Is there a role for social media in educating decision-makers?
We’ve often explored how social media is used for raising awareness. This week I’ve invited Lauren Dobson-Hughes from the Canadian Cancer Society to host a special edition #hcsmca focusing on the potential role of using social media to educate decision-makers when advocating for change.
By Lauren Dobson-Hughes @laurendhughes
As advocates, many of us have turned from raising awareness of the existence of our causes to pushing for tangible actions to solve our problems. This is particularly the case for cancer. While some cancers are certainly not widely-known or understood, we generally grasp that many people are affected by the group of diseases we call cancer. Everyone knows someone touched by cancer. After all, 186,400 Canadians will be diagnosed this year, and 75,700 will die from the disease.
Advocating for action comes in three parts:
- First, you need to convince decision-makers that a pressing problem exists. Essentially, we need to educate MPs, MLAs, MPPs, city councillors, and anyone else who holds the purse-strings or the power.
- Secondly, they must know that they need and have the power to address this problem.
- Thirdly, convince them that the solution you’re proposing is the correct one.
On Sept 12, the special edition #hcsmca chat will mainly tackle the first part of this process – educating the decision-makers.
Most people go into politics because they care. They care in different ways, and the solutions they envisage are different, but most elected officials want to help. To do so, they need to know there’s a problem. It helps to let them know that the problem is widespread and that their community cares and is affected by it. This is where social media can help you convey and magnify your message.
Case Study – Canadian Cancer Society’s indoor tanning campaign
Our indoor tanning campaign uses social media extensively to educate decision-makers on the dangers of tanning beds for under-18s. The stats are clear and simple: You have a 75% elevated risk of skin cancer if you use a tanning bed before the age of 35.
There are compelling photos we can transmit via social media, and the solution is easy to remember: Ban under-18s from using tanning beds.
With this campaign, we’ve used social media tools more in isolation – a hashtag, tan-free graduation ceremonies parents share on Facebook, and online petitions. We even purchased a UV light camera that shows skin damage caused by sun exposure. We give young people their photos, and they post them to their Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts.
Social media also makes decision-makers more accessible. You might not be able to get an appointment with your MLA, but you can tweet your tanning photo to your MLA.
Case Study – Drug Access
Educating decision-makers has proven harder with issues where the topic is technical or involves explaining policy with which the MP may not be familiar. For example, the issue of drug access hasn’t, so far, been a good fit for social media. It’s complex, involves numerous players, and has no nicely packaged solution. Decision-makers are aware Canadians’ access to medication is insufficient and patchy, but the solutions are a web of complicated policy options. We’ve boiled down our approach and outlined key criteria, but fitting them into 140 characters on Twitter or a Facebook post isn’t easy.
For this topic, we likely need an integrated multi-platform campaign, to increase volume and make the issue more noticeable. Perhaps an online Day of Action coupled with in-person visits to MP’s offices. This type of campaign usually takes time, organization and effort.
Can social media get results like face-to-face interactions do?
Having said all these lovely things about the value of social media, of course, it isn’t a magical panacea. Perhaps I’m not thinking creatively enough, but I haven’t yet found that it can replace the face-to-face, personal relationships with decision-makers that are essential to educating.
I have personal relationships with people I’ve met through social media – people I’ve never met but who enrich my life enormously. In some cases, I’ve transitioned online friendships to real-life friendships. Yet it’s usually not possible to develop these online relationships with decision-makers. For a start, they tend not to spend as much time on Twitter as I do!
With MPs, the face-to-face contact, the reading of body language, and the ability to have a nuanced, sustained conversation, matters. It’s also a private conversation, so you can discuss touchy topics and be more open with each other. For folks who haven’t quite developed their social media ‘voice’ yet, it can also be a better way to convey authenticity and value.
So, this is the quick overview of the benefits and limitations of using social media to educate decision-makers and advocate for change. On Sept. 12, let’s discuss:
- T1 What are the benefits and limitations of using social media to educate decision-makers?
- T2 What examples have you seen of successful, or unsuccessful, social media education campaigns?
Now it’s your turn! Chime in with examples, suggestions and personal experiences.