Last week several members of the FMG Team traveled to Atlanta, GA for the 10th Annual National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media (NCHCMM). This was the third year that FMG attended the conference, and as in the past, had a chance to walk away with lessons learned and best practices from communicators and scientists. One of my favorite conference sessions featured panel members: Dr. Lenora Johnson, Tony Foleno, Dr. Gary Kreps, and Dr. Heather Cole-Lewis reflecting on the past 10 years and speculating what the next 10 will bring. Most notably, in the last 10 years there’s been a substantial shift in the way we communicate. For instance, one of the panelists mentioned that the iPhone—which ushered in the smartphone era as we know it—was only released 9 years ago; and Facebook—a catalyst for social media as we know it—was still a private university-based network until 10 years ago.
One of the conference tracks, "To Explore Innovative Communication Tools and Technologies," so perfectly fit the idea of the future of public health communication. Topics ranged from mobile health or "mHealth" programs, like Text4baby educating expecting and new moms, and online comic books aimed at educating teens on sensitive health issues, to using Snapchat to communicate with teens, and a completely digital campaign centered around an eye emoji that encourages adolescents witnessing bullying to intervene. Despite innovations in the communication tools, the best practices remained tried and true principles of communication. I’ve shared a couple of my biggest takeaways below.
- Understanding your audience is key. No matter how exciting a new tool is, the novelty factor alone does not justify incorporating it into your communication mix. Frequently, the excitement of being an early adopter of a cool new tool—say Snapchat—overrides the strategy behind how you are communicating with your target audience and communicators end up using tools that don’t make sense with their goals. Instead, take the time to understand who your audience is, how they communicate, how they want to be communicated with, and what content they desire. Are you trying to reach health educators on Snapchat? Does that fit with what you know about that audience? Trying to reach teens on Snapchat? Great, but think about content fit. In other words, do your research to ensure effective outreach.
- Evaluate, refine and repeat. It is important to understand how well your efforts are doing in order to maximize your communications. Not only is evaluation important to demonstrate that a tactic was a valuable investment, but also to be able to refine and inform continued communication and strategy. For example, Text4baby examined drop-off rates dependent on the cadence and content of messages sent to their moms, and discovered that if they provided content on Zika virus more than once per month they saw an uptick in users unsubscribing. They could then adjust their message cadence to minimize user drop-off.
So when "the next Snapchat" comes out, take a deep breath. Because chances are you already have the tools you need to determine how to best incorporate it into your strategy – first evaluate whether or not your audience and content warrant jumping on the bandwagon.