Strategies & Tactics

Healthy Platforms: The Rewards of Trying New Social Media Networks

February 1, 2018

[courtesy of the aacr]
[courtesy of the aacr]

Over the past decade, social media has dramatically changed consumer consumption habits while reshaping the news media and PR profession. Organizations have been forced to adapt their business models and, in some instances, to take more risks.

I’ve been participating in the change both personally and professionally, riding it like a big wave and often jumping in headfirst when new social media platforms have appeared.

As a health care PR professional, I find it exciting to work in this communications revolution. It can be scary and risky, but with risk comes reward. Depending on what sector you work in, exploring a new social media platform can be worthwhile and fun, and help you achieve your business and communications objectives.

For the past five years, I have been leading the communications and PR department at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), an organization of cancer researchers with more than 37,000 members in 108 countries. Because the AACR is a not-for-profit organization, we have been freer to experiment in the social media sphere than some other health-care sectors such as pharma and biotech, which face heavier regulations. 

The AACR has existed for more than a century. During the past few years we have refreshed our brand and launched communications and marketing efforts to increase public awareness of our organization, toward the goal of raising more money for cancer research.

In serving our mission to share scientific information with our members while also informing the public about the latest advances to fight cancer, we have significantly increased our social media efforts in the past several years, which have included experimenting with new platforms.

As soon as a new social media network becomes available, our communications team researches it thoroughly to assess how the platform might fit our public relations needs. We develop a plan to try the new social network, and have often been first in our sector to adopt new platforms.

Being an early adopter

At a meeting for our researchers and the public, the AACR was the first cancer-research organization to utilize the social media platforms Periscope and Snapchat. We have used these technologies to share important scientific information about cancer research and the progress being made to fight the disease.

Periscope, Twitter’s live-streaming app, launched in March 2015. A month later at the AACR’s annual meeting — attended by more than 22,000 cancer researchers, advocates, clinicians and members of patient-advocacy groups — we used Periscope to broadcast our team of researchers participating in an ABC News Tweetchat with Dr. Richard Besser, former medical editor at ABC News.  

During the live Periscope broadcast, which was scripted and carefully planned in advance, we interacted with Besser live on Twitter, while fielding questions about cancer research from hundreds of participants. The broadcast was well received by Besser, our participants and the viewers. 

In April 2017, we used Snapchat to help communicate cancer-research information from an undergraduate presentation at our annual meeting. With help from AACR member and social media adviser Dr. Emil Lou, we developed a plan to engage our target audience of early-career cancer researchers by “snapping” their poster presentations in short soundbites.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm from medical students, graduate students and undergraduate student researchers when AACR utilized Snapchat at the annual meeting,” said Lou, an assistant professor at Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota. “There was strong and definite feedback that it was very cool to see cancer research communicated in such a new and different way. It definitely upped the cool factor and was able to showcase student research in a very fun way.”

Choosing social media platforms for your business

To decide which social media platforms will best serve your organization’s needs, start by reviewing your communications objectives. Explore whether a given platform will help you reach your audience. Even if your audience is not yet on the platform, create a way for them to join you there should you decide to use that communications medium. Figure out what your organization can accomplish on the social media platform — what it will let you do and what it will not. Determine whether other companies are using the same platform, even if they’re not in your industry. Audit how they’re using it and assess the social media app’s strengths and weaknesses.

Next, create a plan that considers all potential scenarios for how the platform might be used, especially if you determine that no other company is using it yet and you will be the first.

Play around with the network to get a feel for it, and document what you learn. Create a pilot program for using the platform. If it offers video and audio features like those on Facebook Live and Periscope, develop a script and practice it. Let audiences know that your organization plans to use the social media channel to promote a particular initiative. Determine how to measure its results.

Creating new connections

By trying a new social media platform for your communications, you can shape how you use it so that your audience will want to join you. Using a new social network gives you the opportunity to become a thought leader by connecting with new audiences and creating new connections within your existing audiences.

As an early adopter, you don’t follow the crowd; you lead the crowd. And you establish credibility in that space. Being an early adopter gives you a conversation piece about your communications initiatives with business partners, colleagues, customers, members, etc. Even when the social media network grows more familiar over time, you remain positioned as an innovator because you were there first.

Communicating on social media platforms has forever changed how individuals and companies interact and do business. Even when there’s risk involved, I believe that taking the leap into new social media apps encourages creative thinking and fosters team spirit.

Rick Buck

Rick Buck is senior director of communications and public relations at the American Association for Cancer Research. Twitter: @Rick__Buck.

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