Monday, 14 February 2011

What if Cannabis could cure Cancer?

That's certainly a controversial headline and an attention grabber. It's also the title of a new documentary being referred to increasingly in the blogosphere. It's perhaps too early to describe the reaction as 'buzz', but it's getting there. Personally, I haven't seen the film and yet, I'm still writing about it here.

It's not really the film's message that I'm interested in, but rather it's potential to spread and alter opinion, especially if it's a message that goes contrary to the agendas of Government, the Health Service and Business. With the Internet, a catchy title and an intriguing premise can go a long way.  Even if people don't actually watch the the 50 minute documentary, they may still be influenced.

How can the Government counter that?

Look at the current bad press around the NHS Reforms, which in turn lead on to the whole issue of the Big Society. Especially since publication of the Health and Social Care Bill a few weeks ago, there's been an increasing number of articles with a negative outlook on the proposed changes. These can not only be read online, but shared via Social Media platforms, making their reach and potential influence massive.

Again, how can the Government counter that?

In our Social Media workshops which we run, a key subject is dealing with negative comments online. It's of paramount importance for any individual, organisation or company with a reputation to damage, that they monitor what's been said about them online and take appropriate action. Addressing a complaint early, before it's spreads, can prevent untold damage.

An example we often give is that of musician, Dave Caroll and his experience of United Airlines. Dave was unsatisfied with the airlines responses when their baggage handlers broke one of his guitars and decided to write a song on the subject. Publishing it with an accompanying video on Youtube, it quickly spread and became an internet phenomenon, with at the time of writing, close to 10 million views. United Airlines did finally offer satisfactory compensation to Dave, but to a large extent, the damage had already been done. An earlier response would have saved that and it's certainly a lesson in the power of the individual in this digital age.

So what can and should be done? In a word, engagement.

Engagement is a term used a lot nowadays, but not everyone who uses it, really follows through on it's promise. Many may emphasise it's importance and utilise platforms, such as Social Media, where it's enabled, but still push out a message without fully considering or responding to feedback.

Engagement is a two way street, with all parties having to listen. Opinions and views need to be understood, responded to and either acted on or provided with a valid and satisfactory reason why not. This applies across the board, whether in the Private, Public or Third Sector.

That's what has made many Doctors angry with how the Government have gone about the NHS reforms. The engagement strategy of consultations following the proposals in last year's white paper, brought many concerns that seemd to have had  no bearing on the end result of the Bill. Doctors felt they weren't listened to, which must have been particularly annoying for them, as people do usually listen to what they have to say. After all, it's their job to provide expert opinions.

The Prime Minister looked to ease that anger and answer those concerns with his message through But it was a one way message, with no facility to reply, so yet again, lacking true engagement.

Whether it's a controversial message or negative comments, they're there for people to see and spread. The only way to  have an impact on that is to get in early and talk with those involved. Before the Internet, ignoring those voices may have been an option, but now, the Government or anybody else does so at their peril.

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