Spare Change

making a difference with social marketing
by Nedra Kline Weinreich

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My latest area of interest lays in the intersection between games and storytelling. Each approach by itself has great potential for engaging people in a way that more common forms of marketing do not. Whether it's an alternate reality game like Urgent:EVOKE that challenges players to solve problems in hypothetical, but real-world, scenarios, or the NANOSWARM novel and video game targeting childhood obesity prevention, when people are drawn into the action themselves, they are more likely to be moved to action in real life. See Jane McGonigal's recent TED talk on how gaming can make a better world for an eloquent introduction to how that might work.

Stories give us the opportunity to see the consequences of actions - both positive and negative. When we "get to know" fictional characters and care about what happens to them, the emotions that are evoked heighten the memorability and learning that can happen at the same time. On a related note, I'm happy to see that, in addition to the efforts of entertainment education professionals who work with television writers and producers to weave health and social issues into series plotlines, NBC Universal network execs are now directing the network's shows to do "behavior placement" of eco-friendly and health-related issues. Seeing people--whether they are fictional or real--engaging in healthy or pro-social behaviors increases perceptions of social norms and can affect viewers' attitudes toward the behavior (for better or worse, of course -- it depends on how and by whom the action is portrayed).

Throw in game elements in which someone can direct the story and try out what works and what doesn't, and you have the makings of a vicarious experience that can lead to bigger changes in knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. The Choose Your Own Adventure books of my youth were always fun because they were more than a passive reading experience; what kid wouldn't want to control the story? I'm enjoying an adult collaborative version of this, ongoing right now, in The Great Game, a serialized story by Tim Dedopulos in which readers get to vote on what happens next.

From a social marketing perspective, this "choose what happens next" approach in an interactive format gives us the opportunity to customize messages and content for each user. The UK's Drop the Weapons campaign created a YouTube-based interactive series called "Choose a Different Ending." At the end of each video vignette, the viewer has a decision point where they can choose whether to take a knife, which set of friends to follow, whether to fight, and is taken to the next video based on their choice.

Wahi Media is doing some exciting things with this idea, in a more sophisticated way. "Wahi" stands for "web automated human interaction." This approach involves a simulated conversation, in which a person or people in a video talk and ask questions of the viewer. Depending on the viewer's responses, the subsequent videos are tailored to provide messages that directly address their knowledge, attitudes and behaviors, as well as collecting the data for later analysis. The newly launched site from the Florida Department of Health uses a Wahi to talk to teens, parents and other audiences about the reality of the lives of teenagers. In addition to a direct "conversation," the site also includes dramatic vignettes in which characters then turn to the camera to ask what you would do or what you think. The branching is seamless, so it feels like a coherent whole.

With these ideas in the back of my mind, I was inspired by a short Choose Your Own Adventure story on Twitter by Jonah Peretti, and Fabio Gratton's subsequent comment on how the format could be used for health education. I set out to create a demo on Twitter to show how a Choose Your Own Adventure story for social marketing might play out. I focused primarily on traffic safety-related issues, as this genre of spy adventure usually involves people trying to get from one point to another without being caught. But I can think of many different issues that would lend themselves to this type of format: earthquake safety, sexual decision-making, flu prevention, and more. For nonprofits who are more interested in fundraising than behavior change, this format could still provide a way to engage potential donors or members and show why their involvement is needed.

A few caveats...
  • Twitter is not the ideal platform to use for this. The 140 character limitation makes it hard to advance the story and make it engaging. Plus, each time you click on a link, it automatically opens a new tab in your browser. I suggest you open the first link in a new window, so you can just close the whole window when you are done.
  • This demo was not created for a particular organization. If it were, the "learning pieces" would likely provide more information or links to the organization's resources for follow-up if desired.
  • This is just a quick and dirty demo. When designing a story to meet a project's behavior change objectives for a specific audience, much more time and strategic thought will go into it, so don't let the cheesy storyline obscure the format's potential. Ideally, the story would involve several different media elements, such as videos, mobile phones and puzzle-solving.
All that said, shall we play a game? Start here...

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Not too long ago, I was providing technical assistance to a staff member at a local health department whose agency was not open to letting her use certain social media tools to engage with their community. I asked my Twitter network for ideas on resources that might help her make the case with a reluctant organization. Dawn Crawford, who is the Communications Director at the Colorado Children's Immunization Coalition (@ImmunizeCOKids on Twitter) very generously offered to share what she had learned, having been in a similar situation. After she emailed me the information to pass along, I asked her if I could repost it on my blog because it was full of pearls of wisdom that I thought would be useful to others, no matter what type of organization you work for. She wrote it up as a guest post here. Thanks so much, Dawn!

Pretty Please…Convincing Your Boss to Take the Plunge into Social Media

So you want to convince the boss to let you do social media for your organization. It’s something that every one who has ever engaged in social media had to do, at least once. It’s an important step because you do need some solid buy-in on this new communications strategy.

Bosses, Executive Directors, co-workers and all your social media doubters fear one of three things:
  1. Loss of control of message and brand
  2. Mean people will say mean things about you
  3. There isn’t enough time to sustain your engagement
These fears are legitimate, but are also seeded in a lack of understanding of social media. Here are some quick answers to those concerns:

Loss of control - The reality is engaging in social media is one of the best ways to regain control of your message and brand. With all the social media platforms you get to pick your profile picture and determine how you present yourself to your followers. Jumping into social media and securing your brand’s identity – Twitter ID, Facebook vanity URL, blog name – you can stop others from poaching your name.

Meanies - Okay, here is a little secret…people are already saying mean things about you! And if you are not engaged in social media they are, in essence, saying it behind your back to all your friends. By monitoring your brand and organization in social media you can address these meanies and deal with them on a one-on-one basis.

Time management - Time is the ONLY cost of social media, so value it. It is incredibly important to budget time for this communications tool. Take the time to make a plan about when you will engage, what kind of content you’ll share and how often you’ll interact with your followers/fans. This is a critical consideration to your success. Also remember it doesn’t have to control your life or be a priority over your other communications tactics. Just integrate these tools into all the other great stuff you are already doing.

Okay, now that you have three quick comebacks for those initial fears, let’s pile it on. There are reasons why you MUST get engaged in social media. Here is why it's so important for you to jump in:

Social media IS the next business revolution - It's just like email; some people hoped email would just go away so we could send faxes forever. Well those people lost (thankfully) and now email is part of every successful business. Social media will be the same way in the coming years. If an organization is not engaged in social media they will look dated, out of touch and will be seen as having bad customer service.

Connect with your community - Being part of social media gives your community (AKA your donors, customers, residents, volunteers, etc.) a portal to ask questions, get information and connect with you on their time and in the method that they want to connect. It’s great to drop into Facebook, check up on your sister’s latest adorable kid photo and find out about your favorite organization. Be where your community is and, trust me, they are using social media.

Increase your traffic to your website – Social media is just one more way to leverage all that money you put into that fancy website. You can tease information from your Facebook or Twitter accounts to go to your website to learn more about your programs.

Embrace controversy - If you do deal with a controversial issue it’s even more important for you to have a presence in social media. In my day job I work as Communications Director for the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition (CCIC), a pro-vaccine organization. I know controversy first hand. If you are controversial you have so much to say and to defend about your issue. Be brave and jump in the fray, your cause deserves it! For lots more on that check out this blog post.

Get more tasty tidbits for leadership, donors and annual reports - You get so much anecdotal, honest comments, both good and bad, about your organization through your social media connections. Social media allows an organization to make an immediate impact and connect with real people. So incredibly invaluable and incredibly HARD to gather in any other communications tool…tried a survey lately?

Now that you have points on why you MUST be engaged in social media, let’s put on the frosting. These are some completely new ways that social media will improve your organization’s brand that is hard to do with traditional communications and development strategies:

Find new people to support your cause for FREE – Yes, I said it FREE. You can target new people and experiment with difference audiences for FREE. Engaging in social media is WAY cheaper than buying a list or attending community events. Just figure out where your audience is and start posting.

Get the attention of key influencers – You can use social media strategically to get introduced to funders, influential organizations and important people. At CCIC, we have been able to elevate our presence beyond Colorado to a national level with lots of targeted Twitter relationships. We've gotten the attention of national organizations and the CDC.

Connect with traditional media – You can create real relationship with reporters online. Not only can you send them direct messages with story pitches but they see all the information you spew out then pick and choose on what stories they want to cover.

Attract the elusive blogger – Bloggers are the next newsies. These are influential people who are not going anywhere. Comment on their posts, find their Twitter feeds and get to know them. Form a tight bond and they might even let you submit a guest post. At CCIC, we've created relationship and got posts/guest posts on influential blogs including Discover Magazine Blogs and other blogs around the world.

Do something completely new – Use this new environment to experiment. It’s just your time that you are gambling with. We did this really good "feel good" campaign over Thanksgiving which allowed parents to give thanks for their healthy kids - see the results.

For more tips on how to get engaged in social media, developing content, saving time and dealing with those meanies, check out my social media presentations.

So, are there more fears floating around out there? Is there another way you helped convince your boss to let your engage in social media? I want to hear about it!
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LinkThe next Social Marketing University training is coming to Washington, DC on January 11-13, 2010. If you're interested in learning the fundamentals of social marketing to bring about health, social or environmental behavior change, this is the course!

The training is for people working at nonprofits, government agencies, PR/marketing agencies or others who want to build knowledge and skills for building an effective social marketing strategy. If you're already familiar with social marketing but want to learn about how to use social media within a social marketing program, you have the option of just attending the last half-day, which is the Next Generation Social Marketing Seminar.

This course is being co-sponsored by the Public Health Communication & Marketing Program at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. The agenda will include a social marketing case study presented by the program's director, Doug Evans.

For more information about SMU and to register, see the Social Marketing University information page. If you register before December 11, you will get a $100 discount. You can also receive additional discounts when more than one person from the same organization registers, or if you are a student.

As a reader of my blog, you will get an additional $75 off on top of the other discounts by using the discount code 'BLOG'.

I hope I'll see you there!
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Here are some assorted bits and pieces I've collected for your reading pleasure:
  • Starting next week I'll be offering a new webinar series on Social Media for Social Marketers. The four 60-minute webinars (at 11 am Pacific time) are:

    • October 22 - Designing a Social Media Strategy for Change
    • October 29 - Blogging and Beyond: Tools to Build Your Movement
    • November 12 - Twitteracy for Social Marketers
    • November 19 - Monitoring and Evaluating Social Media

    If you are interested, but can't make a particular event live, you can always view the archived events and ask me any questions afterward. For more information about the webinars and to register, see the Social Marketing University Online page.
  • Recently, more attention is being paid to applying design thinking to social marketing; in other words, how can we design the environment or product to make the desired behavior the most natural and easy choice? The best resource I have found in thinking through how to apply a design approach to behavior change is Dan Lockton's Design with Intent Toolkit. With lots of examples and different angles to consider, it's a great introduction to the discipline. I found it so helpful, in fact, that I created a companion worksheet to go along with it: the Design Approach for Behavior Change Worksheet.
  • If you haven't seen Franke James' visual essay about an event that brought Malcolm Gladwell and Mark Kingwell together to discuss social change, you'll find it a treat for your eyes as well as your brain.
  • The UK's Ingenious Group is sponsoring the first-ever Global Social Marketing Awards. For-profit and nonprofit organizations can enter in categories like Best Global Social Marketing Campaign, Most Effective Strategic Partnership, Most Effective Use of Budget, and more. Finalists will be announced soon, with winners receiving awards in December. This is a great idea, but with the entry fees at £175 (~$280) per category entry, it's a bit too pricey for any organization but a for-profit agency to enter, greatly limiting the candidates to choose from. I'd love to see awards like these done with no barriers to entry, with campaigns nominated and voted on by their social marketing peers. Perhaps it's an idea for the Global Social Marketing Association to consider once it gets up and running.
  • A couple of weeks ago, the "Save the Boobs" campaign from ReThink Breast Cancer got people buzzing about whether it was okay to use sex to get men interested in the issue of breast cancer (my answer was yes, but this ad was so poorly done from a behavior change point of view that it would be fairly ineffective). Soon after it came out, a group called HCD Research conducted a MediaCurves study to quantitatively measure the responses of men and women to this ad. Not surprisingly, men and women had very different reactions in whether they thought it was appropriate and in the emotions it evoked. The data confirms what seems obvious, though the lack of any clear objective or call to action means the high self-reported "effectiveness" score is fairly meaningless.
  • What do you get when you cross Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog with a 1970s Chuck Norris movie and a "Got Milk?" ad? Something like the Battle for Milkquarious - a 20-minute web-only "rock opera" created by the California Milk Processor Board that showcases the power of milk in an entertaining way. While some question whether this type of branded entertainment gets its point across adequately, I think it's a great (but cheesy) example for how social marketers could adapt this format for various issues. A more serious example is the In the Moment web series, created by the City of West Hollywood and the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, which plays like a gay version of Melrose Place and incorporates HIV prevention information into the entertainment-first format.

    If you're interested in learning more about this approach, check out Johns Hopkins School of Public Health's free OpenCourseware resources on Entertainment Education for Behavior Change.
  • And finally, a huge congratulations to fellow social marketing blogger Alex Rampy (SocialButterfly), who just got married to the man of her dreams. May they have a lifetime of happiness together!

Photo: samk
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When the new director of the CDC, Dr. Thomas Frieden, took his position in early June, it was inevitable that he would make some changes -- perhaps even some big changes. I believe I speak for many social marketers in saying we were very hopeful that health marketing (the CDC's name for social marketing) would fare well in the new administration.

Unfortunately, I have just found out that the National Center for Health Marketing (NCHM) is slated to be eliminated. What this means exactly for the practice of health marketing within the CDC is unclear, but it bodes poorly for the field of social marketing overall.

On the heels of the NCHM's highly successful Third National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media (NCHCMM), which just brought together one thousand professionals who are using these tools to address disparate health issues from across the spectrum of the CDC's purview, this news raises a big question: What will be the future of the conference, which serves a different role in the US social marketing community from other professional events? This most recent conference, in mid-August, raised the profile of the CDC as an innovator and enabler of organizations and agencies across the country (and beyond) on the cutting edge of social marketing initiatives.

After the NCHM has made so much progress in advancing the field of social marketing and integrating these methods into public health practice, it would be a giant step backwards to lose this bastion of expertise and have its staff dispersed. We need only look at the UK's National Social Marketing Centre to see the approach getting the prominence within government that it deserves as a tool that works for prevention. The US needs to be a leader in social marketing, and this will knock us from that position.

While the fledgling social marketing association is not quite in position to address this issue as a unified voice for our field, those of us who care about social marketing should individually make our opinions known to Dr. Frieden to ensure that social marketing will continue to play a prominent role in the work of the CDC. I believe this is best achieved through a focal point of expertise like the NCHM that can implement best practices throughout the agency and host events like the NCHCMM conference. Barring that, I hope that Dr. Frieden somehow comes up with an even better alternative.

What are your ideas for how we can best address this issue as a field?
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When's the last time someone wrote a superhero comic about people in your profession? Sure, if you're a reporter, nuclear scientist or even a reclusive millionaire, you're used to this type of thing. But we health marketing types are usually the ones on the development side of the media, not the target audience. So I'm sure you'll be as excited as I was to discover that my longtime blog friend Fard Johnmar of Envision Solutions and the HealthCareVox blog has created both a fun set of different types of media to draw people like us in, and a more serious project that underlies it.

His mission is to bring together people who work in health marketing communications across disciplines so we can learn from each other. He calls this the Path of the Blue Eye -- a rather zen-sounding name with accompanying mantras that help us do our jobs more effectively.

Fard graciously agreed to share more information about the origins of the project and its different components with my readers via an email interview:

What spurred you to create the Path of the Blue Eye?

I was motivated to develop the Path of the Blue Eye project in response to two statements, both of which begin with the words “I wish.” They are:

  • I wish I knew that.
  • I wish we had a place to collect this information.

Over the years, I’ve learned about beneficial data, case studies and other info that would be useful to people across the health marketing communications industry. I often share my knowledge in conversations with pharma marketers, public health experts, social marketers and others. Many times, I find that people are not aware of interesting and successful campaigns taking place in industry segments they do not work in. For example, people in pharmaceutical marketing are sometimes not knowledgeable about campaigns launched by government agencies that leverage social technologies. After our conversations, people will sometimes nod their heads and say: “I wish I knew that.”

In addition, I have had many conversations about how we need a place where people can quickly and easily share information with their peers – especially with those working in other parts of the health marketing communications industry. They say: "I wish I we had a place to collect this information."

The Path of the Blue Eye project is designed to grant each of these wishes by:

  • Fostering knowledge sharing across health marketing communications industry segments and silos.
  • Providing people with tools they can use to quickly share interesting information with others working in the industry from around the world.

The key word here is interdisciplinary. We are trying to reach across silos and centers of practice rather than working within them.

How does this project fit in with the work you have been doing with Envision Solutions?

The mission of Envision Solutions is to help health marketing communications pros become more efficient and successful. I think the Path of the Blue Eye project helps us to achieve this objective.

Can you tell us about the different components of this project and how they fit together? How will you phase them in?

The core of the project will be an online collaboration hub we are currently building. It will enable people in health marketing communications to:

  • Quickly access and share data, case studies, news articles, blog posts and other content relevant to the field.
  • Ask and answer questions from their peers.

Currently we are the pre-launch phase of the project. We are leveraging the comic, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and other communications channels to spread the word about the project and attract a diverse group of people who believe in what we are trying to accomplish. I am happy to say that (as of this writing), nearly 80 people have “joined” the project via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. We launched Path of the Blue Eye about a week ago, so I’m very pleased with the progress thus far.

In phase II, we will invite a select group of people to help us conduct a series of road tests on the collaboration hub to help us iron out any final kinks in the system. After this, we’ll launch the hub and begin our work in earnest.

I’m also very excited that we’ve been able to develop some strong partnerships with prominent organizations and businesses over the last few months. They have agreed to help strengthen the hub by providing information to the Path of the Blue Eye community when it launches.

How would you define the "Path of the Blue Eye?”

The Path of the Blue Eye is represented in the comic by a series of six mantras. These represent habits and activities we believe will help people forging careers in the health marketing communications industry achieve success.

Who are the main groups you’d like to reach and what are some of the ways people can become involved with this project?

We are trying to reach a diverse range of people working in all areas of the global health marketing communications industry. Everyone is welcome, including social marketers, public relations professionals, advertisers, pharmaceutical/biotech marketers, public health communicators, academics and others.

Given the current intense interest in social media it is important to note that the site wlll not be focused solely on social communications channels and techniques. Rather, we want people practicing in all areas of the field to feel comfortable participating in and contributing to the hub.

Currently, people can participate in the project by:

  • Showing their support for the project by joining our Facebook group, Twitter community or signing up for our e-mail list.
  • Spreading the word about the project to their friends and colleagues.
  • Considering becoming contributing or guest authors on the project’s blog Walking the Path. We are looking to build a blog that features a diverse range of perspectives from people around the world. A few people have accepted our invitation to participate, but we are always looking for more authors. Currently, guest authors are helping to produce a series of blog posts focusing on what collaboration means to them.

Once the hub launches, people will have other ways they can contribute to the project.

I love the comic book! I’m sure it’s the first time that health marketers have been featured as superheroes. What was your thinking behind using this medium? Can we expect to see this as an ongoing series?

I’m really glad you like the comic! I decided to commission the comic because I wanted to:

o Create a mythology focusing on the work of health marketing communications pros. We are often behind the scenes, creating campaigns for others, so I wanted to celebrate what we do.
o Attract a broad range of people to the project.
o Encourage us to have fun and enjoy the work we do each day

I also want to use the comic to expose more people in our industry to transmedia storytelling techniques. There’s a lot more going on with the comic than meets the eye, so I encourage people to dive deeper by participating in the SMS component of the project. Not many people have accepted our invitation yet, but I hope this changes in the coming weeks. I also hope people enjoy the comic’s soundtrack.

I hope we’ll be able to produce future issues of the comic. If people want more we’ll continue the story.

How would you like to see the Path of the Blue Eye evolve over time? What would it ideally look like five years from now?

Ultimately, I’d like to see the project evolve into a strong, self-sustaining, diverse, interconnected global community of health marketing communications pros.

Five years from now, I hope that the community will have become a go-to resource for people trying to improve their skills and develop better health marketing communications campaigns. We want to help people become better at what they do. If we achieve this, I think the project will be successful.

I wish Fard great success with this project, and I am excited about being part of it as well. I hope you will also consider participating in some way, as the whole profession will benefit as more people get involved. We can all walk the path together, which makes getting over the hills much easier.
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  • John Haydon invited me to share with his readers how I "rock the web" on his excellent blog on social media. In my guest post, I talk about some of the tools I use to take control of my time online. Take a look at the other posts on his blog for insights on how nonprofits can use social media effectively - John is a great resource (and an awesome musician).
  • My other favorite nonprofit social media blogger, Beth Kanter, also put up a guest post from me while she's getting settled from her cross-country move. This one is an oldie but goodie from me on how to select your target audience: should you pick the low-hanging fruit or the hard-to-reach but bigger fruit at the top of the tree?
  • People are signing up for the Social Marketing University fundamentals webinars from all over the world. It's a great way to learn about social marketing from wherever you are, especially if you are not able to travel to an SMU training like the Advanced Course coming up in Berkeley in September. But you can also do both! Don't forget to use the discount code 'BLOG' to get 10% off the registration fee for the Advanced Course.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks
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The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation invited me to write a guest post on its Pioneering Ideas blog, along with several other people who are investigating how games can be used to promote health. This guest blogger series is tied into the 2009 Games for Health Conference, which happened a couple of weeks ago, as well as a recent report from the Sesame Workshop’s Joan Ganz Cooney Center, which looks at how video games can be a positive force for children's health.

The question they posed for us to answer was:
"There is a growing consensus that digital games can be deployed to support learning and behavior change for positive health outcomes among children. What do you think needs to be done to increase the use of digital games for this purpose?”
In my guest post, I look at the question from a marketing perspective to think about how to increase the acceptability of health games and to encourage their development and use. My post will be up on Monday at the Pioneering Ideas Blog. (I'm on my way out of the country for a week, but will update with the specific link to my post as soon as I can.) I hope you'll take a look at it and leave a comment with your feedback and perspective.
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It's that time again - time to announce the next session of Social Marketing University! Many of you know that I have been offering SMU trainings since 2006 as a 2-1/2 day introduction to using social marketing to promote health and social issues.

This year, taking into account many people's requests for the next level of social marketing training beyond the basics, I will be offering the Social Marketing University Advanced Course. This 2-day training is for people who are already familiar with the fundamentals of social marketing who are looking for new ideas and insights, including those who have taken previous SMU trainings in what I am now calling the Foundations Course.

The Advanced Course will be offered on September 14-15, 2009 in Berkeley, CA. We'll focus on topics like audience segmentation techniques, real-world research and evaluation, effective approaches to behavior change and will spend a full day on using online social media strategically. For more information, pricing and registration, see the SMU information page.

Don't be disappointed if you can't make it to Berkeley this time, or if you would like social marketing training but are not quite ready for the Advanced Course. I will also be offering a series of four webinars on social marketing fundamentals through Social Marketing University Online during the summer. You can attend this series to prepare for the Advanced Course, or just to bone up on individual social marketing topics of interest to you.

These 60-minute webinars will happen every other Wednesday at 12 noon PDT in the months leading up to the Advanced Course. The schedule is as follows:
  • July 22, 2009 - Change for Good: Using Social Marketing to Make a Difference
  • August 5, 2009 - Building An Effective Social Marketing Strategy
  • August 19, 2009 - Creating Social Marketing Messages That Work
  • September 2, 2009 - Social Media for Social Marketers
Take a look at the SMU Online information page for detailed descriptions of the webinars and pricing (4 for the price of 3!).

I'm also happy to offer a 10% special discount off the Advanced Course for my blog readers (enter discount code "BLOG"), and I hope you will join me at one or more of these events!

Keep up with the latest on SMU by joining the Facebook Fan Page or following the @SocialMktgU Twitter account.
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This post will be somewhat of a Twitter inside baseball topic - not what I usually write about - so if you are not interested in Twitter arcana, you might want to skip this one.

Those of us on Twitter could not have missed the uproar that happened a couple of weeks ago when Twitter management decided to make a "small settings update" to its service by eliminating an option they said was "undesirable and confusing." This change removed the option to see the one side of the conversations people you follow are having with people you don't. Now you can only see these "half conversations" (called @replies) if you follow both people. Sounds like a small thing, but those of us who had chosen to see all @replies are now missing out on interesting conversations, resources and the opportunity to discover new people.

Fairly quickly, word spread across Twitter about the change and a revolt took place as people started tagging their protests with "#fixreplies," which became the top trending topic on Twitter for a few days. After first seeming just clueless about how people use their service, Twitter offered a non-solution posing as a fix and then flat-out said they will not be bringing the option back for technical reasons. The reason from their post:
Even though only 3% of all Twitter accounts ever changed this setting away from the default, it was causing a strain and impacting other parts of the system.
Okay, given the millions of new users that have come on board in the past month or two in the wake of Oprah and Ashton Kutcher's Twitter publicity stunts, it makes sense that the system is strained. But, having been on Twitter since around the end of 2007, I found it hard to believe that only 3% of the other users had touched their @reply settings. And given the extent of the outcry, either this was a very vocal 3% or a lot of people were jumping on the protest bandwagon even though the change did not affect them at all.

More likely, this was a disingenuous statistic chosen by Twitter to make their point, but that does not give the whole story. I suspect that they are counting 3% of anyone who has ever created an account on Twitter - including those who try it out for a day and never come back. A recent Nielsen study found that 60% of those who sign up do not return the following month (though this statistic does not take into account the many who sign up at but actively use TweetDeck or another client application). What if they looked at the percentage of active Twitter users (the people who should actually matter) -- particularly those who have been on the service for a while? Would the percentage change?

This question nagged at me for a while until I decided to do a quick survey to see if my suspicions were right. I created a four-question survey, which asked the following questions:
  1. How long have you been actively using Twitter?
  2. How many people do you follow on Twitter?
  3. Before Twitter took away the option, how was your @Replies option set?
  4. How has the loss of the @Replies option affected your Twitter experience?
I sent out a tweet asking people to complete the survey and to retweet it (repost in Twitter parlance) to their followers as well. My objective was to send it far and wide on Twitter so that it was not just my own Twitter followers responding, but a wide swath of users across the service. The result was that people who were following my account retweeted the post 28 times, with a subsequent total of 118 retweets dispersed around different social circles. I ended up with 402 total responses to the survey.

I will be the first to admit that this sample may not necessarily be statistically representative of all active Twitter users (though if it were, the sample size gives us a 5% margin of error and 95% confidence level). Respondents were not chosen randomly, and the people who decided to participate may be more likely to have a strong opinion on the topic. Nonetheless, I think it may be helpful to take a look at the results because this segment of Twitter user has been strongly impacted by the change. (The results for each question can be seen here. I'm happy to share my full statistical analyses as well if you'd like to see them.)

Most respondents had been actively using Twitter for 3-12 months (40%), with 36% on for more than a year and 24% for less than three months. I figured that the longer someone had been using Twitter, the more likely they are to have played around with the options to see what they prefer rather than leaving the default of only seeing @replies when they follow both people.

A vast majority (63%) follow between 50-500 people on Twitter. Next is 501-5000 follows at 24%, fewer than 50 with 12%, and only 2% follow more than 5000. I hypothesized that those who were following more people would probably not notice much of a change in their cluttered feed.

Now, the kicker here is that before the option was taken away, 63% of the respondents had chosen to show all @replies for the people they followed -- much higher than the 3% cited by Twitter. Those who had the default selected - to show only @replies between people they follow - were 19%, plus another 17% who said that they didn't know what option was selected (and presumably hadn't changed the default), for a total of 36%. And only 1% had chosen the option not to see any @replies unless directed at them.

Finally, 57% said that the loss of the @replies option had affected their Twitter experience for the worse. These were presumably those who had the option taken away from them, but could also be people who did not want to see all @replies for people who started making their replies visible to everyone, such as by putting a character before the "@" symbol or embedding the @reply name within or at the end of the tweet. Only 5% said their experience was better and 39% reported no change (close to the 36% who were already set at the default option).

I also ran some chi-square stats to see how these variables affected each other and created some nifty charts at Here's what I found (only reporting the statistically significant correlations at p<.05): The number of people that respondents were following on Twitter correlated with how long they had been on the service, at the highest and lowest following numbers. But most people - no matter how long they had been on - were comfortably in the 50-500 range.

Users who had been on Twitter for a longer time were more likely to choose the "show all @replies" option, with 72.2% of old-timers who had been on for at least a year and 65.2% of those on 3-12 months. Still, almost half (46.3%) of the newbies on for less than three months also selected that option.

Not surprisingly, given that time on Twitter and number following are correlated, the more people a respondent followed, the more likely they were to select the "show all @replies" option (<50=41.7%, 500="64.1%," 5000="72.6%),"
The quality of respondents' experience on Twitter after the policy change, as you would expect, depended on which @reply option they had selected before all defaulted to showing only mutual @replies. For those with the "show all" option, 78.2% said their experience is worse, the direct opposite of the other two options (show only mutual=72.9%, show none=75.0%). The correlation between number following and quality of current experience on Twitter also mirrors the distribution of @replies option selected.


So what does this all mean? Even if this sample is not representative of all Twitter users, it does represent a substantial segment of users who are not as happy with their experience on the site since the option was taken away. Twitter would be smart to pay attention to this group, which is not only comprised of crotchety old-timers and "power users." To avoid losing these disgruntled users, Twitter needs to come up with a way to bring back seeing all @replies in a way that they can live with. At the very least, Twitter needs to be honest about the percentage of its actual active users (not including abandoned accounts) who were using the "show all @replies" option. Whether it's closer to 3% or 63%, by dismissing those who were upset by the #fixreplies kerfuffle as a tiny group of whiners, Twitter increased user dissatisfaction and the likelihood of defection should a service come along that works harder to meet its users' needs.

UPDATE (6/1/09):
New research
that has just come out from Harvard from a random sample of 300,000 Twitter users in May 2009 shows that the top 10% of Twitter users account for over 90% of tweets. And the median number of lifetime tweets per Twitter users is one. So there is a huge difference between the typical Twitter account and an active Twitter account.

This backs up my survey findings that many more active Twitter users were affected by the recent @replies option change than Twitter was willing to admit. To say that only 3% of users had selected the "see all @replies" option was extremely deceptive when it turns out that 90% or so of the total Twitter accounts are not even being actively used. Those who do use their accounts tend to opt to see all @replies. Twitter should not be able to so easily dismiss this loud, vocal majority.

Image Credit: monettenriquez
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Many of you know that human trafficking and modern-day slavery are the issues I care most about and have volunteered the most time and energy. That's why I was honored to be approached for a guest post by author Ron Soodalter, who has just written a book with Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves, called The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today. Though awareness is becoming more widespread, far too many people still believe that this is not an issue in the US. Awareness is the first step toward action, so though this post is not specifically about social marketing, I hope that may be the next step we can take together.

A Blight on the Nation: Slavery in Today’s America
by Ron Soodalter

The American humorist Will Rogers once said, “It ain’t that we’re so dumb; it’s just that what we know ain’t so.”

Certain things we know to be true. We know that the South kept slaves, and the North fought a righteous war of liberation. We know that the slave trade was legal right up to the Civil War. We know that the Emancipation Proclamation freed all the slaves, and that the United States has been slavery-free ever since. These things we know – and none of it is true.

On the other hand, most of us do not know that slavery not only exists throughout the world today; it flourishes. Slavery is legal nowhere, yet it is practiced everywhere. With an estimated 27 million people in bondage worldwide, it is the second or third most lucrative criminal enterprise of our time, after drugs, and maybe guns. More than twice as many people are in bondage in the world today as were taken in chains during the entire 350 years of the African Slave Trade. In seeking to place blame, we’re tempted to point to the “emerging nations” as the culprits, whereas in fact slavery exists in such “civilized” countries as England, France, Spain, Italy, Israel, Ireland, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, China…and the United States. Most Americans are clueless that slavery is alive and more than well right here, thriving in the dark, and practiced in many forms in places you’d least expect.

As a student of history, I’d always assumed that slavery ended with the Thirteenth Amendment. Some years back, I had written nearly an entire book on the pre-Civil War slave trade when I stumbled on an account of slavery – in present-day America! My first response - a common one, as it turns out - was denial: “No way. Slavery has had no place here since the time of Lincoln.”

Only after extensive research did I discover that slavery has always existed on this continent, from the days of its European discovery right up to the present day. Christopher Columbus enslaved the Taino Indians, setting a precedent that was followed by every European power to claim land in the New World. Slavery became the social and economic order. After the Civil War, and for decades right up to the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, planters practiced a form of debt bondage known as peonage, binding workers and their families to the land in an unending cycle of slavery. For over sixty years, our own government has enabled worker abuse and slavery through the mismanagement of its “guest worker” program. And now, with the global population more than tripled since World War II, and with national borders collapsing around the world, people - in their desperate quest for a way to survive – have become easy targets for human traffickers. And once again, America is a prime destination.

So how many slaves are we talking about? According to a U.S. State Department study, some 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States from at least 35 countries and enslaved each year. Some victims are smuggled into the United States across the Mexican and Canadian borders; others arrive at our major airports daily, carrying either real or forged papers. The old slave ship of the 1800s has been replaced by the 747. Victims come here from Africa, Asia, India, Latin America, and the former Soviet Republic. Overwhelmingly, they come on the promise of a better life, with the opportunity to work and prosper in America. Many come in the hope of earning enough money to support or send for their families. In order to afford the journey, they fork over their life savings, and go into debt to people who make promises they have no intention of keeping, and instead of opportunity, when they arrive they find bondage. They can be found – or more accurately, not found – in all 50 states, working as farmhands, domestics, sweatshop and factory laborers, gardeners, restaurant and construction workers, and victims of sexual exploitation. These people do not represent a class of poorly paid employees, working at jobs they might not like. They exist specifically to work, they are unable to leave, and are forced to live under the constant threat and reality of violence. By definition, they are slaves. Today, we call it human trafficking, but make no mistake: It is the slave trade.

Nor are native-born Americans immune from slavers; many are stolen or enticed from the streets of their own cities and towns. Some sources, including the federal government, estimate in the hundreds of thousands the number of U.S. citizens – primarily children – at risk of being caught in slavery annually. Although these figures may be inflated, the precise number of slaves in the United States, whether trafficked in from other countries or enslaved from our own population, is simply not known. The simple truth is, we’re looking at a crime that lives in the shadows; it’s hard to count what you can’t find.

What is particularly infuriating is the fact that this is a crime that, as a rule, goes unpunished. For the moment, let’s accept the government’s estimate of about 17,000 foreign nationals trafficked into slavery in the United States per year; coincidentally there are also about 17,000 people murdered in the US each year. The national success rate in solving murder cases is about 70%; around 11,000 murders are “cleared” annually. But according to the US government’s own numbers, the annual percentage of trafficking and slavery cases solved is less than 1%. In 2007, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division obtained 103 convictions for human trafficking, with an average sentence of 9 years.

And to further complicate matters, when they are rescued, survivors often deny their situation. There are several reasons for this: the language barrier, a deep sense of shame, fear for their lives and those of their families in their country of origin, and a sense of obligation to pay their debt. In addition, the traffickers program them to fear the police and immigration officials. And in some instances, they come to identify with their keepers.

We don’t yet know how President Obama will respond to the human trafficking crisis; it’s too soon to tell. But we do know that the response under the Bush Administration was inadequate on any number of levels. In a speech on trafficking, Bush once stated, “We're beginning to make good, substantial progress. The message is getting out: We’re serious. And when we catch you, you’ll find out we’re serious. We’re staying on the hunt.” Strong words. But the unvarnished truth is, with less than 1% of the bad guys apprehended, and less than 1% of the victims freed, it sounds a lot more like spin than fact; meanwhile, the flow of human “product” into America continues practically unchecked.

This is the kind of knowledge you can’t “unlearn”; the only question is, what do you do with the information once you have it? It’s a question we must all address for ourselves. We tend to think of our America as the country where slavery has no place; the dire truth is, we are pretty far from freedom, and it will take a lot of work and dedication – by the government, and by us - to make it so.
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It's been a while since I've done one of my Tip Jar round-ups of interesting links and pieces of information here on Spare Change. If you follow my Twitter feed (@Nedra) or links I bookmark on Delicious, you may have seen these and many other useful items already; in fact, I see so many great resources every day that it's hard to pick just a few to share.

Happy Mother's Day to all of you who are blessed to have the world's best and hardest job!
  • Show your support for the effort spearheaded by Craig Lefebvre to finally get a professional social marketing association off the ground. Join the 100 or so people who have signed it so far by adding your name to the ePetition that lays out the process by which this organization will be formed. I've written about the need for a professional association, which has been a long time coming. Kudos to Craig and the others who took the reins to make this happen!
  • The CDC's 3rd annual National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media will be happening in Atlanta, GA, August 11-13. I'm on the planning committee, and am very excited about the quality of the sessions we are going to be offering. Bill Novelli has just been confirmed as a keynote speaker, and we'll be featuring other high-level speakers yet to be announced. Like last year, I will be offering one of the pre-conference half day workshops, this time on building a social media strategy. CDC eHealth Marketing staff will be conducting an introductory-level social media workshop as well. I hope to see you at the conference!
  • Thanks to Andre Blackman of Pulse + Signal, I found the healthGAMERS blog that focuses on games designed to promote health. Some games focus on education, some are geared toward motivating behavior change, and others actually require healthy activities to occur as part of the game. Andre writes about the Stop Swine Flu game that makes it easy for kids to visualize how easily germs spread. If you are interested in learning more about this field, the Games for Health Conference will be happening June 11-12 in Boston.
  • Speaking of flu, Advertising Age published an excellent article offering ten things marketers can learn from the CDC's response to the H1N1 flu outbreak. These lessons include items like: empower those who want to help others, make search simple and accessible, syndicate the message and more. The CDC has done many things right in its communications efforts, and even though the efforts are still evolving, we can learn from and improve upon what we do.
  • If you work for a marketing firm, you may be able to relate to the episodes of a new comedy web series called Groupthink. The short videos follow a pair of friends as they start their firm, invent new buzzwords, and conduct focus groups for wacky products.
  • If you want to use storytelling to get your messages out in an effective way online, A Storied Career blog (another new favorite of mine) posted an excellent round-up of a dozen web-based storytelling tools. I would also add to these a site that my 11-year old son uses regularly called Bitstrips, which makes it incredibly easy to create professional-looking comics.
  • Gennefer Snowfield (@gennefer) interviewed me about social marketing on the TriplePundit blog. It's a general introduction to social marketing and its relationship to cause marketing. Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Photo Credit: Dain Sandoval
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The tiny H1N1 virus pictured above (the influenza formerly known as "Swine")* has brought me back to this blog after a long hiatus. As those of you who have read this blog for a while know, I have written quite a bit about pandemic preparedness from a social marketing perspective both here at Spare Change and as an invited blogger on the HHS Pandemic Flu Leadership Blog in 2007.

At that time, a pandemic seemed like a far-off risk, though we knew it was more a question of 'when' than 'if.' Since then, HHS and CDC have been working hard to increase preparedness at the national, state and local levels. From the rapid and effective response we've seen so far, it appears that they have done good work in that arena. Health departments and school districts in the US, and especially in Mexico City, have been quick to identify cases, isolate them and implement social distancing measures to keep people away from each other.

But I'd hoped we would have been further along prior to a pandemic in the areas of public awareness and preparedness. I'm currently involved in the social media piece of a CDC contract that is building grassroots coalitions to increase pandemic preparedness at the community level. As you can imagine, this project has been refocused to be H1N1-specific, and the timeline has been greatly accelerated. Our biggest concern, up until a week or so ago, was 'how do we get people to understand what a pandemic is and why they should care?' Suddenly, awareness is no longer an issue. But that also means that we are dealing with many other challenges that did not previously exist.

I believe that the CDC and WHO have done an excellent job of getting information out about the virus, its victims and how to prevent the spread of the flu. They are providing straightforward facts without hype and avoiding alarmism in their communications. The social media team has been especially innovative in providing online tools and maintaining an active presence on various online social media sites.

Unfortunately the 24-hour news machine, which by its nature needs to be constantly fed with new information, different angles on the same story, and attention-grabbing visuals, sank its teeth into the pandemic story and ran with it. Constant stories about new victims, pictures of people wearing masks, and ridiculous overreactions like that of Egypt, which slaughtered all of the country's 300,000 pigs, overwhelmed the public. Even Vice President Joe Biden put his foot in his mouth and said that he advised his family to stay off airplanes and subways, going far beyond any recommendations given by the government and adding to the sense of panic (he later backtracked).

A backlash has been building against the perceived hysteria, which has created its own new problems. People with the sniffles are flooding emergency rooms and demanding to be screened for H1N1. Tamiflu and Purell are flying off the shelves. People are wearing masks when going out in public, even though the masks are designed more for preventing a sick person from spreading their illness rather than protection from the other direction. The result is that many people are afraid and are growing weary of having their guard up with no perceived benefit.

Luckily, it appears that for now, this H1N1 virus may not be the Big One. It's too early to know whether it will mutate and come back in a more virulent form, as the 1918 influenza virus did. And it's impossible to know what might have happened with it had precautions not been imposed from the very beginning. Greg Dworkin of the Flu Wiki does an excellent job of explaining how seemingly drastic measures at the beginning of a pandemic can make all the difference in the outcomes. But prevention gets no respect. It's really hard to get excited about something that didn't happen. Many people don't understand that the public health system has to act on the potential threat, not waiting to see how bad it will get before intervening. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Whichever way the body count goes, the government would not win with its critics. It will either be accused of overhyping the threat or it will be accused of not being prepared enough. Michael Coston captured this Catch-22 well in his post "Predicting the Unpredictable":
The more successful they are in containing this outbreak, or in mitigating its effects, the more criticism they will receive in the press for over-blowing the threat.
And when this pandemic comes and goes without too much incident, particularly in the US, people may become complacent the next time we find ourselves facing a nasty virus. The government is seen as the bureaucrats who cried wolf and important recommendations may be ignored.

So what do we need to be doing to take this situation into account as we develop our communication efforts around pandemic preparedness? I have some recommendations:
  • We may have a window of opportunity for individuals and families to begin the process of gathering the supplies they would need in the case of an extended severe pandemic to survive at home sheltering in place. I think that HHS did a good thing by not emphasizing the need to stockpile food while we were in the thick of the beginning of the outbreak, thereby avoiding panic and shortages. But once the danger has passed, messages about slowly but steadily building up a supply of food, water and medical supplies must begin. (Here is an excellent pdf guide to pandemic preparedness and response.)
  • Complacency is a real danger. Messages should make the point that a severe pandemic remains a real possibility and that prevention measures kept this H1N1 virus in check. Parallels with the 1918 influenza virus, which started out relatively mild but returned in a second wave in a more virulent form, may illustrate the possible risks. In any case, the same good hygiene habits that prevent the spread of H1N1 will benefit people by keeping away seasonal flu as well and should be continued.
  • We must take care not to use fear-based messaging and imagery because this can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness -- not useful emotions when trying to get people to take action. Messages should emphasize how being prepared puts you in control. During turbulent times, giving people steps they can take to prevent or mitigate problems makes them feel empowered and capable. That's what we need!
  • Government agencies need to avoid any perceptions that their decisions are being made based on politics rather than science. In chatting with an acquaintance who was at NIH during the 1976 Swine flu epidemic, I learned that he strongly advised against proceeding with making the vaccine public because of safety concerns. He was overruled in favor of political considerations; 25 people died and hundreds of others were paralyzed from the faulty vaccine. While some conspiracy theorists will find nefarious motivations in any government actions, don't give reasonable people cause to doubt the basis of your policies.
  • Emphasize that being prepared for a pandemic will benefit them for many other types of disasters as well. Many of the same recommendations for food, water and medical supplies apply for regional hazards like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. It never hurts to be prepared, and often helps.
  • Continue to use social media to monitor what people are saying about pandemic flu-related issues. This can give you an idea of incorrect information or rumors that are being passed around, or the questions that keep coming up that need to be answered.
  • The government needs to be proactive about getting its messages out, beyond the news media. Television ads, entertainment education outreach, radio and outdoor media all could be used effectively to motivate people to prepare for another pandemic episode. Social media efforts can be expanded from primarily news coverage to help people learn more about preparedness activities.
  • The tone of the information needs to continue to be straightforward and factual, but emotionally appealing to various audiences. Right now the messages are very general, but they should be tailored to different key groups. If only we had a C. Everett Koop-style figure -- or at least a Surgeon General!
This will be a challenge. But on the bright side, we have a higher level of pandemic awareness than I ever thought possible. We need to take full advantage of this window of opportunity.

*Thanks to Michael Coston for that very cute name!

Image credit: CDC Influenza Laboratory
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I realize that it has been quite a while since I last updated this blog, and I am starting to accept that it may not happen again as soon as I'd prefer. So if you'd like to keep up with the latest social marketing resources I come across or just see what I'm up to, I encourage you to join me on my Twitter account. Lately 140 characters at a time is about all I can fit in! You can find me there as @Nedra, or you can subscribe to my Twitter stream with your RSS feed reader. (It's a mix of professional resources and commentary, conversations with other Twitter users and personal updates, so not all of the "tweets" may be of interest.)

I do intend to continue to use this blog as a base, and to post whenever I'm inspired. For the latest posts from my fellow social marketing bloggers, you can keep a watch on the Social Marketing Bloglines running down the left column of the blog, thanks to Craig Lefebvre. I also continue to post links to new social marketing resources in my Delicious account (also updated in the left sidebar).

I'm not going away - just using other tools to share information. I hope you'll join me so we can continue to learn together!
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