Public Health Podcasting

microphoneFor those of you who are avid readers, you know that I’ve occasionally been doing video posts on the blog. (Here’s the first one from earlier this year.) They’re going … okay, I think. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time, and am finally getting it done this year. It’s been a fun experience, and certainly makes me think I’d like to do it more officially in the future. Looking forward, I should really admit that anything beyond the random videos that I don’t advertise could probably be considered a podcast.

So, what’s a podcast? Well, according to Teagan Keating, it’s:

A podcast is a bit like a radio show that you download from the internet.

And it turns out there’s a bit of a market for it:

People really do listen to podcasts. As of 2011, there were 91,000 podcasts. In 2012, Edison Research found that 29% of Americans polled had listened to a podcast at least once, and 26% had viewed a video podcast (sometimes called a vodcast) at least once.

And just within the usually very-behind-the-times public health world, there are at least ten regularly updated podcasts, from places like the American Public Health Association and the US Department of Health and Human Services, but also individual public health practitioners like Jigsaw PSPH and Helen Osborne.

So what does this mean for us as government communicators (and you, too, public health folks)? Well, after yesterday’s post about where people are getting their news, shouldn’t podcasting be considered yet another avenue through which we can spread the word? Yes, it’s not traditional, and yes, you won’t get ten million listeners. But you might get the one listener you need, or more importantly, the one listener who needs you.

The great list that Teagan put together is woefully bereft of local and state health departments. And, given the insanely low threshold needed to produce one of these things (seriously, I do it with my phone and a five-dollar video editing app), why aren’t more government agencies doing it?

(As an aside, I’m going to continue my video posts through the end of the year, and then I very seriously will consider spinning them, or an audio podcast, off next year. I’ll be attending the Philly Podcast Festival this week to learn about how I can do it better. Look for another update on the topic of podcasting in the near future.)


Non-traditional News

A couple of days ago, we talked about the royal baby and how the news isn’t everyone’s news. Some of you, though, may be asking about where this other news lives. Well it lives everywhere, and that’s been demonstrated a few times this week online.

First, television. Pop quiz: what network was the most watched during the recent July sweeps week amongst viewers 18 – 34 and 18 – 49? ABC? Fox? Nope. Try Univision. The Spanish-language network is seemingly commanding more eyeballs than any of the so-called “big guys.” But how much Spanish content do you produce?

Second, internet. If you had to pick which internet giant consumed more than a quarter of all North American internet traffic, which would you pick? Facebook? Netflix? Nope. Try Google. In fact, Google (mostly because of their YouTube ownership) serves up more data than Facebook, Netflix and Twitter combined. But how many Google ads do you have? How many YouTube videos?

Third, how people access information. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, in their latest survey, more than 56% of American adults reported being smartphone owners. And how do they use their smartphones?


They get online! All. Day. Long. According to the Buffer blog, more than 189 million people access Facebook via the mobile app. And then they ask this very important question that relates to our discussion of how people are getting their news:

Rethink it: There are probably more users accessing Facebook from mobile devices than you thought. It’s worth considering how your content displays on mobile devices and smaller screens before posting it, particularly if your target market is full of mobile users.

How do people get the news? They get it from anywhere and everywhere. And there’s no way you can provide information to all of these disparate sources. So–and this is the important part of the post–this is why your agency needs to be their own content creators and delivery system. You need to be the place that people go for information. Because the public is already building their information portfolio, and right now? You’re not a part of it.

Cameras Everywhere

One of my favorite web comics is XKCD. It’s highly intelligent, quite nerdy, and published regularly. If you’re not already a reader, and have a background in mathematics, this needs to be a regular stop on your travels through the web. (And if you need help deciphering it, like I do sometimes, check out this great ExplainXKCD site.)

The image above is taken from here on XKCD. The idea behind the comic is that many of the world’s mysteries are being solved, proven or disproven because evidence-making machines, specifically cell phone cameras, are nearly ubiquitous today.

What does that mean for your agency? Well, quite simply there are cameras trained on your folks all the time. Right now, even.

Our first reaction is that this is a bad thing. But is it? Not always, and maybe never. According to the NY Times, it’s been a boon for one California community:

The Rialto study began in February 2012 and will run until this July. The results from the first 12 months are striking. Even with only half of the 54 uniformed patrol officers wearing cameras at any given time, the department over all had an 88 percent decline in the number of complaints filed against officers, compared with the 12 months before the study, to 3 from 24.

Our friends on fire scenes are seeing the same thing. Chief Boyd describes a fictional scene where images are transmitted online at the same time that a chief on-scene seems them:

Now fully engaged in unfolding events I can’t quite picture the exact location of this particular complex. So, I pull up aerial photos allowing me to see all four sides. Wait….. I can see a fire wall extending up through the roof near the address apartment. That’s good. Looking for more real time intel, I pull up the Washington State Department of Transportation camera network and quickly spot a camera pointed in the general direction of the “C” side of the apartment complex.

We will be on camera all of the time, from here on out. Those fictions that we were worried about? We can now get proof that they never happened. Those mistakes that we make will be broadcast for all of the world to see. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. It just is. How we react will make all of the difference.

Government Advocacy

For those of you who follow my public health memes Tumblr, you know I’m not a big fan of the newest The View host, Jenny McCarthy. But I’m just me, railing against the wind. But there are lots of other folks in the public health world that agree with me. But they’re just themselves. Other than our collective power, we can’t make much of a difference.

But what if someone from the government said something?

Psh, we’d never do that, right? We’re the government and we don’t get into tiffs with celebrities with more star-power than everyone in our agency.

But what if…

It turns out that Toronto Public Health is making that move. And why?

Because it’s the right thing to do. Because we, in government, hold views. Spend millions of taxpayer dollars and thousands of hours of time espousing those views. Should we stand back and allow pop culture out-muscle our work? Now, of course, I’m not saying that we shut anyone down. But why shouldn’t we address our detractors? Why shouldn’t we let our points of view stand in the same arena explicitly?

But we don’t. Why?

I think it’s because we, in government, operate under an old paradigm. We operate under the assumption that people listen to the words that we say because we’re the government, and that is all the reason they need. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the world works.

We live in a meritocracy of ideas. In the cacophony of information, the public receives and measures information, then metes out their interest according to how they see the information they’ve received. Interesting, relevant, fun? Get more. Boring, staid, irrelevant? Ignore.

Jenny McCarthy is sexy, bombastic and has legions of followers. Should your public get their public health from her or us? Then why aren’t we doing something about it?

Your Brand Is About More Than Other People

We’ve already established that your agency has a brand. (Take your fingers out of your ears, it doesn’t help the situation.) Last time we talked about this, the thrust was about how others viewed your agency. How the community views the work that you do.

But honestly, branding is about way more than that. Branding is about your employees. It’s about having them understand why they’re doing what they do. It can help give them a reason besides a paycheck to take pride in their work. We all have employees that we know aren’t invested in our mission, but one has to ask: do they even know what the mission is? If they don’t buy in, is that really their fault? Or is it ours for focusing on their individual task and not linking them to the grander goal?

Each of the presenters in the session talked about this, employee satisfaction and buy-in, as a key element–a key goal–of the re-branding process. One of the presenters did an extensive employee survey and used what they learned there as a driving force for the campaign. One of the key findings was:

Staff identify with program not organization

Now think about your agency. Do you have staff that identify as members of a specific program? Or do they proudly state that they’re part of the Department? Each one of those persons isn’t doing damage, but if you’ve got a couple hundred people in your Department and they’re divided up into ten different programs, your power for advocating for change is greatly diminished. Besides which, how can you be part of something bigger if there are only a dozen people in your program?

I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that we live in a time of austerity, where every dollar is accounted for and balanced against some competing priority. Employees are your ambassadors, and if they’re only advocating for their small piece of the pie, is the rest of your Department suffering?

Filtered News

So yesterday, the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, had a baby. In case you didn’t notice. The Royal Baby, it was called by the Twitterati. And I’m not a fan. Royal baby, you hold no sway over me. But I can’t get away from him.

But I have solutions. I don’t really follow pop-culture following folks (death, disease and disaster all the time, baby!), I skip over news stories about the newborn babe, my RSS feed is delightfully tech-heavy. But he still mocks me, and lots of other people who couldn’t care less.

In fact, the Guardian even created this handy little tool to wipe the royal family and all of their baby-having ways off of the paper:

[A] small toggle near the top of the page that allows readers to switch between “Royalist” and “Republican” modes, the latter of which removes all reference to English royalty and their familial expansion.

My reason for bringing this up is it demonstrates what the future of news delivery and consumption looks like. Ten years ago the future king would’ve taken the front page of every major American and British newspaper and been the lead on every major newscast. You couldn’t have escaped it. But not today. Today there are people who are in touch and follow news who have no idea this is happening. They’ve successfully filtered their news to only be about those things that are most important to them, and nothing else.

This has huge ramifications for us in emergency communications. “Just put it on the news,” may not be the solution anymore. Not everyone looks at your news, not everyone follows your news. They follow the news that is important to them, and we’ve got to figure out how to access those networks.

The second point this raises is that we’ve been given a great opportunity. Most government communicators have a pipeline, wherein things get approved and shipped out into the world. One method of distribution. Everything in the same packaging. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Technology has advanced in such a way that we can divide, repackage, slice up and otherwise make available in dozens of formats all of our information. Dynamic tagging, specialized social media accounts, website target audiences, path mapping, the list goes on and on. But how many of us actually use these tools? How many of us allow our publics to choose which of our information they feel is important? Or do we force them to sit through everything?

Silence is a Failure

Yesterday, we talked about the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 and how social media sped up the public’s interest in the crash. Today, we’re going to talk about when the disaster is known. About how doing things the usual way is a recipe for a bigger disaster.

The problem isn’t that people need life-saving information–especially in a situation like this. The problem instead is that people think you don’t care. We’ve talked several times about how, as communicators, trust is our currency. Trust is predicated on a belief that the person looking to be trusted understands, or emotes with, the person being asked to trust. If we look like we don’t care, who the hell would trust us?

And that’s exactly the problem being faced by Asiana Airlines now. According to our new best friends at Simpliflying, it took SIX HOURS for Asiana to post a response on Twitter.

They’re investigating? Investigating what? Then, two hours later, they issued a press release:

But that delay didn’t mean that people weren’t looking for information. Indeed, their Facebook and Twitter followings shot up (see slides 25 and 27) in a way that most of us in the emergency world wish ours would.

People were doing anything and everything to find information. And when they didn’t find it issued officially from the airline, they complained.

kirby facebook

And they’ve been reeling ever since. There is no sympathy for Asiana.

But the part that has killed them is more than their silence. It’s the blast of communication from others that has made them look so out of touch.

Boeing (slide 15), other airlines (slide 16), NTSB (slides 17 and 18, though, admittedly their star has dimmed a bit since the day of the crash), and finally San Francisco airport (who did a ridiculously amazing job keeping their customers informed of the situation). During this amazing outpouring of online empathy and information distribution, Asiana was silent. And it’s in comparison that what they did was so bad.

Now think about the emergency you fear. When you take six hours to approve a tweet or a press release, will all of your partners and competitors and surrounding counties and states and agencies all stay silent, or will they make you look bad?