Tweet-a-thons may not be ground-breaking in public sector communications any more but they still have their place in telling the stories of the services we use. Sarah Lay shares learning from the recent #1NHSDerbys day she co-ordinated for Southern Derbyshire CCG.


When Darren and Dan, co-founders of this esteemed site, first ran a tweet-a-thon back in 2011 to share a 24 hour snapshot of Walsall Council services it was a communications first and still stands as an impressive feat of co-ordination and reach. In sharing the day-to-day work of the council – everything from investigating noise complaints, to litter picking, to (of course) gritting – they were able to embed social media more strongly in the organisation but vitally were able to make visible the services folk don’t realise are there until they need them.

Since then the idea has grown with other areas of public service taking the idea and growing it, using combined voices to amplify messages and extend reach. There is now a local government wide day – #OurDay – which has been taking place annually, various police forces have shared their work in this format, and the NHS has also shared a day in the life of our health services.

While the format may no longer be ground breaking the value is still great and so as part of the work I’m currently doing with Southern Derbyshire CCG the idea surfaced again in talking about communicating core messages, particularly around relieving the current winter pressures. These messages are immediate calls to action but are also part of a longer term population level behaviour change – essentially, A&E is for emergencies only so present to the right place for your needs. These messages span self-care and making greater use of pharmacists,  to the urgent care end of the scale with minor injury units and urgent care centres, as well as conditions for which you should see a GP, mental health, and ongoing national campaigns.

That’s a lot of ongoing awareness messaging which (is intended to) contributes to changing thinking about where to go when you’re poorly. Are the tweets about keeping A&E for emergencies intended for the person finding themselves in a situation and checking Twitter before calling an ambulance – no, of course not. They are intended to be passively seen as you scroll through your feed so next time you fall heavily on your wrist showing your kids how to do skateboard tricks (I’ve heard it happens…) you know to go to the minor injury unit at the local community hospital rather than rock up at A&E. Awareness still has its place even if campaigns hinged on it are a bust in the current public sector comms climate.

So #1NHSDerbys was conceived and duly co-ordinated over a few weeks lead in. Six organisations involved in healthcare in the Derby and Southern Derbyshire area, all committed to sharing patient stories and showing how they work together over the course of one day. From Derby Hospital to Derby City Council, through to the CCG sharing pharmacy facts tweets across the 8am-8pm effort traced patients through the system. From Lego up noses, and Stingray bites (yes, even in this landlocked county) to cardiac arrests, self-harm, and longer term care for stroke patients the varied work of care came through.

As a group of practitioners in partner organisations we learnt how to work our messages more closely together, to break out of silos and show how care happens. As a campaign we extended the reach of our messages (137, 151 accounts reached across the day) and found a new way to communicate things we need to talk to people about every day. It reinvigorated our thinking, attracted further partners to join across the day, and piqued the interest of a local media jaded by the standard health messages.

The outputs were many and positive, the contribution to the longer term outcome of behaviours changing remains to be seen.  We’re looking ahead now to stretching out from the Twitter platform to extend our reach to demographics we know hang out elsewhere, develop more engaging formats for our messages (video is where it’s at, we all know this), get practitioners (and patients!) sharing their stories not just on a given day but consistently, and to do further work to strengthen the links across the system where health crosses between NHS and local government. We see this as a start of partnership communications, of near-to-real-time sharing of stories across the system, and an additional way to nudge toward that behaviour change.

Sarah Lay is an award-winning digital content strategist, music journalist and editor. She specialises in digital work within the public sector, is part of the panel here at comms2point0, and you can find her on her website and on Twitter.

image via State Library of South Australia

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

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