The Three Es of E-Advocacy

Friday, December 16, 2011

As the year comes to a close, here at the Partnership, we’re already looking to 2012, and planning our communications and advocacy activities.  As I’m trying to chart out the year ahead, I find myself reflecting upon our communication and advocacy efforts this past year.  What are my lessons learned? What advice would I give to others?  I then think back to the social media panel I participated in at NACHC’s Financial, Operations, Management, and Information Technology Conference in November.   A few weeks ago, I gave a recap on the panel, and summarized the great advice my fellow community health center advocates shared for successful social media campaigns.  I’m taking all of their suggestions to heart, as one of my resolutions is to be more active with my “e-advocacy.”

When I joined Community Health Partnership last year, I did a lot of thinking about my new responsibility as the Health Policy Specialist for our organization.  Walking in, I inherited a department that hadn’t been staffed in awhile, a Facebook account with sporadic posts and a mysterious Twitter account with 2 tweets and 3 followers.  While it felt exciting to start anew, I wanted to be thoughtful in my approach.  Does it make sense for a health center consortium organization to be on social media? 

I talked this issue through with my CEO and colleagues, and came to the following conclusion.  Considering that advocacy is a cornerstone of Community Health Partnership’s mission, and that communication is a vital component of advocacy, it’s important to have a presence where people communicate and share information…on social media. 

Communicate and share information…with whom?  “Who is your audience?” I could hear one of my Communication Studies professors say.  My co-panelist, Micah Clemens Assistant Director of Communications at NACHC pointed out that there are now approximately 800 million people on Facebook, and half of them log in every day.  There are 175 million accounts on Twitter.  I would venture to guess that at least a handful of those folks (maybe people you know?) are people who care about access to affordable health care.  Perhaps another handful work or have worked at a free clinic or community health center.  And maybe, just maybe, those two handfuls have other handfuls of friends who are willing to listen.  Your communication, your message on social media has the potential to spread and grow in scale. 

But when you’re starting out, “who is your audience”?  My other co-panelist Aldon Hynes, Social Media Manager for Community Health Center, Inc. in Connecticut would answer: “anyone who will read, listen, and share your message.”  It’s as simple as that.  There are a few guidelines in starting out and crafting your messages, of course.  However, I think it’s important not to get too hung up on this matter.  In this political climate, anyone willing to read, listen, and share a message is an audience member I will gladly welcome!  The more folks are educated about health access issues and community health centers, the more likely they are to take action. 

So, what are my lessons learned?  What advice would I give to others?  Well, I would take a cue from my colleague Pedro Toledo, Director of Community and Government Affairs at Redwood Community Health Coalition and offer that it’s important to have a good social media policy in place for yourself and staff.  Having agreed upon boundaries is important when dealing with such a dynamic communication tool.  Think of it as like establishing “ground rules” at the beginning of a retreat or meeting.  NACHC has a great template online and the Mayo Clinic has an incredibly helpful website devoted to social media in health care settings.

I’ve also learned that our most effective messages have incorporated the “3 Es of E-Advocacy.”  The three Es are: education, empowerment, and engagement.  It’s not always possible to include all three Es in every message, but I find our messages on Facebook and Twitter are shared and “liked” more often when I think about the 3Es.  With each post, I try to consider: how does this update educate our audience about the Partnership’s advocacy issues?  Does this message empower folks to act?  Is this piece of communication engaging, inviting community response? 

It’s difficult to be perfect 100% of the time with one’s communication efforts, but I would like to believe that it’s more important to be present and out there with your message than remaining silent.  The work that we do as health advocates is too important.

What are your tips for “e-advocacy”?  Please feel free to share…I would love to hear from you!