There’s More Than One Way to …

When I was younger I was involved in the mapping and ground verification of satellite images of a UNESCO biosphere reserve.  This allowed me at the tender ages of 16, 17 and 18 to see, first hand, the methods and reasoning of world-class scientists.  It was fascinating and offered me a glimpse into how two intelligent people can both be right while adamantly believing the other is wrong.

One hot summer day we were in a planning session, in a room cooled only by a small oscillating fan, and two of the scientists disagreed on a method.  One of them became rather upset over the disagreement and made an impassioned case for her preferred method, outlining the consequences of using the other proposed method.  At the end of her speech she stood up and left the room.  After an awkward silence the other scientist sighed and said, “Jane needs to realize there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

Horrified, I gasped and said, “why do we need to skin a cat?!  Why would anyone ever do that?!”  It was quickly explained that no cats would be skinned and that the phrase was an idiom that meant the problem had more than one acceptable solution.*

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Why What Doesn’t Work Matters: The Importance of Failure

In May, after what seemed like an eternity, I finished up my graduate work.  The university I attended was research-heavy and encouraged their graduate students to publish and conduct experimental research.  Over three years and seemingly endless lecture hours as professors urged us to publish, they repeated what seemed likea mantra: “you learn something from failure.”

Each time this was repeated I thought, “Yes, if you’re the first one to conduct research into a field or if you’re trying to replicate someone’s results for the first time, yes, you learn something from failure. But if you do all the necessary research your hypothesis and your results should align.”

Then I failed. Continue reading

Don’t Do What I Did: The Abbreviated Guide to Online Reputation Management

Since my post on transparency and authenticity for Mark Shaefer’s blog {grow} went up three months ago, I’ve received several emails from individuals who have either gone through what I did, or have had their reputations threatened with ruin.  Most of us have heard horror stories of a Google or Facebook search losing someone a prized position.  The bad guys out there know this, know that reputations and online identities are powerful and capitalize on that.

When I’m asked what advice I have to give, I usually begin the same way: Don’t do what I did.

I got scared, I felt alone, I felt a deep loss of identity and instead of standing my ground I hid.  This did the trick in the short-term, but in the long-term has caused significant problems.  I cannot be clearer on this: Do not do what I did.

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Why Vaccine Advocates Don’t Need Google to Police the Internet

On Monday, Slate ran an article from Future Tense by Evgeny Morozov called Warning: This Site Contains Conspiracy Theories – Anti-vaccine activists, 9/11 deniers and Google’s social search.  The article is based on a recent study in Vaccine that examined the strategies, tactics and content of several anti-vaccination websites.  I would highly recommend reading the study if you have an interest in online science-based communication.

The study’s author, Anna Kata of the department of anthropology at McMaster University, outlines how anti-vaccination websites increase their own relevancy in Google search results through a myriad of what is essentially SEO, one-way and three-way link exchanges.

While Kata briefly notes possible solutions to the SEO issue, Morozov goes a step further by recommending two possible solutions: 1. A browser extension that would ‘red flag’ websites that use anti-science keywords and 2. For Google to “exercise a heavier curatorial control in presenting search results.”

I take issue with both of these proposed solutions.  Before I go forward, in order to ward off starting any conspiracy theories of my own, I would like to state explicitly that to the best of my knowledge Google isn’t investigating or implementing either of the options suggested by Morozov. Continue reading

Why Digital Health Communication Campaigns Measure the Wrong Things

I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that social media marketers get a little defensive when asked to quantify the ROI on their campaigns.  Often because those at the helm feel social media is asked to defend its use, where traditional media is not, but more frequently the defensiveness comes from an inability to measure.

Those in the non-profit realm are faced with another layer of complexity on top of the ROI question: public health and social marketing campaigns are typically difficult to measure and assign a “dollars saved” amount to, especially for short campaigns.  Despite this, health communication and social marketing campaigns have a greater responsibility to measure our campaigns and we need to do so honestly, accurately and transparently.

I’ve recently been able to review a handful of health digital media campaigns and it shouldn’t be shocking that they were either measured using the wrong metrics or have been declared successes using the right measures, when they were anything but. Continue reading

7 Digital Media Resolutions (Minus the Buzz Words)

2012 has arrived and the internet has been inundated with social media marketing resolutions posts.*  After reading a handful, I feel like I’m suffering from a buzz word hangover.

I love my digital media colleagues, and sometimes we’re all guilty of throwing in one too many industry buzz words where just one would do. *Cough*Cough* influence, tribe, engagement, sentiment, optimization, monetization, synergy, innovative.

As a professional resolution for 2012 I have resolved to use fewer buzz words, and more plain language. With this in mind, as my first test, I’ve put together a few resolutions for those running digital public health and social marketing campaigns to consider this new year.

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How Social Media Is Turning Us All Into First Responders

I’m not a doctor or a grief counselor but social media has turned me into one and it is turning us all into first responders, for better or worse.

Last year a friend posted Facebook that she was going to take her daughter, who had a fever, to a minute clinic to get her annual flu shot.  Her reasoning seemed sound at first blush: She was tight on time and her daughter was already sick and already miserable, so why not bite the bullet and do it now?

Several friends had weighed in on her status empathizing with her predicament.  I jumped in an urged her to wait at least 48 hours after her daughter’s fever had broken to have her vaccinated, or at least take her daughter to a walk-in clinic that night where a physician would oversee the immunization.  After my comment, my friend called the on-call nurse who told her the same thing. Continue reading

How H1N1 Changed My Life

When I was in my mid-20s, like most, I went through a career shift.  I had moved to the States with my husband and found a job at a company I liked, but didn’t feel purposeful.  I was 27 and knew it was time to go back to school.

I started taking classes at a local in-state university and settled on communication.  I liked it well enough, I had been doing it for years and I told myself that I could work for a non-profit when I graduated and somehow change the world that way.

H1N1

At the same time the H1N1 pandemic flu outbreak began to garner attention on the news.  I paid little attention to it.  I had always gotten my flu shot, less out of a greater responsibility to prevent the spread of the flu, but because I didn’t want to get the flu myself.  At the time, I reasoned that I would get the H1N1 flu shot once it was opened up to those who weren’t in a priority group.  Until I could get the shot I reasoned that I wasn’t likely to get H1N1 and that it wouldn’t be severe if I got it.

Sound familiar, risk communicators?

Then I got it. Continue reading

How Do You Find Data On “the Others”?

What you are looking at above are 70 sugar cookies I decorated to look like social media buttons according to the most recent data from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.  The occasion was for the introductory session of a series of digital media “bootcamps” a coworker and I have launched our colleagues.  I thought cookies would be a great way to visualize the social space and put those at ease who were intimidated by digital media.

After all, who’s afraid of cookies?!

But then I noticed something we should all be afraid of: The 16 orange cookies marked “O” for “other.”*

Why The Others MatterI recently hosted a webinar on how public health professionals can – and need to – find out how their audiences are using digital media before beginning a campaign.  Knowing that my audience, like myself, works on social marketing and health communication campaigns with tight budgets, most of the data sources I recommended were free. I focused a fair amount on Pew’s Center for Internet and American Life, and the amazing research they publish on an almost weekly basis.Before I go any further, I would like to take a moment to give Pew and their researchers a round of applause.

But there’s a hitch with Pew, just as with almost all of the other white papers and journal articles I’ve read: Their social media research focuses primarily on the big four sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace).

I noted in my presentation that those may not be the best ways to reach your audience using social media, and that there are other platforms that may be more effective for reaching your target audience.  I recommended they look outside the beaten path for their audience online, but in terms of finding reliable and consistent data on the others, I couldn’t give them one.

Who are the others? BeboBlogHerCafeMomCouchSurfingDailyStrength,
DeliciousDiggFlickr,GatherGoogle+GowallaMeetUpMyYearbookNingPatientsLikeMe,
PinBoardReddit,SparkPeopleTumblrYelp and many, many more.

Those represent a lot of different ways to get public health messages in front of a variety of different audiences.

Self-Serving Data Sources

Two months ago I went off in search of data on a site that falls into the category of “the others.”  What I found were white papers and infographics from social media marketing agencies that contradicted each other.  In essence, I could have made the case for using or excluding the site in social media plans, and supported either conclusion with data that had been released in the last six months.

That’s a big problem.  In fact, it’s probably one of the biggest problems facing the industry right now.

Recently I was privy to a final report on a campaign that was not successful.  The few data sources that were cited, had been cherry picked.  But, without any other reliable source of data, pay or free, they had created a strategy and then back-filled the research to support it.  We can’t use the lack of consistent data on “the others” to support a strategy we simply like, not one that we know will be effective.

What Do We Do Now?

With PewNielsen and Forrester focusing primarily on the big four (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and MySpace) we’re left with a major information gap.  Where do we find information like this?  How do we sift through the existing research and consolidate resources?

I want to hear from you!  What research sources do you use to find data on “the others”?

*Full disclosure, 7 of the 16 “other” should be MySpace, however, the MySpace logo is highly difficult to carve out of rolled fondant at 10pm on a Wednesday.

References & Resources

Pew Internet & American Life Project, Social Networking Sites & Our Lives, June 16, 2011

We All Need To Calm Down About Klout

Yesterday was a perfect example of why you shouldn’t build your brand around a score you can’t manage and can be changed without notice.  I’m talking about Klout.

I’ve received emails over the past several months from individuals who include their Klout score in their signature.  Someone recently gave me a business card with their Klout score on it. After yesterday when Klout changed its algorithm, lowering scores by as much as 20 points, I wondered if he was going to print new business cards. Continue reading