Social media drove the heart and soul of NHS Change Day 2014

Joe McCrea reflects on a remarkable runaway success.

NHS Change Day is a quite extraordinary social movement for change and innovation across the health service.

Given the size and complexity of the organisation compared with others across the globe, it is one of the largest single social movements for change and improvement in the world.

By the end of the 2014 project, it had attracted an incredible 702,132 online pledges from across the NHS and beyond – smashing its original target of 500,000 pledges.

Being a social movement, it’s no surprise that social media is at the heart of NHS Change Day. Its success came from the adoption of a distinctive approach to social media – a Communitarian strategy.

In 2013, Change Day used just four mainstream social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Podbean. Even using these limited channels, survey research carried out as part of post-project evaluation suggested that over a third of Change Day 2013participants first heard about the project via social media.

In fact, the entire project began with a tweet between Helen Bevan and young doctors Stuart Sutton and Damian Roland.

For 2014, we expanded massively the number and range of social media platforms and channels deployed to engage the frontline and support the social movement. And we moved from the traditional core to encompass a range of extended social media tools and channels, including Pinterest, Blipfoto, Instagram, Flickr, WhatsApp and Vimeo.

As Change Day 2014 reached its culmination at Expo 2014 in Manchester, we went one stage further in our social media exploitation by linking from the Conference Centre live to the frontline and shared with the world via Google Hangouts. It included the first pledge delivered live online.

The results were startling. To take just three metrics, our main Twitter account gained over 86 million Twitter impressions, at its height getting over 1.3 million Twitter impressions a day. We had over 32,000 video views for our films carried across YouTube, Vimeo , Podbean and ITunes. Our Facebook Page footprint increased tenfold with a 95,000 daily reach.

But it’s not just the size of our social media footprint that was a success. It was the strategic approach we adopted towards the use of social media. This was through the adoption of what I call a ‘Communitarian’ as opposed to a ‘Broadcast’ approach to social media.

Practitioners of a Broadcaster approach typically see social media as simply another set of communications channels to continue traditional habits and behaviours of announcing things or speaking at people.

They typically deploy tried and trusted methods to pursue conventional PR and marketing goals of building brand and organisational presence; mainly through one-way communication to the media, members or member organisations, stakeholders or external bodies, customers or service users. The only difference that social media provides is a limited range of alternative broadcast mechanisms to the traditional tools and techniques of one-way press releases, media briefings, round-robin e-mails or mail-merged campaign literature and collateral.

A half-way house stage between the Broadcaster and Communitarian approach might see the deployment of a series of Listening capabilities and programmes. This involves mainly inviting stakeholders and service users to submit responses and comments, ratings or observations on the organisation and its performance and service approaches. These responses and comments are then analysed behind closed doors by the organisation and an improvement strategy developed to deal with the findings.

There is nothing wrong with adopting either the Broadcaster or particularly the Listening approach.   In many contexts, it might be precisely the best course of action for an NHS body to adopt, delivering exactly what the organisation needs at a specific time or within its specific challenge or context.

But neither approach will work if the goal is to promote and sustain a social movement. This is where a Communitarian approach is needed to deliver truly groundbreaking results.

Under a Communitarian approach, the widest possible range of social media channels and tools are deployed to underpin a change and improvement programme built upon a rich mix of engaging, listening, responding, supporting, facilitating and participating in communities of individuals and organisations.

That is precisely the approach adopted for Change Day 2014. Rather than using social media simply to tell the NHS, social care and the wider world what WE were doing and what WE were thinking, we used social media to give frontline staff, carers, patients and families THEIR voice and THEIR spaces to interact with each other and inform each other. And a very powerful voice it proved to be.

And, of course, social media uniquely provides an economical and easy way to share the richest quality and depth material and content. An iPhone becomes a movie camera. A tablet becomes a novel or journal. A webcam becomes a live TV station. All of them provide spaces to interact, mutually discover and share.

And so, we were able to support and exhort the frontline to share their videos, their pictures, their stories, their ideas and their pledges with us and with each other. And social media allowed us and them to do so in a way that has hitherto been impossible.

The magnificent pictures, videos and human stories created and shared each day via social media drove the heart and soul of NHS Change Day 2014. And they also built up a remarkable tableau of determination, imagination, creativity and commitment lived and breathed by hundreds of thousands of staff, carers, patients and their families on the NHS frontline at the early stages of the 21st Century.

It felt – and still feels – revolutionary. It feels like a powerful, unstoppable movement for change. History will look back and judge if it truly was. In the meantime, we’ll continue to see you in Social Media space.

Joe McCrea

During 2013-14, Joe McCrea combined roles as Social Media Lead for NHS Change Day – the single largest improvement event in the NHS – and Head of Engagement for Tameside Listens, the biggest patient and stakeholder listening exercise in Tameside Hospital NHS Foundation Trust’s history.

This gave him a unique insight into current contrasting challenges and priorities from frontline and national perspectives.

He is a course tutor for the NHS Leadership Academy’s ‘Nye Bevan Leadership Programme’ and has designed social media strategies for the NHS Confederation and a leading UK local authority.

He has Board level experience in Non-Executive, Cabinet Ministerial Adviser, Parliamentary, Top 5 Consultancy and Senior Civil Service roles. He is a former Special Adviser at the Department of Health, Prime Minister’s Adviser in 10 Downing Street and a member of Cabinet Office Senior Management Team.

A communications pioneer for over two decades, he won numerous innovation awards in 1999 for designing and leading implementation of the world’s first Government-wide integrated policy, strategy and online communities network – the Knowledge Network – years before social media became pervasive.

One of his proudest moments came in 2001, when a word he first coined in 1994 while inventing the Labour Party’s Rapid Rebuttal operation officially entered the English language in the new edition of the Oxford English Dictionary: “Pre-buttal” (noun) – a pre-emptive response to an anticipated attack.