Harnessing Social Media to Show Why Your Members Matter

a close-up of a stethoscope on a medical professional in blue scrubs March 6, 2017 By: Aimee Stern

Social media success demands lightning-fast response, but many associations are not ready to jump on an opportunity the moment it is presented. The American Nurses Association provides valuable lessons for communicators who want to do it right.

During the Miss America talent competition in September 2015, Miss Colorado Kelley Johnson, a registered nurse, recited a moving monologue about a night in intensive care with an Alzheimer's patient that changed both of their lives. She wore her scrubs and stethoscope on stage.

The following day, during ABC's talk show The View, hosts Joy Behar and Michelle Collins mocked Johnson for reading emails and wearing a "doctor's stethoscope."

On Tuesday morning, a member called the American Nurses Association's Communications department to relay what happened. Since ANA Vice President of Communications Joan Hurwitz was in a meeting, another member of her team took the call, and the concern was shared with other staffers. The social media team checked out some of the early reaction on social media, and another member sent them a copy of the clip from The View.

ANA staff, knowing there was not only an immediate need for a response but also an opportunity for the association, got to work on a social media strategy. By the time Hurwitz got back to her desk, a plan was waiting for her. And by 3p.m., ANA's social media campaign launched.

You have to be willing to be in the moment. You can't wait until [your response] is perfect.—Joan Hurwitz, American Nurses Association

The call to action was simple: Nurses were asked to post pictures wearing their stethoscopes on Twitter and tweet them at The View using the hashtag #ShareYourStethoscopes.

Over the next few days, ANA promoted the campaign on Twitter and Facebook. The response gained tremendous momentum, and by Wednesday morning, local media were covering it. To leverage the growing interest, ANA released a statement from President Pamela F. Cipriano about the value that nurses provide to patients every day, and ANA asked state nurses associations and organizational affiliates to coordinate outreach efforts and responses to local media. The group also reached out to entertainment media, and the story began to gain additional pick up.

"Among our goals were to elevate the conversation, create a teachable moment, and position the ANA as the leading organizational voice of our profession," says Hurwitz. "We were able to redirect nurses' indignation into a positive campaign that increased public understanding of nurses' vital role and boosted nurses' pride in their profession."

By the end of the week, thousands of nurses participated in the campaign. In addition, several advertisers pulled their ads from The View, and the hosts issued a public apology. At the same time, the president of ABC News called ANA to apologize, and the talk show devoted its entire Friday show to nurses.

ANA's rapid response to the opportunity paid off. It also won ASAE's 2016 Gold Circle Award for overall excellence. Most importantly, it provides valuable lessons to other associations looking to use social media more effectively.

Tactic Takeaways

If you want to get your story out, you need to have the right team in place and trust they can do that job. For instance, the trust that ANA leadership placed in its communications team allowed Hurwitz to respond to a continually evolving story in real time. At first, Hurwitz and her team, who she credits the campaign's success, thought that the story would last 24 hours. But as more organizations got involved and the story's momentum grew, the opportunity extended to the entire workweek.

Although ANA had not been in a situation like this before, Hurwitz believes the 2014 Ebola epidemic was good training for responsive action. When the outbreak spread globally, a Texas nurse was one of the first people in the U.S. to contract the virus. For six weeks after that incident, Hurwitz says new developments required ANA to engage in rapid response to the media, other healthcare organizations, and its members. Social media was an essential part of the response.

Additionally, the team was empowered to reschedule posts for products and events that would have appeared tone deaf, given both the public and healthcare professionals' concerns about Ebola. This helped leadership recognize that, moving forward, a system was needed that would allow for rapid response to a crisis involving nurses.

"In the old days we did traditional media first and followed with social media. Now we have flipped that and immediately ask what we should do on social media," said Hurwitz. "You have to be willing to be in the moment. You can't wait until [your response] is perfect."

Quick internal communication is also vital. ANA showcased the stethoscopes campaign at its all-staff meeting that week, so employees could engage and respond to member inquiries. Afterward, the communications team was recognized and thanked for all their hard work.

Final Results

As the numbers show, the #ShareYourStethoscope campaign was a huge success and continues to pay off:

  • 4.7 million people were reached through ANA's Facebook page in one week.
  • #ShareYourStethoscope trended on Twitter and BuzzFeed.
  • ANA gained 18,000 social media followers that month.
  • The @ANANursingWorld handle is currently ranked in the top 10 percent of all Twitter accounts based on popularity and influence.
  • Media, such as Entertainment Weekly, People, Forbes, CNN, USA Today, Huffington Post, Slate, The Irish Times, and the Chicago Tribune covered the story.
  • The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Dr. Oz Show hosted episodes about nurses, and Dr. Oz added a nursing correspondent to his team of experts.

However, ROI for ANA was not just about numbers. For 15 years, nursing has been the most-trusted profession in the country, and not enough attention is paid to that. Nurses found a rallying cry around this campaign and used it to get more attention to their profession.

"There's a lot of power in 3.6 million people. We tapped into pride in the profession, and our members and nurses across the country responded. Nurses, teachers, and many other professionals just don't get the recognition they deserve. In that moment, they did," Hurwitz says.

Aimee Stern

Aimee Stern is CEO of Brave Now PR in Washington, DC.