When you plan for and conduct outreach campaigns, or issue press releases, or disseminate risk communication materials, most people in our field will tell you to make sure you hit all of your target audiences. (Thinking back to your social marketing classes, you’ve already segmented your audience, right?) And that’s usually pretty easy. There’s the mass media (print, radio, TV and static adverts), your employees, partners that are either invested in the effort or that you work closely with, any special populations outreach media (think Spanish-language radio stations and newspapers), any other specific outreach modalities (think doctor’s office waiting rooms, etc.) and the really forward thinking folks will post to their Facebook page, Twitter accounts and YouTube channels.
Think you’ve got everyone? I would argue that you don’t. There’s a hugely influential population that hasn’t yet made it to the list for a lot of government communicators.
If there is internet access around you, there are people in your jurisdiction who are building a community online. Those communities are as varied and specialized as our campaigns and, in many cases, hyper-local. They are written in your town or city, written about things that are going on in your town or city, and are visited by residents of your town or city. If they’ve gained any sort of following, they’ve established themselves as trusted agents within your town or city. And, as a blogger, let me tell you that they’re always looking for new readers.
In the past, I helped design a campaign to connect with family medical decision-makers in our community. The campaign was never fully implemented, but a key tenet of it was targeted, personal outreach to members of the “mommyblogging” community in Philadelphia. Wives and mothers are usually the ones that make the medical decisions in their families, and research has shown that women visit so-called “mommyblogs” by the truckload.
So, if these blogs have established themselves as places that medical decision-makers visit and interact with, why wouldn’t we want to establish a relationship with them? Working in public health, it’s easy to see the connection, especially as some “mommybloggers” have taken very vocal pro-vaccine stances in the past. What a natural dissemination point! And yet, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a public health department, or other public agency, partner with individual, unaffiliated bloggers to further push out messages.
We willingly and regularly partner with community- and faith-based organizations who reach hundreds of community-members, and act as trusted agents in their community, but continue to ignore online communities that are viewed as trusted resources by tens, hundreds, thousands of people.
Given the thirst for increased readership and interesting content of most bloggers, which we as government agencies can easily provide, I can’t think of a more natural fit.
I wonder if this oversight is simply a blind spot that will be overcome as we become more comfortable online, or if it is an active rejection of bloggers as online ranters with no community, blathering on about nothing in their pajamas. As a blogger who’s never blogged in his pajamas, I hope it’s the former, and quickly overcome.