If Social Media Can Create Organ Donors, It Can Work for You Too

By Lisa Kersey (@lkersey1)

February 14th evokes a variety of responses. For some, it’s a day they’d rather forget, while for others, it means being in the doghouse if they do forget. But for the 117,032 people awaiting an organ, February 14th is National Donor Day.

Consider these statistics from The National Network of Organ Donors:

And according to Virginia-based LifeNet, a national organ procurement organization, if everyone who could donate an organ did, there would be no waiting list. So, how do we get there?

In a word, millennials.

I’m not suggesting that they are the only eligible donors; rather, they are the perfect audience to jump-start the effort. While most hospital marketers are focused on targeting women, boomers or financial donors –all of which are legitimate targets –many hospitals, and particularly those with transplant programs, are missing a key audience – millennials! They’re socially-conscious activists and highly engaged in social networks. From an organ donation standpoint, they could raise awareness, facilitate new registrants and provide additional “documentation” among friends and family with regard to their wishes, potentially minimizing some of the historical barriers to actual organ donation.

Mark Zuckerberg must agree with me. Last spring, Facebook added an organ donor option to the Facebook timeline. Though more than 100,000 Facebookers signed up to be organ donors within the first few days, the surge dissipated.  Why?

Short attention spans, for one. Organ donation, like most things in health care, is not top of mind for most people, nor is it something they really want to think about. They need a reason. As Brian Solis told Forbes, “Effective social activism must connect online engagement with offline action.” Registering as an organ donor lends itself well to integrating these two things. Solis went on to say that where most brands or campaigns fall short is the follow-up plan after the initial communication to educate and influence. Without it, he says, people are simply “participating as personal avatars without any actual involvement.”

So what can hospitals and other organizations do to avoid using social media simply to create avatars?

  1. Start with a strategy. I know what you’re thinking – “duh.” But it happens all the time. A surefire way to waste your limited marketing dollars is to start with tactics. I don’t care how shiny the penny, or how impassioned the request –if you want results, start by defining the desired outcome, develop a strategy and then –and only then –should you identify the best tactics for achieving your goals. Is Twitter the best tactic? Maybe Facebook or YouTube? Perhaps some combination? Even if Facebook is the best tactic, consider how to use it most effectively –should you create a Facebook tab? Do you know the latest rules for advertising on Facebook? It all depends on your strategy.
  2. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Did I mention the need for repetition? You will tire of your message much more quickly than your audience. In fact, just about the time you decide you can’t possibly develop one more communication or advertisement with “those messages,” is about the time it will start to stick in the minds of your target audience (assuming you began with a strategy). And it’s not just about repeating your message in one channel –look for ways to repurpose and rephrase your content across multiple channels. This will widen your net while also reinforcing your message with many.
  3. Move fast and hit hard. This is one of the must haves for captivating millennials. I realize that for most hospitals, the word fast does not reflect your cultural norms. But if you want to capture an important part of your base, you need to engage with millennials where they are –on social networks –and in real time. You cannot “do” social networking by committee or wait until next week’s meeting to respond. That is not to say you shouldn’t have discussions around strategy , identify those with primary accountability and create “guardrails” for what’s acceptable and what’s not. But once that’s established, you’ll have to pick up the pace. Communicating successfully with millennials should include a clear call to action, allow them to track with you on the progress toward achieving the goal, and include real-time interaction.

So, whether you are a transplant center seeking ways to increase organ donation or a hospital seeking new ways to connect with your community, get to know the millennials who live and work there. And instead of creating avatars, you’ll have the opportunity to create brand ambassadors.

 Are you creating avatars or ambassadors through your social media efforts?

Photo courtesy of WETA ©2007 Twentieth Century Fox

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