Monday, 15 November 2010

Does the Department of Health make the most of Social Media?

department_of_health-logoThe Department of Health (DH) has just published the traffic statistics for it's website during September, as well as it's overall numbers on it's various Social Media profiles.  It currently uses Twitter, Flickr and YouTube, but has no facebook page. More on that later.

The website itself has had 3,438,908 page impressions, 755,359 unique visitors,  and 1,074,474 visits during the month. These figures alone don't tell much of a story, except to say that the site does get a healthy amount of traffic. It would be interesting to see these numbers broken down further, to show for instance, what proportion of those visitors were Health Professionals or members of the General Public.  This can be difficult to measure, but would give a better impression of the website's reach. Perhaps, integrating a short survey could help.

The most popular pages are unsurprisingly those concerning the recent white paper, Equity and excellence: liberating the NHS. There's been a large amount of discussion around the reorganisation of the NHS, detailed in this paper and publishing the document online gives people the option to easily access and read it themselves, rather than rely on third party reporting.

The DH's Twitter profile had  5369  followers and had tweeted 607 times in total by the end of September. The tweets comprise in the main of links to official announcements, health news and the activities of high ranking personnel, such as site visits and interviews.

Perhaps the primary function of Twitter is to disseminate information, so it could be a great tool to raise awareness of the Department's activities within the country's population, helping achieve the transparency that the Government states as one of it's aims. To that end, it may be an idea for the profile to include more tweets directly related to the Department. More calls to 'retweet' would also help spread the message and increase the numbers of followers, which though currently at a respectable figure, would need to be a lot higher if the aim is, as you would imagine, to address as much of the populace as possible.

If engagement is also an aim, then having tweets direct to a platform with more versatility, like facebook, would also be an idea. A facebook page is conspicuous by it's absence in the DH's portfolio of Social Media profiles. I've been unable to find any official strategy or rationale for the Department's use of Social Media, but engagement is the overriding reason why organisations use it. It's therefore somewhat odd that facebook, the undisputed king of  engagement, has been neglected.

A reason for their existence is also missing from all three of the profiles.  It's generally good practice in a Social Media profile to actually state what it's for, but many companies and organisations instead just describe themselves, like they would in an 'about us' on a website. Yes, say who you are, but also tell users what they can expect on the profile, the benefits to them for subscribing and how they should interact.

The Flickr page provides a good example of this, as it's not immediately obvious what it's for. The majority of the first page is taken up with photos of visits by the Minister of State for the DH, Simon Burns. The profile (essentially the 'about us') for the page is empty, so that sheds no light. Navigating to 'sets' actually gives the best impression, as this displays a thumbnail for each set of photos on the page. It shows that indeed the main function for the page is to display photos of various public appearances by Ministers at events and launches.

The page had been viewed 59,445 times in total, so again, gets a reasonable amount of traffic, but no comments have been left by visitors. It's therefore a one-way communication, missing out on the interactive nature of Social Media. A little more variety in the sorts of photos posted and some calls to action within the comments could help this, taking the page from merely a way to distribute photos, to another gateway to engagement.

The DH's YouTube channel does have that variety, with a large number of videos ranging in subject from Social Marketing ad campaigns to case studies from health professionals.  The quality of content is really strong and the stats show 197,904 views, which appears to be a good number. However, looking a little deeper, the channel is almost three years old, so over that time scale the views are relatively low. The videos individually average in the low hundreds for views, though a noticeable exception is the Change4Life campaign, produced by Aardman. This series of adverts are way up, in the tens of thousands, which could possibly be down to the popularity of the production company, whose other credits include the Wallace & Gromit films. Should this be the case, the higher number of views would most likely be down to users finding the videos in searches. The difference implies that the profile relies on searches for views, rather than the videos being pro-actively promoted.

To maximise the effective reach and levels of engagement from Social Media, content and the profile itself needs promoting and interaction encouraged. The various platforms should be used in a coordinated manner, cross pollinating each other, so for example, tweets should regularly link to new videos and images on Youtube and Flickr respectively, where visitors are encouraged to leave comments and share. They should all then feed back to a central hub profile, where the deepest engagement takes place. We would usually recommend a facebook page for this hub and I would recommend the same for the Department of Health.

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