Month: January 2013

The language of conversation

It seems that some are still questioning why social media strategy sits with PR agencies as opposed to a digital or creative agency, or indeed any agency at all. For me, the answer is simple – nobody understands messaging, engagement and overall language better than PR experts. This is something we’ve been doing since the term ‘public relations’ was first coined, and in this new world – although on the whole I refuse to call it ‘new’ anymore – of digital PR, the power of language is more evident than ever.

‘Who cares about language?’ some may ask – just give me a branded Facebook page and a couple of videos on YouTube and I’ve ticked the social media box. No, no, no! This is where some brands are still falling down at the first hurdle. In fact, they aren’t really even reaching the first hurdle. To achieve brand longevity and a sustainable social media presence, it is vital to use language that is audience specific, ignites conversation (in a positive way!) and gives you a social identity. If you can achieve these things, then you are on the way to reaching those people – be it patients, carers, families or medical professionals – that are looking for support.

If you’re a patient, perhaps recently diagnosed, chances are you are feeling apprehensive, concerned and more than likely curious to find out more. When you turn to the big G, the last thing you want to see is brand and company messages shoved in your face in a completely unnatural and downright intrusive manner. What’s really going to make you click on one of the results out of hundreds of pages of search results (SEO aside) is something engaging, meaningful and organic. Something that resonates with you and your current emotions. And the power of language choices as a brand is not to be underestimated here.

Then of course there’s language in the native-tongue sense – a big consideration in global social media campaigns. As I’ve been researching and thinking about this post, I’ve started to wonder if really there can be a truly global campaign at all. Today we have to consider language variations, cultural sensitivities and platform reach, but can we really do this via one campaign?

The social media space in India is showing a nice trend that addresses some of these challenges. In a country with a whole variety of languages and dialects within one set of geographical parameters, we are seeing unexpected popularity in image sharing platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook for their abilities to share and communicate in a universally understandable way.

So I suppose in a way, my two points here could be contradictory: words and language are fundamental, yet image sharing is the global solution. I, however, think that the two can in fact be complimentary and work hand in hand. And that goes back to my original thought; know your audience, know your objectives and know why. As the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words.

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So, what do you do?

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My first post, and what better way to start than to answer that question that I think every single one of my friends and family has asked at some point over the last few years, “so what do you actually do?” I started explaining this to my best friend a few months ago, and after a number of minutes of my rambling and chucking in the odd PR-y word (of course) she stopped me and asked, “What do you mean by social media?”

This surprised me. I assumed it was a given. Common knowledge. But alas not! And so I started thinking about what social media means in my life and how it affects the work we do in our world of PR. In the healthcare world specifically, social media is about people with a common interest – be it a recent personal diagnosis, caring for a family member, or living with a condition – coming together to share concerns, share advice and share experiences. And that, to me, is the point right there – share.

No one likes to suffer in silence; everyone sometimes needs some anonymity. Social media allows people to ask questions without judgement, talk about what it’s like to feel defined by a disease, share treatment experiences and feel informed to make the right choices.

So, what do I do?  I take social media beyond the ‘like’ and ‘follow’ – because let’s face it those are just vanity metrics (thanks to Steven Shattuck for that nice little phrase!) – and create a platform for meaningful discussion; give patients a voice and a reason to be heard.

Then of course not forgetting the other person in this relationship – the medical professional. If one half of the relationship is clued up from all angles, so too must the other. And this is where we see the healthcare professional communities like and the BMJ’s doc2doc, come in. Patients connect to understand, healthcare professional connect to be able to provide context. What was once wading through volume after volume of medical journal, can now be a ‘whip out the iPad, ask a question, get a peer’s perspective and view some case notes.’ Et voila, all parties have a means to connect in their respective communities.

And that is the beauty of a social media ecosystem.  A ‘surround sound’ of current, relevant, insightful and engaging content that is platform independent, yet audience specific.  And this is where we, as PR and social media pros, work our magic.

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