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Palliative Care Australia’s shift to social media to better engage members and the community

When I was asked to write this blog post I remember being a little taken aback. ‘You realise we only have 1,200 Facebook followers and about 1,700 on Twitter, right? Are you sure?’ But, although our following is small, our time spent on social has brought many opportunities to connect with the palliative care community; opportunities that have lead to real, tangible relationships with now-engaged and loyal audiences. I’d like to share a few of the things that have worked for us along the way.

Identify your audience and tailor your approach
PCA has a presence across Twitter and Facebook with a YouTube channel to host any video content that we have. One of the most important things for us has been to work out who our audiences are on our various platforms and what they are after. Each platform requires a different approach and along the way we have learnt what works better for Facebook versus Twitter and tailored our approach accordingly.

Broadly speaking, our Twitter followers tend to be more of a professional audience that, because of the small-scale nature of the palliative care community, spans the globe. On Twitter it’s about being timely. Whether it’s live tweeting from an event, signposting interesting articles or pointing to the latest research, if we can let our audience know something before anyone else, it makes that piece of information instantly shareable.

Our Facebook page requires a different approach completely. The time factor doesn’t matter so much on Facebook and our followers aren’t so interested in statistics or research. They want a personal approach – stories about people they can relate to, great visual content in the form of photos or videos, inspiring quotes, information they can comment on and share with others. We don’t need to post as frequently to Facebook. Our followers know they’ll get one good post a day from us.

Tell stories with your content
For an issue like palliative care, there’s no better way for us to communicate about why it’s an important subject than to tell the stories of patients, their families and carers. As you can imagine, finding people who are willing (and able) to do this at what is such a precious time in their lives can be really difficult.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been phoned by a journalist who wants to talk to someone who’s dying – preferably in their own bed, with their family around them – saying ‘we want to do that tomorrow before 11am and bring a film crew, ok?’ It’s been a real surprise to me how effective our Facebook page has been in sourcing people who are willing to tell their story.

I put a call out on our page for people who were willing to do media interviews during National Palliative Care Week in May last year. Surprisingly, I received fifteen replies from my Facebook request and, after talking with each of the volunteers, ended up with 8 people who were suitable for an interview. This was invaluable when it came to our media outreach because many of the media outlets would only run stories about palliative care if there was a personal angle (having an awareness week and a media release from a peak body isn’t ‘newsworthy’ enough on its own).

From this, we had our most successful media campaign ever with over 800 media items from outlets including The Sydney Morning Herald, ABC Radio National and Sky News Australia.

Use #hashtags to engage your audiences
Around the time of Australian Palliative Care Conference in September last year, our friends at the Croakey Health Blog had recommended we develop a Twitter hashtag for our conference and register it with the Healthcare Hashtag Project on Symplur so we could track its success.

We did this about a month before the conference and included the hashtag in the information we sent to delegates, encouraging them to use it in their posts about the conference. I must admit I wasn’t feeling confident, and remember sitting in the office the week before the event scouring the delegate list and contacting anyone I knew who had a Twitter account begging them to tweet! I had about 10 people lined up by the time the conference came around and was thinking that maybe palliative care health professionals just didn’t do Twitter, but then something exciting happened: These are the analytics from Symplur. 343 people used the hashtag to send over 2,700 tweets, reaching an audience of 4.5million! We had people from all over the world following what was happening at the conference. Those who weren’t there were asking others to tweet from sessions so they wouldn’t miss out. By the end of the conference people were tweeting in questions for the keynote speakers that we would read out on their behalf. It was a really unexpected way to get great engagement around an event.

Always remember: you’re trying to connect with people.
Death isn’t funny… is it? Palliative care can be a tough topic to talk about. We live in a society which still treats death and dying as taboo and people can be reticent to talk about these issues. Our approach to social media has been to remember that palliative care is all about people, and to take a personalised human approach with our audiences. Whilst the result of a life limiting illness will always be death, palliative care is about helping people live as well as possible before they die; to improve quality of life. It’s this that we try to capture and present via social media, whilst still acknowledging that we are dealing with painful and difficult issues.

Social media is not just a numbers game – it’s a two-way dialogue
We don’t have millions of followers on Twitter, or command the Facebook following of a big brand, but we do have an audience with which we can engage with in a two-way dialogue. We’ve noted some successes via our platforms, and continue to learn new things everyday about how to do things better. But, overall, it’s just a pleasure to be able to share stories (like this one from Kaye Sales and her family), and to help people access information about palliative care to support them during a difficult time in their lives. My advice: be honest, be useful, remember you are talking to real people and it’s ok to be funny.

Claire Maskell Gibson is National Communications Manager at Palliative Care Australia.
Get in touch with Palliative Care Australia via their website. Check out what the organisation is doing in social via Facebook, @Pall_Care_Aus andYouTube.
Palliative Care Australia (PCA) is the peak national organisation representing the interests and aspirations of all who share the ideal of quality care at the end of life. Our mission is to influence, foster and promote the delivery of quality care at the end of life through ongoing policy and advocacy, education, and developing collaborative relationships in Australia and internationally.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on the Mahlab Media website.

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