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Corralling the Chaos of a Sudden Social Media Storm - 8/17/2016 -

Becky R. Schoenfeld

The American Nurses Association’s publishing team gives a firsthand account of how their association addressed an inaccurate comment made about their profession on an episode of The View, which led to an international expression of gratitude to nurses everywhere.

By Becky R. Schoenfeld, Managing Editor, ARRL

At June’s Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting, American Nurses Association (ANA) staffers Joan Hurwitz, Jessica Eck, and Lisa Lloyd impressed upon attendees that it is not enough for associations simply to have a social media presence — in addition, that presence must be active and engaged. To drive the point home, they used a real-world example that many of the conference attendees remembered hearing about on the news.

The story started out pleasantly enough. On Sunday, September 13, 2015, the 2015 Miss America competition was televised. During the talent competition, Miss Colorado, Kelley Johnson, appeared in her medical scrubs, with her stethoscope around her neck, and spoke about the moment in her career when she realized she was more than "just a nurse.” The next day, the ANA’s two-person social media team took the opportunity to ask members to share their own stories of the moment when they had the same realization.

Nurses responded with immense pride. "We got 300,000 shares on Facebook,” Jessica Eck recalls. "It was great.”

The social media storm was just beginning, however. That same day, Joy Behar, one of the hosts of the daytime television talk show The View, asked why Kelley Johnson had been wearing a "doctor’s stethoscope.” Behar’s remark caused a social media explosion. By Tuesday, September 15, 2015, thousands of nurses had taken to social media to defend the contributions of their profession.

This is where the American Nurses Association’s social media strategy kicked in. Lisa Lloyd pointed out that associations need to have a strategy in place well in advance of a situation like this one. Lloyd described the ANA’s social media strategy in three steps.

  1. Acknowledge the offense. The ANA posted a message that said, "It is frustrating when unfounded assumptions cloud the life-saving and exceptional services nurses provide.” Lisa Lloyd said this post was instrumental in showing ANA members that the organization agreed with them.
  2. Redirect. Once the ANA was part of the conversation, it had an opportunity to change it. Because the ANA’s goals include positioning itself as the leading organizational voice for nurses, it redirected the conversation to…
  3. Pride. ANA used its social media feeds to encourage nurses to share photos of themselves with their stethoscopes. On Twitter, the organization promoted the hashtags #NursesShareYourStethoscopes and #ThisIsNotaCostume, and retweeted all photos posted with those hashtags.

The hashtags were picked up by numerous nursing organizations, hospitals, medical offices, and patients grateful for the services that nurses provide. The engagement was positive, educational, and fun — and the media storm was far from over.

By Wednesday morning, the social media response generated by the hashtags — which had reached more than 2 million people — and Facebook posts — which had reached 4.7 million people — had become national news. That day, ANA posted a collage of many of the stethoscope photos with the catchphrase, "Nurses don’t wear costumes; they save lives,” as well as a link to the organization’s official statement on Joy Behar’s comment.

This intensified the media storm, causing it to go international. "It just built and built and built,” says Joan Hurwitz. State-level nursing associations conducted media interviews. Kelley Johnson appeared on Ellen Degeneres’ daytime talk show. ABC Television came under fire for Joy Behar’s comment — 17 companies pulled their advertising.

Joy Behar issued an apology, and The View had a group of nurses on the show to teach the hosts how to use a stethoscope, but this media storm also had other longer-lasting effects. ANA gained more than 14,000 Facebook followers and 4,000 Twitter followers. People began telling personal stories on the ANA’s Twitter feed about their gratitude to nurses. The ANA’s social media outlets "went from a bullhorn approach to a person-to-person approach,” says Lisa Lloyd, who calls this approach the new normal. "It allows us to know our membership in a deeper and more intimate way,” she says.

"If we had tried to engineer engagement like this, we couldn’t have,” adds Jessica Eck. However, even though The View provided the perfect storm, having a social media strategy already mapped out allowed ANA to respond in a swift, succinct, positive manner that was aligned with the organization’s goals.

Becky R. Schoenfeld is managing editor of QST, ARRL, the national association for Amateur Radio. Association Media & Publishing sincerely thanks her for covering this Annual Meeting session for our members who were unable to attend.


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