • We also had qualitative data in the comments showing that people were following along and taking the action recommended in our challenge.

4 Tips for Managing the Drop in Organic Reach on Facebook with a Small Budget

Jan 10

Have you noticed a change in your Facebook organic reach over the last few weeks?   If so, you’re not alone. Last month, Facebook tweaked their algorithm to focus on “high-quality content.” While traditional news outlets are seeing 69% jumps in referral traffic from Facebook, brands, small businesses, nonprofit and government organizations are seeing much smaller organic reach to their Facebook pages, about 44% since December 1.

Facebook said the reason behind the algorithm change was to display only the most engaging content in the Newsfeed in order to keep people coming back to the site over and over again. While they don’t mention it, one could speculate that profit is also a big reason for switching the algorithm. Facebook understands how powerful their site can be as a marketing tool, and now that people are convinced of the power of social media marketing, they are ready to make more money from the countless companies and organizations that use their site to communicate with their customers and constituents.

This decrease in organic reach has huge implications for all organizations with Pages on Facebook. It means that advertising on Facebook is becoming essential to reaching your existing as well as new fans. But what do you do if you are a nonprofit or government organization with no budget for paid promotion?

1. Create Engaging Content: Make sure your Facebook content is resonating with your audience and garners likes, clicks, comments, and shares with a focus on the latter since the Facebook algorithm weights comments and shares most highly.  Look at your last month of posts to identify trends in what your fans are interested in and see how you can build on that success. Your organic reach will naturally climb if you’re content is resonating with your fan base.

Looking for new ideas? You can increase your engagement rate by creating posts with pictures and video, hosting Facebook Chats that encourage commenting, and creating series of posts that engage the user (e.g., trivia or “day in the life” posts).

2. Diversify your Social Platforms: Don’t put all your eggs in Facebook’s basket. Think about other platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, etc. that can help connect you to your audiences. These platforms may also eventually change their policies to make advertising essential to getting your message out, but for now this is a free option.

3. Make the Case for Paid Media Support: If Facebook is an important platform for your audience and there is no where else to reach them, then you need to make the case for paid media within your organization’s leadership. Facebook offers cost-effective options (think $200-500) for promoting a post to the very specific audience that you need to reach. You don’t need a huge budget to make an impact with Facebook Sponsored Stories. When looking at 2014 planning, see where paid media can fit in.

4. Weigh the Cost/Benefits of Participation on Facebook: If your organization can simply not afford or is not allowed to do Facebook advertising then it’s important to consider the costs vs. benefits of having a Page at all. Is your reach and engagement enough to justify the time and effort you spend creating content for the Page? We especially caution creating new Pages if there is not a plan for advertising support.

How is your agency or organization planning to deal with the drop in organic reach? What strategies are you recommending to your clients?

5 Links to Help You Navigate Government Social Media Guidelines

May 15

Navigating government social media guidelines can be tricky since there are so many different components to consider, so I wanted to share 5 links that help me advise my clients and comply with the guidelines.

1.– lists all the approved social media sites and tools that have Terms of Service agreements with the government.  This is a great place to start when looking to solve a communication problem with a social media tool since the site needs to have an approved TOS agreement in order for your client/agency to use it.   While you can use this site as a resource you still need to check with your clients/agency leadership as every agency has more specific guidance that may limit this list further.–  This site has tested many of the most popular Web 2.0 sites for accessibility for those with disabilities.  You can use it to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a particular site in relation to 508 compliance.  They even give each site a score based on different types of disabilities.

3. Memo on FOIA Archiving– I get many questions about how and what to archive from government clients, but most of the advice on agency sites is vague and recommends talking with your agency’s FOIA officer or checking with (which is still a good course of action).  However, a direct link to this archiving guidance is hard to find, so I dug it up on the website.  The memo clearly outlines what needs to be archived in Social media and how you might go about doing that.

4. OMB Guidance on Information Collected through Social Media– As a best practice, we recommend our clients engage in social media by asking questions and involving their audience in a two-way dialogue.  However, there is always confusion about what government agencies are allowed to ask and what types of information they can collect from the public without OMB approval.  Luckily, OMB has guidance on this very issue online and available to the public in case you ever need a refresher.  As a little preview, open ended questions are OK, but surveys and polls are not without OMB clearance.  Read the memo for guidance on contests, e-mail address collection, rankings/ratings/votes and more.

5. HHS Center for New Media– Most of my clients fall under the HHS umbrella so this site is exceedingly helpful to me when I need to research a social media guidelines question.  It’s got a great section on Standards and Policies for HHS that is inclusive of everything you need to think about before embarking on a social media campaign for a HHS agency.   There are also many many resources and tools that can help you educate yourself and learn where to go for more information.

What links do you rely on to help you comply with government social media guidelines?  This is definitely not a comprehensive list, so please leave a few of your favorite resources in the comments.

The “Social Media Doctor is In” at DHCX

Feb 06

Several members of the Ogilvy Washington team, including myself, will be heading down to Orlando next week for the Digital Health Communication Extravaganza (DHCX). We are so excited to interact with other digital health practitioners and swap best practices for using digital tools to enact behavior change.

As part of our efforts to exchange ideas and expertise, we’re sponsoring free social media consulting at our booth in the exhibit hall.  We’re calling it “Social Media Doctor is In”.   You can sign up for a free 15 minutes of social media consulting from leading Digital Strategists at Ogilvy Washington.  We’ll be providing the consulting at the Ogilvy booth in the exhibit hall.  Sign up for an appointment at and then simply swing by our booth during your appointed time.  We scheduled all our appointments during networking breaks, lunch and other free sessions at DHCX so you won’t be missing any of the great speakers and will get some one on one time with us.  I sincerely hope to see you there and that we can help you with your digital communication problem or question.

In additional to “Social Media Doctor is In”,  Ogilvy is a sponsor of the conference and has a great line up of presenters.  Rohit Bhargava will be presenting “The Past, Present, and Future Of Healthcare In 12 Inspired Tweets” in a plenary session on Friday.  Dana Allen-Greil will be presenting a poster titled ” Using Social Media to Reach and Motivate Women to Address Risk Factors for Heart Disease”.   Alex Hughes will be also be presenting a poster titled “Using Social Media Platforms to Amplify Public Health Messages”.   We hope that you will stop by these sessions and say hello to us.

What are you looking forward to most at DHCX?

QR Code Best Practices for Gov 2.0

Apr 12

QR Code

This post was originally posted to Ogilvy PR’s 360 Digital Influence’s Fresh Influence blog.

In recent weeks, many of our government clients have been asking if they should incorporate QR codes into their educational materials. This is great news as QR codes can be an excellent tool for connect citizens to government services and educational information while they are on the go.  However, as with all new communication vehicles it is important to take a few things into consideration before deciding if QR codes are right for your agency.

Until recently, there was a low awareness of QR codes in the US, but has changed in recent months with nearly two thirds of adults having seen one of these codes and one third having used them.   Big brands like Macy’s, Sephora and many others are integrating QR codes into their advertising, catalogs and retail experiences and are using their advertising cache to educate Americans about what these codes are and how to use them.   This opens the door for other organizations like the government to capitalize on this awareness and start using QR codes.

The first question a government organization should ask themselves before launching a QR code intiative is, “Is my target audience using QR codes and smartphones?”.   According to  eMarketer statistics, the demographic profile of these QR code users is more educated and higher income than the general population.   However, if minority populations are the target audience, QR codes may be a great options since minorities are much more likely than whites to own a smartphone capable of scanning and reading the codes.

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