Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Harnessing Social Media for social good

We were sent this article by Heather Sewell from ICE and thought it was worth sharing. Thanks Heather.

Harnessing Social Media for social good

The rapid growth of social networking holds massive untapped potential for reaching our communities on key social and public health issues, says Suzanne Goldenberg from ICE.

In an era where we’re surrounded by social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and blogging is increasingly commonplace - more ideas are being shared by more people, and more quickly than ever before.

Social networking is still a new and evolving form of communication and is a great way to create discussion, debate, voice and opinion. This means there’s great potential to reach out to hard-to-reach and seldom heard audience groups to discourage risky health behaviours on issues ranging from alcohol and drug misuse, to smoking, mental health, cancer awareness and sexual health.

Social Media or social marketing?

There are numerous examples of how social networking technology is bringing about sustained behaviour change for both individuals and communities, in partnership with organisations across the health sector.

However, one of the barriers to fully harnessing social networking approaches to date has been the common misconception that Social Media and social marketing are one and the same. Whilst Social Media refers to new forms of digital communication which use internet and web-based technologies, social marketing is defined as “the systematic application of marketing concepts and techniques to achieve specific behavioural goals, for social or public good”.

In other words, social marketing is about going directly into communities to engage key audiences on social and public health issues, and not simply sitting behind a computer screen. That said, the two can work together: in some instances, social media can form an important part of a wider, fully informed social marketing approach.

Targeting your audience

The “groundswell effect” of digital and social media solutions is raising the expectation that they will inevitably now form part of any communications strategy. This not the case! Whilst it’s certainly true that these techniques can be very effective in supporting and moving the behaviour of targeted audience groups as part of a social marketing strategy, it’s important to recognise that this type of intervention will only work if our research and insight tells us that a specific audience prefers it or is already using this media to communicate.

For instance, ICE is currently working alongside The Deborah Hutton Campaign and its partners across central government and other charitable initiatives, on a social marketing initiative which is using social media channels as its primary form of engaging young people.

This peer-to-peer project is supporting young people in planning, producing and sharing their own films about the dangers of smoking, using social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube to help them deliver these messages to other young people. This is a really exciting and innovative campaign, as I think it’s a great example of how target audiences can become active participants who shape positive messaging and enact change for themselves, rather than just ‘consuming’ messages.

Similarly, the intervention stage of a skin cancer awareness campaign being undertaken in partnership with Merseyside and Cheshire Cancer Network has included the development of a social networking site where 11-16 year olds can take part in interactive avatars: answering correctly then allows them to accumulate credits and enhance their online personas.

The principle behind this interactive tool is to raise aspiration and also awareness about the dangers and the safe levels of sun exposure, and there are now plans to roll out the concept nationally alongside key cancer awareness networks and charities.

A multi-channel approach

Undoubtedly, these examples show that Social Media technologies provide new pathways to reach out to hard-to-reach audience groups, which I believe will be utilised more and more by the health sector in the future.

However, the real key to promoting sustainable behaviour change will be in ensuring that these interventions are well researched, citizen led and focused at all times. A ‘one size fits all’ approach will not work, and any use of social media must be shaped to positively resonate with different segmented groups. Ongoing evaluation of these techniques, to gauge their effectiveness, also plays an essential part in refining the approach and informing future consultation and engagement.

By Suzanne Goldenberg, Business Development Director (South East), ICE

Article provide by ICE Creates


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