Social Media Panic in Public Health – 3 Things To Remember.

We’re not talking about the kind of panic that H1N1 or antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea evokes. We’re talking about…social media panic!

Those of you running social media channels at public health departments may be familiar with these kinds of panicked questions:

  • Why did we tweet that?
  • Who approved that Facebook photo?
  • Why didn’t we say ‘West Nile Virus’ instead of ‘WNV’?!
  • What’s that number sign you added to the end of my tweet?
  • Why didn’t we link to the PDF?
  • Why did you respond to that anti-vaccine troll on our Facebook page?
  • Why are we showing [insert any harm reduction-related behaviour] on our page? Doesn’t that encourage people to want to get pierced unsafely/drink alcohol immoderately/have sex without condoms/smoke?

Yes, many of us work in risk-adverse and heavily-red-taped organizations. However, you can begin to shift the institutional mindset overtime by communicating these 3 things:

1. Mistakes will happen.
Grammar mistakes will happen. Content mistakes will happen. People will change their mind after approvals-by-committee style of decision-making — AFTER content has been posted.

The beauty of social media is that it’s real-time and transparent. You make mistakes while everyone is watching and you get to own up to and fix those mistakes while everyone is watching.

Making mistakes doesn’t make your channels less trustworthy (unless you have more mistakes than not), in fact, I’d argue it makes your channels more human. Humans make mistakes, humans own up to them, humans correct and resend information because they are concerned about quality information.

2. Visual content trumps.
Videos and photos are not only engaging, but visual content performs better algorithmically on some platforms (like Facebook). Some platforms, like Instagram and Pinterest, are based solely on visuals. Traditionally, we show the behaviour that is optimal — think sunhats, happy people walking and kids eating well.

What happens when we want to communicate about harm reduction issues, like substance use, safer sex and infection control in body modification? How do we educate about the behaviour change without showing the topic area? Social media entices us to.

Seeing is believing right? Does showing a condom mean people are going to have more sex?  Likely not. If so, we could show pictures of the flu shot and everyone would get immunized.

3. Social is different. It’s a conversation.
Being on a two-way medium, it’s expected that you’ll get the like-minded folks chatting you up, as well as the anti-everything folks. From anti-vax to anti-flouridation of water to anti-whole grains…public health social media channels are an opportunity for people to challenge the institutions directly and personally.

Remember, it isn’t just the haters that are important. People are watching your organization engage with them. This is a reputation-building moment. It’s far-fetched to imagine that you’ll only be expected to be authentic, personable and responsive to followers ONLY when they agree with you.  Ignoring these ‘haters’ is one way of dealing with them. Another option is arguing your point (highly unrecommended!). Another option is engaging. You can politely acknowledge their concerns, demonstrate gratitude for their feedback and interest — all without compromising your message or evidence.

We want to hear from all you community managers and content curators out there — what panic have you induced in your organizations? How have you navigated the learning curve for a risk-adverse (and maybe a social media unsavvy) crowd?


2 responses to “Social Media Panic in Public Health – 3 Things To Remember.

  1. Communication requiring further personal and/or personal health information from the user should be facilitated by telephone, email or in person. This is the golden rule.

    Otherwise, try to be honest, personable and like you said … HUMAN!

    P.S. Love your tone in this post.

    • right on Alex…human!!
      I’ve seen the struggle between the regularly scheduled messages that have been carefully crafted and approved for their conversational tone…and then the switch to bureacratease when a question, or more likely a complaint, comes in.

      Thanks for your comment! 🙂

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