Behavioral Economics helped a communications campaign—Lessons from the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project

HHS & ACF logosAs communicators, we know people don’t always make the choices we hope they will in spite of our most persuasive campaigns. Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF) wanted to see whether applying behavioral economics theories could help improve social service programs and policies. We, the Office of Child Support Enforcement, specifically want to understand how people’s behaviors and decision-making abilities affected their decisions in child support situations. In this specific study in Texas, could behavioral economics research help improve the number of applications an office would receive from their mailing campaign to get incarcerated parents to apply for child support order modifications? Based on the data, it worked!

Background

There are 1 million parents in federal, state, and local jails. Many have court orders requiring them to pay child support. Some state and local child support offices often try to get these parents to have their court-ordered child support payments changed for the time they are incarcerated so they don’t build up child support debts during their jail time.

Order modification is not an automatic process in most states; parents need to request a review when their economic status changes, such as when they are incarcerated. The majority of noncustodial parents do not request a modification so they leave prison owing thousands of dollars in back support.

The Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) Project Texas Study

The ACF Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation  wanted to understand two things: why these parents fail to respond to mail outs that explain how they can request modifications; and what kinds of small, inexpensive process changes could state and local agencies make that would influence more parents to complete a modification packet.

The ACF research team studied the process the Texas Attorney General’s (AG) Office used to see if changes based on behavioral economics research could increase request rates.

The Standard Process

The AG’s office would send parents letters that told them they had the option to apply for a modification, gave them instructions on how to start the process, and included a form for the parent to fill out. Less than 30 percent responded to this outreach in spite of its benefits. The BIAS team looked for bottlenecks in the process and tried to figure out what behaviors motivated the parents to ignore the opportunity.

The Barriers

INCARCERATED_Initial_Inverse_Postcard

Back side of teaser postcard

The BIAS team saw some potential behavioral bottlenecks in the modification application process. When inmates received envelopes with the Texas Attorney General’s return address, they may have thrown them away without even determining what was inside. For others, the form letter was not written in plain language so it may have been difficult for inmates with limited educations to understand. Still for others, the form may have been daunting. It had too many blocks to fill out and the inmates often did not have important information such as their child support case number or the custodial parent’s address. Another significant barrier was likely meeting with the prison’s law librarian to get the paperwork verified and notarized. It sometimes turned into multiple visits to ensure the paperwork was accurate and complete.

The Solutions Tested

Front side of teaser postcard.

Front side of teaser postcard.

Staff members sent a teaser postcard before the letter was mailed. The AG’s office removed its office designation from the envelopes to make them less intimidating. The staff made the form letter more readable and then printed it on colored paper to make it stand out. They included a short, four-step checklist for the parents to follow. Staff members pre-populated a section of the application so the inmate wouldn’t have to try to find the data. Finally, the office sent a reminder postcard a few weeks after the letter was delivered for those who hadn’t returned the application.

Results

The entire effort added less than $2 per inmate for printing the postcards, purchasing the postage, and pre-populating the applications. The results were much more significant. The response rate rose from 28 percent to 39 percent!

Next Steps

Here at the Office of Child Support Enforcement, we’re excited to continue our studies in communications and behavioral economics. ACF awarded a new grant awarded October 1 called Behavioral Interventions for Child Support Services. Five state-run child support agencies and the District of Columbia will receive portions of the nearly $4 million grant to continue to test strategies that might improve outcomes in broader child support situations.

More Information

If you would like to find out more about behavioral economics and how ACF applied the theories in this BIAS study, the information is on this webpage, Taking the First Step: Using Behavioral Economics to Help Incarcerated Parents Apply for Child Support Order Modifications.

Members of the BIAS study team also spoke at a panel discussion at a Welfare and Evaluation Research Conference recently. The video is on YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRy8gxI5Mdo&list=TLQzSJxueVr71qyTz3cs5IdS5z-WQnaCxt

 

Danek_Kim_6X5-5Kim Danek, a 2013 JHU MA Communication alumna, is a Writer/Editor at the Office of Child Support Enforcement in the Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services. She is also a retired Army public affairs sergeant major. You can find Kim on Twitter at @KimDanek or LinkedIn, Kim Danek. Her email address is kim.danek@acf.hhs.gov.

2 Comments

Filed under Communication Campaign, Government

Growing the Guard: A Campaign from the Defense Policy Front Lines

By WILL MARTIN

In early 2011, Operation Iraq Freedom became Operation New Dawn, marking the close of U.S. combat operations in Iraq. Later that year, President Obama began speaking less about “surge” and more about “drawdown” when addressing the U.S. role in Afghanistan. The message was clear: After more than 10 years, the American people had tired of war, and the White House began responding with a move toward ending those conflicts.

Photo courtesy of the California Military Department

Photo courtesy of the California Military Department

The Problem with Peace

Ironically, the looming peace posed a problem for me as a communication professional. As a public affairs officer at the California Military Department (state headquarters for the 22,000 soldiers and airmen of the California National Guard), I had centered the majority of my messaging on the contributions of National Guardsmen to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In California alone, guardsmen have deployed more than 41,000 times since the 9/11 attacks, more than any other state. At present, more than half the nation’s National Guardsmen are combat veterans. If my goal was to stoke some patriotic fire in the hearts of target audiences and stakeholders, those numbers made for some pretty good kindling.

But as the wars waned in 2012, my public affairs colleagues and I were tasked with keeping the California Guard viable. And, as usual, it came down to politics and money. When our young men and women are knee-deep in combat, arguing for tax dollars is a pretty easy sell. But when the purse strings are tight and the wars are fading from the public mind, it takes more than a patriotic stump speech on Veterans Day to convince Joe Congressman to dip into the public coffers.

Direct Message, Influential Audience

So how did we decide to sell the Guard? How could we ensure that our soldiers and airmen wouldn’t be relegated to a “weekend warrior” status as they had in decades past?

First, we chose to target the policymakers, not the public. Because California is home to a constant barrage of natural and man-made emergencies, the National Guard typically stays near the forefront of residents’ minds. Between massive wildfires, earthquakes and mountaintop rescues, the California National Guard responds to an emergency incident on average once every three days. Just rescuing our neighbors is often the best PR.

But we also needed to win over the men and women who pay our bills. So we chose to target websites and publications they and their staffers read – most notably the “The Hill” and its “Congress Blog” in Washington, D.C. – and we chose a message that resonated with our tough fiscal times: Namely, the National Guard is the nation’s most cost-effective military force. Put in cyber speak, we argued it was time to #GrowTheGuard.

That central message – grow the Guard – was supported by two main talking points: First, a guardsman is cheap, costing taxpayers about one-third that of his active duty counterpart throughout his career; and, second, guardsmen not only fight wars, but are the only U.S. service members that also respond to domestic emergencies and unrest. In other words, the taxpayer gets the most bang for their buck with the National Guard.

The plan and execution have been both simple and organic. By keeping a finger on the pulse of defense-spending debates, we provided timely and quality op-eds to policymaker and defense publications, with a prominent general’s name attached for effect.

Stirring Things Up

While its difficult to precisely measure the campaign, as it has been relatively fluid, the fact that it has raised the ire and gained public responses from active duty leaders is testimony enough that it’s been well-played, effective and, at a minimum, gained us a seat at the table when important conversations occur.

In the end, though, our campaign has been rooted in a timely and direct message with an influential audience in mind. Really, it’s hard to imagine an industry or campaign where those principles wouldn’t apply.

Will Martin is deputy director of public affairs for the California Military Department. A former McClatchy Newspapers reporter and editor on the East Coast, he now calls Sacramento and the military his full-time home. He began graduate studies in communication through Johns Hopkins University this year. You can find him on Twitter at @wmartin89 or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/pub/will-martin/17/558/240/.

2 Comments

Filed under Communication Campaign, Government, Military

Measuring Success, Not Just Numbers

                                                                                              blogpic2By Zack Langway

“Was it a good ROI?”

“What was our reach?”

“But did it go viral?”

If you’ve ever run a digital campaign, you’ve surely encountered these three questions in one shape or another. Digital campaigners are a data-obsessed group, and often focused like a laser on numbers, numbers, numbers. Numbers are important. And quantifying results is valuable. But being “data-driven” does not absolutely mean focusing only on what we can quantify with our nifty trackers, dashboards, and monitoring tools. Digital communicators of the world – let’s get beyond numbers!

Start with the end in mind

You’ll want a clear roadmap before you embark on any digital campaign. What does success look like for you? And more importantly, why are you defining success in this way? Set your key performance indicators (KPIs) based on these questions, and think of both numerical and non-numerical KPIs. When you start with the end in mind, you can set up the right tracking mechanisms from the get-go, and be ready to set and manage expectations throughout your campaign.

Manage expectations

“The best laid schemes of mice and men…” Am I right? Have you ever had a campaign go exactly as planned at its outset? When setting up your digital campaign, it’s important to manage expectations of your team or client. This starts with the very first campaign kick-off meeting: spell out what success looks like, but also the conditions and inputs required to reach that vision of success.

What might derail this campaign? What might prevent success? What are the potential stumbling blocks you can identify up front? When launching a campaign, clarity breeds accountability, and spelling out what can be expected from a campaign – as well as what is needed from team members and clients to meet those expectations – is an essential step.

Give numbers context

“We had 250 million impressions with more than 65 million timeline deliveries!” Hooray! I think… Right?

In our attempts to show success and wow our colleagues, supervisors, and clients, we sometimes forget that numbers alone don’t change the world. Numbers need context, especially big ones. Instead of saying, “We had 250 million impressions,” contextualize the number in terms of your KPIs: “We generated 500% of our target social impressions.” Instead of saying, “We added 400 new emails,” perhaps try, “We’ve increased our subscriber list by 2%.” Big numbers can impress on a surface level, but the context is usually what demonstrates the actual value of your work.

Capture non-numerical success indicators

Ok, still with me? Now that we’ve started to break down this notion that big numbers are what you need to succeed, let’s look at some ways we might ignore numbers altogether in communicating the success of our digital campaigns.

  • Were any errors reported by recipients?
  • Did messaging reflect organizational values?
  • Did the campaign generate an earned media coverage?

Answering these questions (or other non-numerical questions about your campaign) can help you see success as something beyond just a series of numerical data points in a KPI tracker.

Do a 360-degree review

 You’re done. The campaign’s a wrap, and you’re ready to pack it in and move on to the next exciting Twitter chat, digital partnership, or online advocacy initiative. You’ve analyzed your KPIs and asked your non-numerical questions. So what’s next?

  • Debrief participants. Talk to your internal team members, institutional stakeholders, peers, and external partners. Discuss the campaign, and gather intelligence from others’ perspectives on what went well, what could have gone better, and if others see the campaign as a success.
  • Document lesson learned. Especially when we’re in “campaign mode,” it’s easy to flip from one campaign to the next. Take a moment, document the outcomes and learnings, and use this to build an even better campaign next time.
  • Be honest. Sometimes it feels necessary to make things seem a little rosier to placate a funder, a client, or a stakeholder. But over-polishing will hurt you in the long run. Honest deconstruction of a campaign can help clients or funders see what additional resources might be needed, and it can help you and your teammates identify procedural or programmatic weaknesses in your campaign. In short, honesty helps you improve, gloss helps you ignore.

Zack Langway is a digital strategist and experienced nonprofit consultant currently serving as Vice President for Digital at Fenton.  He has provided strategic guidance on establishing and growing digital and social presence to a number of national social good institutions, including Teach for America, the United Nations Foundation, and Johnson & Johnson’s global health initiatives.

Previously, Zack has served as director of digital strategy for the Center for Community Change.  In this role, Zack led online organizing and campaigns to build power and dignity for low-income communities of color, fighting for immigrant rights, retirement security, and economic justice.  This work has led to a 20x increase of digital supporters of CCC’s Fair Immigration Reform Movement and the defeat of Minnesota’s proposed voter restriction ballot initiative, among other wins.

Zack received his A.B. Political Science from Brown University in 2009, and an M.A. in Communications from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. He currently serves on the Brown University Alumni Board of Governors, and lives in Washington, DC with his wonderful husband, Matt.

You can tweet Zack at Tweet @ZackFromDC to weigh in!

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Creativity in Communication

By Kara Jensen

You are looking at a product of human creativity. That computer, the one you’re using right now, is one of the most recent pieces of creative innovation. We need creativity to both survive and progress in this world, so it is no surprise to find creativity in communication. When we communicate, we create, and if we can create the right message, we will reach larger audiences.

Working in communications means solving problems that don’t even exist yet. Professionals must think in new and unique ways—both of which require creativity. In the past, many have associated creativity with being “right-brained,” since this hemisphere is responsible for generating divergent thought. However, recent research has found that people use both hemispheres when thinking creatively: the right generates the “out of box” ideas, and the left analyzes and evaluates those ideas. With this circular pattern, new and exciting ideas are formed, many of which turn into tangible products—like your computer.

Creativity graphic

Cultivating creativity at home and in the workplace starts with a passion to persuade or reinforce an existing message. Follow these steps to get your creative juices flowing, and remember, once you start, the stream only gets stronger.

  1. Inspiration includes everything: if you find yourself stuck, get some new ingredients. Go to a new restaurant, listen to different types of music, or read a text you wouldn’t normally pick up. The more options you have in your recipe book, the more possibilities you have, so try something outside your comfort zone. You might be surprised; inspiration can come from anything.
  2. New experiences = new perspectives: when we meet new people or travel to new places, we build new connections in our brains. These connections can be important when creating unique messages. Reaching one’s audience starts with understanding the people within the selected group, so developing new relationships can give you a new lens and a significant advantage.
  3. Record, record, record: you never know when that creative spark will come, so keep a way to record these new ideas nearby. With today’s technological advances, this can be as simple as viewing an item you already have differently: now your cell phone is no longer just a phone; it’s your journal, your record-keeper, and a place to keep those hidden gems, so you never lose them.
  4. Be conscious of your environment: if you have a certain spot in your home where you tend to work, start there. But, if you find yourself sinking, all you have to do is swim to another island. This can be as simple as taking a walk outside, or as drastic as changing a wall color. The trick is to be conscious of what’s around you. If it’s not working, don’t force it. There will always be another island in the distance.
  5. Create with the door closed, edit with it open: a large part of developing something new is collaboration. People who take time to incorporate constructive criticism are usually more successful. So set your ego aside, because more heads are better than one when it comes to the editing process. Choose a small group of people you trust, and remember, you’re the one that ultimately decides, so all ideas are good ideas.
  6. Time to reflect: self reflection helps ground your thinking. Take time to keep a record of your developments over time, so that you can see your progress and your weaknesses. Working on your weaknesses starts with identification, so those who know where to improve tend to do better. Reflection is also a time to pat yourself on the back. Creating isn’t easy, so it’s important to recognize your talents because you have many.
  7. Inviting extreme ideas: the very essence of creativity is doing something new. Sometimes this pushes us outside the social standard of “normal.” Embrace these moments as reflections of your individuality, but keep your intended audience in mind. The trick is to find ways to intrigue your audience without pissing them off. After careful research, go for it, because many risks are rewarded.
  8. Set time limits: when developing something new, the editing process could take longer than the process of creation itself. Setting realistic time limits will ensure that your hard work will pay off. Use your knowledge of past projects to sketch out a rough schedule. Do your best to keep to your schedule, but also realize it may change along the way. Fuzzy boundaries can help during the creation process, but deadlines should stay. Set your individual deadline a few days early to ensure your best work.
  9. Focus on passion, not money: if your incentive is purely monetary, you’re doing yourself an injustice. Creating is difficult, so you need the passion to pursue your effort. If money is all you’re after, you won’t take the risks needed to really make an impact. While working, keep this in mind: make money to live; don’t live to make money. We are liable to miss the best in life if we don’t know how to live. A creative life is a happy one, so kick back and enjoy the ride.

 Let’s hear from you. What advice do you have to feed the creative spirit in communication? Do you agree that we should make money to live, not live to make money? What do you think of the woman artist in our graphic? Is she a stereotype or would Maya Angelou wonder why her quote is used in this mash-up?

Kara pic

Kara Jensen teaches remedial English and reading courses at Georgia Military College in Warner Robins, Georgia. In 2009, she earned her bachelor’s degrees, a B.A. in English and a B.S.Ed. in English Education. In 2010, she graduated with her M.Ed. in secondary English Education. Kara is currently working on a M.A. in Communications through Johns Hopkins University. In 2013, Kara Jensen won Georgia Military College’s Educator of the Year Award. On her days off, she enjoys walking her chocolate Labrador, Summerbun, reading, writing, and traveling. You can contact Kara at kjense11@jhu.edu or view her LinkedIn page.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Communication Consulting: Is This the Right Career For You?

By: Robin Walden

As a little girl, I never dreamed of becoming a consultant. A teacher, lawyer or doctor – yes. But a consultant was certainly not on the career list. And yet, 20 years later, I can’t imagine a more exciting career choice. What other career allows you to move between industries, interact with countless personalities, and help all types of organizations improve their effectiveness at communicating with internal and external audiences? o-nas

Consulting in the field of strategic communications is a rewarding career, but is not always easy. Here are a few best practices and challenges when considering whether consulting is the optimal career path for you.

Consulting comes in all shapes and sizes

Consulting can take many forms – working for the big consulting players, partnering with a boutique firm, or venturing out on your own. Having worked in different consulting environments, I have found that each option has advantages and disadvantages:

  • Large consulting firms provide exceptional resources and training and can teach the fundamentals of consulting. But junior consultants often have less opportunity to interact with clients, and may get relegated to more tactical work. And as consultants gain seniority, there may be less focus on training and reduced commitment to personal development.
  • Boutique firms provide more hands-on experience and client interaction. And you can find a firm that specializes in niche areas that excite you. Smaller firms often afford more hands-on experience and project accountability. But smaller firms may lack stability or a strong infrastructure to support consultants on a day-to-day basis and may lack a structured career path.
  • Independent consulting provides the most freedom and allows you to pursue exciting business opportunities and set your own hours and travel. But it also is less stable, and projects may either be too plentiful at times or lacking. A key to independent consulting is to secure a strong and reliable network. Elance is a great tool to search for experienced resources to utilize when certain skillsets are needed for an engagement.

Consulting is a lifestyle, not a job

Consulting is not a 9-5 job and requires a person to be highly adaptable. Nights, weekends, and interrupted vacations are not unusual and a consultant is expected to always be available to meet client needs. A consultant needs to be flexible about skills, time, travel, and work style.

Speed is also of the essence and consultants are expected to quickly ramp up on projects and do whatever it takes to get work completed on time and on budget. Clients can often be demanding and are not always receptive to partnering with consultants. Therefore, a consultant must have exceptional people skills and be well versed at partnering with a broad range of personalities to achieve mutual success.

Detective work is a key to success

Consultants work across industries and must be well versed on the challenges and opportunities of their clients. Fortunately, with research and competitive information available online, this information is readily available. Consulting involves a lot of behind-the-scenes research to uncover the following:

  • About the industry: What are challenges within the industry? Who are the key players? Where is this industry heading?
  • About your client: What is their history? What is their vision? What are their core competencies? How do they differentiate themselves in the marketplace?
  • About the situation: What are their most pressing business issues? How can communications support achievement of their business goals? How can they measure whether communications are achieving the desired result?

Mark Haas has published over 800 daily tips for consultants on an Institute for Management Consultant blog. Tip #703 says that consultants can take a few tips from Sherlock Holmes to do detective work to figure out the root of the problem, what caused the failure, and how to fix it. If you are the type of individual who likes problem solving, consulting can be an ideal career path.

There is no such thing as a small project, only a small result

Communication consulting is not always glamorous. Projects can range from creation of marketing collateral to crafting complex communication strategies. No matter how tactical the project, it is critical to add strategic value – whether refining the messaging, proposing alternative channels to better reach audiences, or crafting a measurement plan to monitor success. Clients may not initially understand the value that strategic communications can play in achieving business success.

In my experience, small projects have often led to multi-year engagements. It is critical to get your foot in the door, demonstrate your value, and invariably more projects will follow. A pro bono project or non-profit assistance can be a great way to showcase your expertise, network with potential clients, and generate new business opportunities.


Consulting is not for everyone. But, if you are ambitious, a self-starter, a people person, and adventurous – consulting can be a fantastic career.

Let’s hear from you. For those of you with consulting experience, what have you found to be the biggest challenges? For those of you considering this career path, what advice can help you get started in this exciting career?

WaldenRobin Walden has been a Management Consultant since 1993. She started her career at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), spent many years in a boutique consulting firm in NYC, and now enjoys the flexibility and challenges of independent consulting in the healthcare arena in Connecticut. She is happy to address questions about this field and can be reached at robwalden@cox.net or on LinkedIn.

4 Comments

Filed under Consulting

Awareness, Action, and the ALS Philanthromeme by Zack Langway

langway-2      If you haven’t heard of it yet, you’re about to.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is taking the Internet by storm – the latest in a series of viral efforts to raise awareness (and money) for important causes, like ALS. The challenge was started by Pete Frates, a 29-year-old Massachusetts man who has lived with ALS since 2012. A former Boston College baseball player, Pete Frates devotes his time to spread awareness of what is often known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

And although some have shunned the philanthromeme as simply a way to prank your friends (a la “bros icing bros”), I think this is truly something more. Something that we should embrace, and that ought to proudly own its spot at the intersection of comedy and advocacy.

Yes, the Ice Bucket Challenge has a certain “je ne sais frat” quality to it, but how many times I had thought of ALS this month before the meme? How many times this year?

The philanthromeme has value – the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised more than $41.8 million for an organization whose entire online giving netted just around $2.1 million in the same time frame last year. And it got me to engage my husband, sister, aunt, and several friends in a way that made them think, act, and share. Want another example? Check out the success of #GivingTuesday in turning the year-end cultural phenomenon of spending and giving into a philanthropic moment.

A meme doesn’t convey the suffering of a person with ALS*, or of families who have watched a loved one go through the disease. And all the meme-ing in the world won’t prevent or turn back ALS.

But if it gets enough of us talking, donating, caring beyond the meme itself, if it gets a topic like ALS into the public consciousness just long enough to do even a modicum of good – then I say bring on the ice water.

And YOU can make sure this philanthromeme keeps “philanthro” at its core.

What do you think? Have you seen other good philanthromemes? Tweet @ZackFromDC to weigh in!

NOTE ON OUR BLOGGER: Zack Langway is a 2013 graduate of our M.A. in Communication program who currently works as Vice President for Digital at Fenton. He has provided strategic guidance on establishing and growing digital and social presence to a number of national social good institutions, including Teach for America, the United Nations Foundation, and Johnson & Johnson’s global health initiatives.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Is Social Media the Way to Reach the Teenage Patient? by Elizabeth Smith

In an exam room sits a quiet 15-year-old female, furiously texting on her iPhone, awaiting her annual sports physical. Her mom is patiently sitting in the waiting room to give her daughter some privacy. The doctor steps in, completes the physical, and asks if there is anything the teen wants to talk about. The girl shakes her head “no,” and they say goodbye as she heads back to meet her mom.

Image

            From the outside, this scene might look like a wasted opportunity for the physician to have a confidential discussion about sensitive health topics with her shy patient. But this teen didn’t walk away empty handed. Before the physician walked through the exam room door, the teen had taken a photo of the whiteboard with a link to a blog titled “Am I ready for Sex?” and a Twitter handle to follow–all posted by the physician earlier that day.

            Communicating health messages with the teenage population has always been a struggle for adolescent healthcare providers. In my personal experience, attempts to get the majority of teens to engage in conversations about their health during a 15-minute visit quickly leads to deadpan silence. With most providers at least a decade older than their patients, it becomes imperative to adopt communication strategies that are relevant to teens, but many healthcare providers are still resistant to join the digital world. According to recent data, physicians are engaging in social media for personal reasons, but don’t use it professionally.

Will teens participate in the conversation online?

            Since there’s no doubt teens are spending significant time on social media, this big question remains: should adolescent health care practitioners invest their time in trying to connect with their younger patients via social media? Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin- Madison found that teens were receptive and enthusiastic about having more ways to receive sexual health information digitally from trusted medical sources. Teen participants in the study indicated that information provided in a true interactive format would be more beneficial than traditional websites that read like textbooks.

Social media offers the clinician the opportunity to listen to questions and to discover trends in teen health that might not make it to the office. Online platforms allow teen patients to ask anonymous questions in a non-threatening format. Allowing for patient questions and answers are a way to supplement conversations in the examination rooms. Bridget Garmisa, a Philadelphia based pediatric/ adolescent Nurse Practitioner agrees that the inclusion of social media can be an important adjunct to traditional patient care. “It won’t replace the conversations that you need to have with your patients, but giving advice and reputable information online is perfect for the patients who want more information on their own time.”

Strategize Specifically

As in any social media strategy, effective communication should be adapted to patient demographics. Psychologist Lucy Wimpenny, PhD, finds that “teens are looking for information from people they trust, but it has to relate to their immediate and specific needs.” She points out that a 14-year-old urban teen might have entirely different information needs from a suburban minority teen. Listening to conversations within the specific patient population will help you identify the appropriate topics and social media channels that optimize reach to this target audience.  

Be Social…Safely

            Although online communication may be the smart and convenient way to reach patients, practitioners still need to practice ethically and responsibly. Protecting patient confidentiality is still a number one priority for all clinicians engaging in social media. HIPPA guidelines indicate that digital communication falls under the same standards for protecting patient privacy. Adopt a practice of never discussing any specific patient cases as examples in your online conversations, and don’t accept personal “friend” requests from patients.

It’s time for healthcare professionals to move towards a safe, strategic, and social health dialogue.

Image

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized