Health With a Capital H

More Health Marketing Guidance from Political Campaigns

August 12, 2009

By Kim Callinan, Senior Vice President of Communications and Social Marketing

photo of Kim Callinan, Senior Vice President of Communications and Social Market

Another fruitful day at the CDC Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media with terrific insights and lessons learned. One thing that rings true for me in my own work and was abundantly clear throughout the conference is that we are all trying to figure out what social media means for the profession. No question it's emerging. The question is in what direction is it going?

This is another place where social marketers and Health communications professionals can look at political campaigns for guidance. During the 2008 presidential campaign, we witnessed-and many even participated in-the power of social media. President Obama raised a record half billion dollars online during his campaign and more than two million people created online profiles on Many, if not most, political pundits have cited his use of social media as one of the primary reasons he won the election. In particular, the campaign was effective at turning campaign supporters into ambassadors who represented the campaign to "swing voters."

This is a strategy that offers huge opportunity for Health communications efforts.

I can remember as an eight-year-old child convincing my grandparents who had both smoked for 20 years to quit smoking. It was on a car trip to Florida that I finally sealed the deal: I crawled under my grandmother's stall in a bathroom at a rest stop. She was sneaking a cigarette because she didn't want to listen to any more lectures or see any more tears from me. (I assume the tears were the more powerful persuader, but I didn't know enough to ask at eight.) She put the cigarette out and said, "I give up. You win." And that was the last cigarette she ever smoked. I was the right messenger-perhaps the only messenger-who could be so persuasive without turning her off. Social media offers the power to create ambassadors who can engage in one-on-one conversations in ways that television, radio, and print could not possibly replicate. It offers huge potential for public Health campaigns.

While social media is evolving and changing, it's often hard for Health communications specialists to know which trends will last and which will pass. We should keep an eye on political campaigns to evaluate the effectiveness of potential strategies. Campaigns are governed by far fewer privacy restrictions and regulations than government efforts and are able to adapt quicker. This offers us the opportunity to observe which trends stick and which don't. Of course, most of us will then need to figure out how to apply these strategies in the much more tightly controlled world of government regulations that we operate in. But that's a blog for another day!

If you are interested in reading more lessons learned from political campaigns that can be applied to public Health campaigns, please check out my post from earlier today. I'm enjoying blogging about this topic, so more to come.