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

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

Should Minors Have Different Facebook Privacy Settings?

A few weeks ago I noticed that the Facebook status updates of a teenage relative were tagged with her approximate location.

FBMinorUpdate

Before I go on, I should disclose that my teenage relatives rarely listen to me when it comes to Facebook.  I’ve accepted that they’re still going to post /those/ photos, use /that/ language and write about /that thing that happened last night.

There are few issues I bring to their attention, but this one struck a nerve: Facebook was posting the location of a 17-year-old girl when she updated her status.  This somehow wasn’t right.

I noticed she was online and started chatting with her:

“Hey, you should disable the geotagging feature on your Facebook status updates.  Everyone can see where you are when you update.”

“Yeah, I’ve tried to take it off, but I can’t.” Continue reading

Is It Ever OK to Lie to Your Audience?

Lying to, or misleading your audience in a health communication or social marketing campaign is just plain wrong.

Not lying to your public shouldn’t be a controversial opinion, but every once in a while I run into a public health professional that thinks lying or obfuscating the truth is justifiable so long as it leads to the desired action.

Exaggerating or fudging statistics may help you with adherence to your desired health behavior right now, but when your public finds out that you’ve lied to them, they are more likely to reject the behavior going forward.

My Dermatologist Lied to Me (and other betrayals): Continue reading