Writing a memorable social media post: finding your inner cave(wo)man

Jan 22

If you’ve written posts for client’s social media profile, chances are you’ve seen those posts go through several rounds of review until they are polished to a squeaky-clean, error-free shine. But recent research suggests that this extensive editing might not be the best way to go about drafting social media posts—at least if you want them to be remembered. The research, written about in PsychCentral, found that people will remember a Facebook post longer than a person’s face or a sentence from a book, purportedly because Facebook posts are typically “spontaneous, unedited and closer to natural speech.”

Researchers out of the University of Warwick and the University of California – San Diego found subjects’ memory for Facebook posts was one and a half times greater than their memory for sentences picked at random from books and almost two and a half times greater than for human faces. According to lead author Laura Mickes, “These kinds of gaps in performance are on a scale similar to the differences between amnesiacs and people with healthy memory.”

While part of this enhanced memory for Facebook posts may be attributable to the distinct and gossipy nature of the posts, researchers believe that our superior memory for Facebook posts has more to do with their “mind-ready” format, the fact that they are closer to speech patterns used during the majority of human evolutionary history. They contend that our linguistic capabilities developed long before the carefully edited writing of relatively recent times, and that our brains did not evolve to process such polished text.

“Our findings might not seem so surprising when one considers how important both memory and the social world have been for survival over humans’ ancestral history,” explains Professor Christine Harris. “We learn about rewards and threats from others. So it makes sense that our minds would be tuned to be particularly attentive to the activities and thoughts of people and to remember the information conveyed by them.”

Sketch of a caveman

Those of us who draft social media posts on behalf of clients often strive to infuse the posts with personality—or what one of my clients likes to call “pizzazz.” But it might be that “pizzazz” alone is not sufficient to make the posts stick in the memories of our readers. Perhaps we need to allow a certain amount of informality to our posts, even leave in… (gasp!)… a grammatical error here and there. Maybe in order for our posts to fully resonate, we need to reach back to the pre-literate roots of our human psyche… to embrace our inner cave(wo)man.

The Ripple Effect of Game Changing News

Jan 14

As public health professionals we often take a page out of noted anthropologist Margaret Mead’s playbook and “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Our aim is to create awareness and promote behavior change around society’s most pressing issues. We work as a team to come up with the best strategies, measure the action taken as a result of our initial ideas, build off of successful campaigns and tweak other to gain better results. We also take a team approach and learn from others until we lead others to a better place. Weighing the balance of risk and reward that we intend the audience to take is also something do as we develop campaign framework.
Athletes also weigh the risks against the rewards of playing the game and whether a potential short-term injury or a long-term disability is worth the reward of crucial, game changing moment. Politicians throwing their opinion into the fierce discussion of gun control is also a delicate issue.

Incidents, whether small or larger, can create a ripple in conversations, allowing those in the public health world to build off of it and create space for a larger discussion.

No matter what the topic may be or where you stand on a particular issue, we need to remember to not be afraid to toss that first stone and ask the tough questions of each other. The important part is that these questions are being asked, either through breaking news or an unfortunate event, but a balanced conversation is what needs to continue to create change needed by us all.

Is 2013 the Year of Digital Health?

Jan 10

Is 2013 the year of digital health? John Nosta of Ogilvy CommonHealth thinks so. In a piece on Forbes.com earlier this month, he argues that 2013 will be turning point for using digital technologies to manage diseases and wellness. Resulting from a convergence of diverse factors—including new technologies being applied health (e.g., gaming), the rise of the quantified self, pressures created by the Affordable Care Act, the amount of data coming out of electronic health records, and growing patient-caregiver connectivity—digital health will finally hit the mainstream this year.

I happen to agree. In 2011 and 2012, we saw the increasing application of technologies to the health space.  These applications tested the waters to see in what ways people will use technologies to track and monitor their health. In 2013, we’ll see the lessons from these years being applied to new technologies. I also think we’ll see some of the more niche tools created in 2012 converge with each other, so that consumers can manage more aspects of their health in an integrated way. 2013 is going to be a big year, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store.

The growth of digital health was evidenced right here on the Social Marketing ExChange. Here’s a list of posts from the last year that discuss digital health:

  1. Make Mobile Technologies for Behavior Change a Priority in 2013 Nadia Dawson on why mobile technologies should be part of any health behavior change program.
  2. Doctor prescribed technology? Pediatricians connect with patients on their technology level Ashley Wolos explains how health care professionals are incorporating technology into patient care to go beyond traditional paper materials.
  3. The Disconnect between Patient Expectations and Physician Actions I explain how digital health can help fill the gap between patient expectations for care, and the care they actually receive.
  4. Making mHealth a Reality A look at how mobile health offers a potential solution to connect patients with the health care system.
  5. “Gamifying” Weight Loss and Behavior Change Former Ogilvy staffer Lauren Belisle examines how gaming theory is being applied to weight loss.
  6. SXSW Interactive: Innovating Health Cait Douglas discusses the health track at SXSW 2012, and why we still have a long way to go to innovating health care.
  7. Quantified Self: Is self-tracking the future of behavior change? An interview with Ernesto Ramirez of the Center for Wireless and Population Health System on what quantified self means and how it can lead to behavior change.
  8. The Impact of Social Media in Healthcare A discussion of the trends in social media use for health care.


**Image: Endomondo is just one example of a fitness app that allows users to track their workouts, cheer their friends on, and compete for prizes.**

A New Year’s Resolution for Social Marketing

Jan 09

It’s the time of year to reflect on the year behind us and make resolutions for the year that lies ahead. This practice is believed to have started with the ancient Babylonians whose resolutions of paying off debts and returning borrowed farm equipment seem very distant from the annual eat well, quit [insert bad habit], and go to the gym resolutions of today.

New Year's Resolution

After a few years of making and quickly breaking my resolutions, this year I opted to make a new year’s resolution for social marketing. Thinking back on 2012, I kept getting stuck on a discussion during lunch at the Social Marketing Advances in Research and Theory (SMART) conference on the state of social marketing. Nancy Lee started off the conversation by making the strong point that social marketing has launched into orbit, but it’s in danger of coming back to Earth. The room discussed the many contributing factors: funding issues, unclear brand value, identity confusion, international growth, etc.

Social marketing has a lot to offer and 2013 has the makeup to be a promising year from new research and publications to the implementation of innovative social marketing programs around the world to the return of the World Social Marketing Conference (side note, have you registered yet!?). We’re already off to a great start with Nedra Weinreich’s Wish for the Future: Turning Awareness into Action post on GOOD.

My resolution for social marketing: to own our identity.

In its short lifespan, social marketing is responsible for buckling seat belts, reducing smoking, protecting our environment; the list goes on and on. Though, for all its great accomplishments, how often are you trying to explain what you do? Or my favorite, the difference between social media and social marketing? Clearly as social marketers, we are good at what we do… let’s apply a little bit of that expertise to social marketing itself.

Starting small, we can work on picking a common hashtag on Twitter to spark conversation and share successes, research, and news. While I’ve seen lots of #socialmarketing on Twitter, it eats up valuable characters and is 99% filled with social media news. How about #socmar or #smktg? (If you’re thinking this doesn’t apply to you because you are not on Twitter, I challenge you to join Twitter. It’s worth it. I promise.)

Next, we can try following Nedra’s lead by sharing social marketing beyond our community’s walls. Whether it’s finally explaining to your mom what you do or writing content for an online forum, there’s endless ways to help social marketing become more recognized. Then, with our eyes towards Toronto in April, let’s make the World Social Marketing Conference our coming out party and broadcast the rich discussion throughout the conference widely. The more people know of social marketing the better social marketers we can be.

What else can we do to own our identity in 2013? Share your ideas in the comments. Let’s make this the year of social marketing. If not, we may find social marketing quietly falling back to Earth.

[Image source]

Make Mobile Technologies for Behavior Change a Priority in 2013

Jan 03

Many people are kicking off the new year with resolutions to improve their health by adopting new behaviors. While the desire to change one’s behavior may be strong at the beginning of the year, it often wanes as time goes by. This drop-off is common in the behavior change cycle, creating a challenge for social marketers to develop tools to support and sustain behavior change. With this challenge in mind, I encourage you in 2013 to think about ways to use mobile technologies, such as the mobile web, applications, and text messaging, to support long-term health behavior change. If you need rationale for taking this step, just look at the compelling findings from Pew Internet & American Life Project’s Mobile Health 2012 report:

  • 85% of U.S. adults own a cell phone, and of those, 53% own smartphones
  • 31% of cell phone owners have used their phone to look for health information compared to 17% two years ago
  • Cell phone owners who are Latino, African American, between the ages of 18-49, or hold a college degree are more likely than others to gather health information on their phones
  • 80% of cell phone owners send and receive text messages, but only 9% receive text updates or alerts about health or medical issues
  • 52% of smartphone owners gather health information on their phones compared with 6% of non-smartphone owners
  • 19% of smartphone owners have at least one health app on their phone, with exercise, diet, and weight apps being the most popular types


Can mobile technologies coupled with research-based approaches to behavior change facilitate sustained change? I believe the combination offers great potential given the reach afforded by mobile technologies and people’s increasing reliance on their mobile phone, and I hope to see more social marketers, and particularly the Federal Government, take advantage of mobile in 2013.

If you’re ready to add mobile to your arsenal of tools, here are two resources you may find helpful:


Is mobile a priority for you this year? Are you currently working on a mobile project designed to change behavior? Let us know in the comments.

Lessons for Digital Engagement I Learned from Saks Fifth Avenue

Dec 18

Not too long ago, I stopped in New York City to take in some of the holiday tourist attractions, including the window displays of major department stores. Although I saw several, the one that really stuck out to me was the Saks Fifth Avenue display because of its clever—and unexpected (at least for me)—integration of digital components that invited onlookers to engage with the display. In one window, computers displayed a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns driven by your movement. In another, there was a display featuring photos of regular, everyday people. The display had clear instructions for how to get featured in that space: go up to the 9th floor of the store and have your photo taken. Finally, the side of the building featured a huge holiday light show with a very cute Yeti.

These digital touch points struck me as being good examples of two major digital tenets that we focus on at Ogilvy—value exchange and word-of-mouth—that could also be applied to public health or behavior change efforts.

Value Exchange

The integration of photos of Saks’ shoppers as part of the display is a great example of a value exchange. Ultimately, Saks was offering people the opportunity to become a part of its famous window display, but only if they go into the store. People who might have just looked at the windows and moved on now have a reason to go in, giving Saks the opportunity to sell to them. Both Saks and the consumer win.

With a little creativity, this digital value exchange-based approach can be applied to public health and health behavior change efforts.  If we were to create programs that offer people a memorable, fun, and interactive experience by enacting a healthy behavior, everyone involved wins. Think about when The Fun Theory created a piano out of Stockholm’s subway stairs. People got to make music, but they also got extra exercise that day.

7 Drivers of Word-of-Mouth

The overall experience of the display also speaks to the 7 drivers of word-of-mouth. At Ogilvy, we believe that being able to answer “yes” to these questions helps ensure that digital campaigns are going to be talked about and shared. They are:

  • Do we have a good story?
  • Can people SHOW their involvement in a visible way?
  • Do we offer something new to talk about?
  • Do we let our supporters be creative?
  • Do we invite people to participate?
  • Do we offer them some value?
  • Do we remind people to spread the word?


I wouldn’t say that Saks excelled in all of these areas, but I would say they created a unique and participatory experience that people (like me) are likely to remember much longer than static window displays that didn’t. Keeping these 7 drivers in mind when we create health behavior change programs can help the programs better spread from person-to-person, gaining the credibility that comes from being recommended by a friend.

Below is a video better explaining the display. The shopper photos can be seen at 0:08-0:11s, the light show 0:11s, and the computer kaleidoscope around 0:30s. There are also great photos that people have uploaded to FourSquare (see what I mean about driving word-of-mouth?).

What other examples can you think of where a fun and interactive experience has helped people be healthier or safer?

From Mexico to Think Latino

Dec 12

A good native English-speaking friend, like me, spent several years learning Spanish as an adult in college and abroad. Her husband is a native Spanish speaker and they are committed to raising their children to be bilingual. In a recent Facebook post she mentioned she was singing a song in Spanish to her ten month old while out shopping and a passerby “advised” her to “learn English.” The outrage at her post was evident in the comments that were generated which are, thankfully, a sign of the changing times. Some would agree that the only “positive” to this post is that my friend was mistaken for a native Spanish speaker (which is the highest of compliments when you are attempting fluency in your non-native language).

Fortunately, gone are the times when Spanish was only spoken in the home and the ignorant “learn English” comments are decreasing. People have begun to realize that learning Spanish is a celebration of culture and is also a very marketable skill as the Hispanic market is growing exponentially and comprises over half of the growth of the U.S. population in the last 10 years.

My decision to pursue learning Spanish in college was inspired by a curiosity for the Mexican culture, particularly since I grew up in South Texas where I enjoyed piñatas at birthday parties, tamales at Christmas, and Friday nights out at a club called “Planeta Mexico.” My desire to really learn the language was heightened primarily because I was living in a dorm suite with a group of seven native Spanish-speaking women, and they were always very animatedly talking about something, and I wanted “in” on the chisme (gossip).  I made it my mission to learn Spanish, which involved lots of trial, error, and gentle corrections from patient friends when I mistakenly announced I was pregnant (embarazada) instead of embarrassed (avergonzada); was spreading rumors that my dorm had a pool (piscina) when I was trying to  communicate that something fell on the floor (piso); and that I was hungry for a dust (polvo) sandwich, when I meant turkey (pavo) (I did finally have to flap my arms around like a bird to get that message across…).

I did reach my goal with my former roommates, and left Mexico understanding all kinds of chisme and modismos (slang). Speaking Spanish is something I’ve kept up over the years, which has enriched my life personally and afforded me rewarding professional experiences. I’ve had the opportunity to conduct primary research in Spanish for a variety of health communication projects spanning topics from obesity prevention to prenatal health, and am currently a member of our Social Marketing Practice’s Think Latino group, which focuses on supporting clients in more effectively communicating with Latinos and influencing behavior change. The team includes members from Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Spain, as well as the United States, with a diversity of professional experience and expertise. I’m grateful to be part of an organization that is supportive of such a group, and understands the value and necessity of successful outreach to the Hispanic community. The added bonus: I can maintain my fluency by continuing to platicar (speak) en español with my Spanish-speaking colleagues!

Do the Right Thing: Social Norming to Get Out the Vote

Dec 07

Did peer pressure have anything to do with your decision to vote in the 2012 Presidential election? If you answered yes, that may be due to the engagement of behavioral scientists, who are becoming increasingly important advisors to political campaigns. That’s a key take away from this November 12 New York Times story, which describes some interesting tactics used by volunteers striving to boost voter participation in swing states. Many put the social norming theory into practice by subtly reminding folks that voting is the “right thing to do,” and encouraging them to follow through on a pledge to do so.

After reading the article, I corresponded with Craig R. Fox from the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles to explore how some of the practices we employ in social marketing can be utilized in get-out-the-vote efforts. He was kind enough to share “Rethinking Why People Vote,” a chapter he wrote in partnership with Todd Rogers of Harvard university and Alan Gerber from Yale University for the book, The Behavioral Foundations of Public Policy, which will be published this month by Princeton University Press.

Here are a few interesting lessons from the research. While they’re specifically focused on voter mobilization, many can also apply to other social marketing efforts:

Don’t look me in the eye and tell me you’re staying home on election day. The authors of “Rethinking Why People Vote” cite significant research documenting the impact of face-to-face conversations on voter turnout. In several cases the percentage of people who voted after they talked with volunteers who went door-to-door was much higher than those who were contacted through less personal modes, such as paid phone banks and paid direct mail. Interestingly, this result proved to be consistent in both municipal and federal elections, and in efforts that targeted specific populations, including young adults, Latinos and African-Americans.

The authors also refer to the work of MoveOn.org in battleground states during the 2004 presidential election. MoveOn enlisted volunteers who were “embedded in neighborhood social networks” to encourage their neighbors to vote, which led to a 9 percentage point increase in voter turnout compared to precincts that weren’t canvassed in this way. The authors suggest that folks who are local and familiar to citizens are better able to deliver messages in personal and compelling ways, which may make these conversations more convincing – a principle that calls to mind the work of promotoras, who make personal, cultural connections that lead people in Spanish-speaking communities to make smart health decisions.

Being chatty and personable will help me convince you. While phone banks may be second-best for mobilizing voters, the authors cite research that certain types of phone calls are more effective than others. Calls that are unhurried and conversational have a better result than rushed, impersonal calls. Also effective: following up with people who indicated on a first call that they intended to vote to see if they’re still on track to do so. As noted by the authors, being able to reference details of the first call makes the approach even more personal and “leverages the behavioral tool of self-prediction and commitment.”

If you make a pledge, you’ll probably follow through. The New York Times story also notes that door-to-door canvassers for the Obama campaign asked people to sign a card, with the President’s photo on it, as a pledge to vote. In “Rethinking Why People Vote,” Fox, Rogers and Gerber discuss the practice of self-prediction and commitment and studies that have “found that people are more likely to follow through on a behavior after they have predicted that they will do so.” This is a good reason to think about the value of “pledges” and other forms of written commitment as tools for behavior change in social marketing campaigns.

That pledge will be even better if you make a plan to keep it. In the weeks leading up to the election there were numerous media stories about challenges that people could face when it came time to vote. From abbreviated hours for “early voting” before election day, to stepped-up efforts to verify voter eligibility, to concerns that crowded polling places could jeopardize the ability of hourly workers to take enough time off of their jobs to vote, many of these concerns undoubtedly impacted lower income citizens more than others. Encouraging people to think in advance about how they might surmount these challenges might have also helped get more of them to the polls. Evidently the Obama campaign took this to heart – as noted in the New York Times story, some citizens received emails from the campaign that stated, “People do things when they make plans to do them; what’s your plan? ”

Be part of the in-crowd. The authors also cite research that supports the idea of voting as a social expression and note “people are strongly motivated to maintain feelings of belonging with others and to affiliate with others.” With this in mind they suggest that voter turnout can be enhanced by encouraging people to travel to the polls as part of a group and holding or attending election night parties. Great ideas for everyone who believes – like I do – that voting is an individual action that’s vital for the greater good.

Learn more about the interesting work of Dr. Fox and his colleagues here. And if you have other thoughts about the potential impact of social marketing and behavioral science on political campaigns and get-out-the-vote efforts, feel free to share them with us here at the Social Marketing Exchange.

Dumb Ways to Die: A Smart Way to Convey a Safety Message

Nov 29

If you haven’t yet seen the recent PSA video from Melbourne Metro Trains, “Dumb Ways to Die,” you’re missing out. This fun, creative, and important train safety warning is taking the web by storm! In only six days after being uploaded to YouTube, the video garnered more than 14 million hits; today that number is 27,914,061 and growing. As a testament to its success, you can now buy “Dumb Ways to Die” on iTunes and a karaoke version of it has been released so you can sing along or make up your own words! And this is just one element of a larger planned campaign that also includes Tumblr and an interactive site, and a future media spend.

What’s so striking about this short video is that its main message, to promote safety around trains, is not even mentioned until 2:22 into the video: dumb ways to die if you’re not safe around trains. And yet, the message of safety around trains seems to be resonating and in fact it has been called one of the greatest viral campaigns ever.

As Social Marketing professionals, we’re often faced with driving awareness and promoting behavior change around difficult and challenging topics and we’re tasked with encouraging people to make better decisions around their health, livelihood, and their safety. And in order to address these issues with the seriousness that their deserve and warrant, we often forget that sometimes humor is just as, if not more, effective in creating the behavior change that we’re after.  Done well, tongue and cheek campaigns taking on critical issues have been, and continue to be, widely successful – for example, CDC’s successful Zombie Apocalypse campaign for disaster preparedness, which claims that “If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.” And they’re often credited with reaching new, particularly young, audiences, a sometimes challenging target for public service announcements and public health promotion.

So, with the catchy tune of “Dumb Ways to Die” still in my head as I write this, where do you stand – should we start taking ourselves a little less seriously? I’m certainly considering it, as just in the 20 minutes writing this blog, the video on YouTube earned another 105,842 views.

Should We Stress Quality or Quantity (or Both) in Physical Activity Campaigns?

Nov 29

It’s nearly impossible to go a day without seeing an advertisement about physical activity and its importance. National campaigns (like NFL’s Play 60 or Partnership for a Healthier America among others) are frequently featured in mainstream media outlets, on social media accounts, and in advertisements. With the obesity epidemic sweeping the nation and affecting both adolescents and adults, physical activity (as well as nutrition) should be top of mind for all.

Recently, the New York Times’ Well blog (Updating the Message to Get Americans Moving) explored public health messages about exercise, particularly in relation to the intensity of activity.

Bottom line? Many, if not most, of physical activity campaign messages stress the recommended amount of physical activity – 60 minutes daily for adolescents and 150 minutes a week for adults. What isn’t being communicated is the recommended intensity level; physical activity should be a combination of moderate and vigorous intensity (for youth) and moderate intensity (for adults). Both groups should also participate in muscle and bone strengthening activity.

Few adults are getting the minimum amount of exercise recommended (only one in three adults, according to Healthy People 2010), and even less are getting the minimum amount of moderate activity (3.5 percent, according to recent studies cited in the New York Times blog).

For communications professionals, messaging is a critical part of any initiative. After all, the key message(s) helps the target audience understand the issue, why it is (or should be) important to them, and what they should do (i.e., change a lifestyle habit, purchase a product, take some other specific action).

As communicators seeking to inspire behavior change, should we ensure messaging includes both the recommended amount of exercise and the intensity level? Or should our goal be first to get people off the couch and moving first, and then educate about the different vigor levels? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.