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How do you turn passive audiences into active advocates?

September 8, 2013

On September 11 at 1 pm Eastern Time, Beverly Herscovitch from the Alzheimer Society of Toronto will host #hcsmca. She wrote this blog post to set the stage.

By Beverly Herscovitch (@bhersc)

Beverley HerscovitchHow do you achieve awareness, or even engagement, with communities who aren’t directly affected by your cause?
What does awareness even mean? And what type of action should the awareness translate into?

At the Alzheimer Society of Toronto, we’ve come to see awareness, at its most basic level, means increased knowledge. Increased knowledge leads to better understanding, which means fewer misconceptions, less discrimination and less stigma in our community. When people better understand the experiences of those living with serious illness, we can create a more empathetic society. Awareness can lead to more tangible actions, like volunteering, donating, actively educating others or even modifying their behaviours to respect the needs of people living with these illnesses.

Social media is a great tool to use to get healthy people discussing diseases that might not directly affect them. At the Alzheimer Society of Toronto, we are always grappling with the question of how to increase Alzheimer’s awareness among a younger demographic, a disease that is typically associated with old age.

Group photo of advocates for Alzheimer'sWe definitely know it’s doable. At the Alzheimer Society of Toronto, we’ve seen plenty of examples where third-party individuals (people not directly affiliated with the organization) have certainly taken an active role in raising Alzheimer’s awareness in our community.

Several years ago, a group of young professionals began an initiative to educate the public about early onset dementia. These young adults created a fundraising event, Memory Ball, to raise money for the Alzheimer Society of Toronto. This past year marked its second year fundraising, and has already become one of our largest third-party fundraisers, helping to support the growing community of 42,000 people living with dementia in Toronto. Besides fundraising, these young adults also use social media daily as a way work to educate their peers about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Through making connections online, they are able to inspire other people to become passionate about an illness that actually indirectly affects everyone in our community.

More recently, a small group of students at the University of Toronto established the university’s first club based solely on Alzheimer’s advocacy. Students Against Alzheimer (SAAUT) will work to raise public awareness for Alzheimer’s disease, and create a web of closely connected and highly devoted volunteers. We’re excited to see how they use social media to connect with their fellow students at U of T, a school that boasts over 80.000 students.

Keeping these ideas in mind, on September 11th, I’d like the #hcsmca community to help me answer these questions:

  • 1) How can social media help get healthy people interested in an illness that doesn’t directly affect them (yet)?
  • 1b) For example, getting youth interested in illnesses typically associated with old age? (Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons, etc)
  • 2) Social media can help raise awareness (of disease risk factors, health behaviours, etc.) How do you translate awareness into action?
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