Why Public Health PSAs Don’t Go Viral.

Everyone’s looking for that video creation that goes viral. Not the flu kind of viral, but the mass sharing across social networks kind of viral. What might work as a public service announcement on TV or on the radio, likely won’t work on social media. someecard

PSAs are primarily designed to inform first. You watch them, you catch the talking head giving a main message, and you’re directed to a phone number or website for more information.

Videos developed for social media ask you to do more – they ask the viewer to share. Viewers must feel the need to share this message with their networks.

So, what makes a video shareable?

1. It’s entertaining.  While vaccines, air quality and sexual health clinics are serious topics, the vehicle of video demands that the entertainment value be upped. ‘Infotainment’ has been used in public health education across the globe — think mediums like community theatre, zines, comics and even soap operas. Cats playing the piano videos go viral because they make you want to drag people over to the screen and say ‘hey, check this out!!’.

As public health practitioners we may not want to show a kitty getting a flu shot on a piano purely to leverage catvertising, but we can find ways to wrap our messaging in what people find entertaining.

Check out the CDC’s Zombie Apocalypse social media campaign. Also check out our recent blog post about the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care’s Social Farting video.

2. It’s super-cute.  Cute works because it appeals to emotions and affinity. It’s a feel-good video that you want to share with your friends and families to make them smile. Remember the twin babies talking to each other in their secret baby language? Super-cute.

The American Public Health Association used a cute animated video that played on the story of the ant and the grasshopper to illustrate the importance of emergency preparedness. Also check out Ottawa Public Health’s adorable Adopt a Helmet campaign.

3. It’s shocking. Shocking videos are appealing because we may feel glad that we aren’t the people in the video. The shareability factor is based on our desire to warn and inform our families and friends. Or we may find it so disgusting we want to share it for sharing’s sake (like when someone says, ‘this tastes terrible…you taste it!’).

Check out the Teenage Pregnancy video from the NHS in Leicester, UK and NYC Health Department’s Man Drinking Fat.

4. It’s short. 30 seconds to 2 minutes are all you need. Research shows that after 2 minutes, many users stop watching (I’m guilty!). If your script is too long, it likely means your video is going to sound like a brochure. Use those 30 seconds – 2 minutes to send ONE message you want your audience to take away.

Check out the Safer Sex 4 Seniors kama sutra video. In 31 seconds we get the message that STIs are on the rise for seniors and that using a condom will help.

5. It’s promoted. Uploading a video to YouTube doesn’t mean people will see it (other than you…and your colleagues). YouTube videos are the educational product in the same way a booklet is an educational product. Support the product’s distribution with paid advertising, utilizing the power of your other social media channels and online spaces, and advertising it through print products.

A simple ratio for creating a video is: 80% entertainment + 20% information.  Social media is social – it’s intended to give people reasons to connect with each other.  Public health should and could leverage the power of the way information travels through online social networks.

Have you seen any great public health videos? What do you think makes an effective video campaign?


6 responses to “Why Public Health PSAs Don’t Go Viral.

  1. Pingback: Communicating Risk via Twitter | The Face of the Matter·

  2. I can think of a couple “PSAs” that did go viral- not to the same extent as Gangnam Style or something, but check out a video called “The Real Bears.” Recently there was also an anti-rape “PSA” made by a college student telling men to “treat women with respect”

  3. would also like to ad, I just finished up a Health Communications class on “Sticky Communication” where we read this great book called “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath. It provides a lot of great information on what makes messages memorable. Anyone who’s interested in this kind of thing should definitely check it out

    • Hi Sheela! Thanks for your comment and for sharing the Real Bears (hope I’ve linked to the right video).

      I’ve heard of Made to Stick – wonderful that it is applied to health communication. We should be utilizing the principles for our social marketing efforts!

  4. Pingback: Us at the Healthy Toronto 2013 Conference | Public Health and Social Media·

  5. Pingback: 2013 Retrospective: Communicating Risk Via Twitter | The Face of the Matter·

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