Every health communicator knows the challenges of conceiving and
executing a communications plan. There's budget to consider,
stakeholders to involve, media channels to pursue, and much more.
Every health communicator also knows the importance of objectives.
It doesn't matter how fantastic your idea is if you don't know what
your goals are. Moreover, if doesn't matter what your goals are
unless you have a way to measure those goals. We've all been taught
that we should create SMART goals. That is: specific, measurable,
attainable, realistic, and timely.
But creating SMART goals is easier in some cases than others. In
recent years, there has been a significant uptick in awareness
campaigns. In May alone, we have National Osteoporosis Awareness
Prevention Month, National Stroke Awareness Month, National Teen
Pregnancy Prevention Month, Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month,
National Critical Care Awareness and Recognition Month, Health
Vision Month, National High Blood Pressure Education Month, and
National Mental Health Month. All great causes, sure. But how do
those behind the campaigns know that they are actually raising
According to a commentary published this month in
American Journal of Public Health (AJPH),
there are nearly 200 health awareness days officially recognized in
the United States, and that does not account for all of the
"unofficial" ones that are sponsored by individual organizations
and associations. The AJPH article also states that there is no
good evidence that awareness campaigns have the desired result
(i.e., actually raising awareness among the target audience).
The pervasiveness of social media seems to have increased the
profile of awareness campaigns. You may remember a few years ago
when your Facebook friends, seemingly quite randomly, started
posting status updates that said "beige" or "red lace." This was an
"awareness" campaign for breast cancer. Although it was popular
in terms of those who participated by updating their status
updates, it didn't really do much to start a conversation about
breast cancer. On the other hand, last year, millions of dollars
were raised for ALS through the Ice
Bucket Challenge-a campaign that was promoted and executed
largely on social media.
Other organizations also say that they have seen a positive
effect from awareness campaigns. Regarding Autism Awareness Day,
which is held every year on April 2, and Autism Awareness Month,
which is recognized for the entire month of April, the organization
says it has seen results. More than
$10 million was raised for the cause in April and more than 18,000
buildings around the world lit up blue in honor of the "Light it
There's a term for activism on social media: slacktivism.
Sometimes the pejorative term is accurate, but other times it is
unnecessarily harsh. Social media allows us to reach large
audiences with our message, and there are few better ways to spread
the word about a campaign. However, changing a profile picture or
posting the color of ones bra at times often seems more like an
attempt to appear as if you are contributing to a cause
without actually contributing anything. Unless money or other
support follows, it doesn't do much good.
Our job as health communicators is to help get campaigns to move
beyond picture and status updates to real conversations that may
prompt actual support for a cause.
Editor's note: This post originally appeared on
May 26 at HealthComU.