Digital Advocacy: Getting Started
So you want to incorporate social media into your youth tobacco prevention efforts, but you don’t know where to start. What platform(s) should I use? How do I create effective content and manage it all? Keep reading, and we’ll give you some steps and resources to help you move closer to posting like a champ!
What is Digital Advocacy?
If you’ve been involved in [tobacco] prevention for any length of time, then digital advocacy is the same things you’ve always done to effect positive individual and environmental change, but using technology – and in this case, social media – to do it.
Why should *I* use social media?
Because of the convergence of the internet and mobile technology, it has never been easier or cheaper to reach people with messaging. As companies struggle to solve the riddle that is social media marketing, it is critical for those of us working in prevention and public health to use strategies and tactics that effectively cause people to change behaviors.
A recommended read is the book Contagious (Berger, 2013), which shares evidence-based strategies on how to create content that people talk about, share with others, and has the potential to go viral. Berger identifies six STEPPS that the more of these qualities your content possesses, the more viral potential it has:
- Social Currency – If sharing your content makes people “look good”, they’ll do it.
- Triggers – What everyday actions/behaviors are connected to your post?
- Emotion – Which emotions cause people to talk/share? Which do not?
- Public – The more people exposed to your message, the more likely it can spread.
- Practical Value – Is your content relevant and valuable?
- Stories – The power of storytelling…
What are some easy ways to create effective content?
One strategy we like to call “piggybacking”, which basically involves using popular users and/or hashtags, and leveraging their built-in audience to spread your message. Here’s an example:
In the above post, tobacco prevention messaging was “inserted” into the online conversation about National Pancake Day, and the opportunity to expose this kind of messaging to a non-traditional audience only required a little bit of creativity, some keystrokes, and zero money, though there is a time and a place for paying for “promoted” or “boosted” social media posts.
Another simple strategy is “Repost strong content.” Follow / Subscribe / Like users that create relevant, engaging content, then simply Share / Repost / Retweet! For example:
Just by promoting a video created by the Truth Campaign (@truthorange), this post received a large number of impressions, which increases its potential for engagement. By following users that create good content, it makes it even easier for you to consistently share content that will be interesting and useful to your audience because you don’t have to spend the time or talent to generate original content.
Already mentioned above, “storytelling” can be a powerful tool when your goal is to encourage people to stay tobacco-free or to quit. Say What! has created some youth testimonial videos that can be emotionally moving and provide the impetus for some people to consider quitting or to remain tobacco-free. Those videos can be found at our YouTube channel here.
When should I post? How often?
Some strategies recommend identifying your target audience and the times they most use social media. Other strategies suggest that unless your target audience is extremely defined and predictable, there is not such thing as an ideal time to post; therefore, post the same content at various times throughout the day.
Ultimately, one of the keys to effective social media management is consistency. You must regularly post relevant, engaging content; otherwise, your followers won’t take the time to view your content, or worse: They’ll leave. Depending on how many platforms you choose to use, you may want to consider using a social media management platform like Hootsuite, Buffer, or Everypost. Platforms like these allow you to pre-schedule content, so you can generate a bunch of posts once or twice a week and know that your channels will consistently push out content, and you can supplement pre-scheduled content with spontaneous posts you find appropriate at your discretion.
Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? All three?!?
What social media platform(s) to use is often a tough question, and the best way to answer it is: it depends on your audience.
If you’re trying to reach both youth and adults, Facebook can be useful, but the demographics generally skew towards young adults and older. Increasing numbers of youth are opting to never use Facebook, so you need to make sure the youth in your area are on it before you try to reach them there.
Instagram’s user demographic is a fairly broad mix of youth and adults, and Facebook has recently incorporated “Sponsored” (i.e. paid) Instagram posts into their marketing tools (more info here). Though many adults are (arguably) afraid of how some users may use the platform to share inappropriate content, Snapchat is heavily skewed towards youth users, and many companies and media sources are still trying to determine how to best use the platform to reach youth audiences.
What about Periscope and other new platforms? Whatever you choose to do, do it well. That means if you are a social media staff of one (YOU), and you’re adding this to your already long list of responsibilities, then start small and do it well. Once you get the hang of it, then you can consider broadening your spectrum.
Remember: It’s called social media, so have fun with it, and good luck as you aim to make the world safer from the harmful effects of tobacco use one person, one community at a time!