If you work in consumer-facing health communications, you face the considerable challenges of language barriers and health literacy gaps. Here’s how the US Department of Health and Human Services assessed it:
Only 12 percent of adults have Proficient health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. In other words, nearly nine out of ten adults may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease.
That level of health illiteracy is of course concerning, because health is related to everything we do. Our health is affected by the amount of sleep we get, the nutrition we put into our bodies, the amount of social interaction we have with friends or family in a week, and even the way we sit in a chair. All of these factors impact our overall health.
So, how do health communications professionals work on this issue? How can they create content that is more understandable, and then spread that information as far and wide as possible? How does a healthcare brand make its important communications ‘contagious’?
Contagious is a sublime book written by Jonah Berger. He goes into six “STEPPS” that can help your content go viral. His framework can be incorporated into health communications and help professionals work smarter—not harder—with their content.
Berger’s STEPPS are as follows:
- Social Currency
- Practical Value
Understanding these can help you plan your content to make it a ‘social epidemic.’ If you want to spread your information fast and become top-of-mind, then you need to think about how to apply each of Berger’s STEPPS into your marketing campaigns.
Step 1: Social Currency
Social currency is the knowledge you have to add value to a conversation. The more you know, the more “status” you often have in society.
People are always talking about what was on the news and what they saw on social media. They use this information to start conversations at work, among friends and family, and even with total strangers. When we do this and share the right type of information, we gain social currency.
According to research cited by Buffer, there are two main reasons people share content:
- “to give others a better sense of who they are and what they care about”
- “to stay connected to people.”
The research showcases that people want to be liked. Berger explains that “[the] desire for social approval is fundamental human motivation.” With this knowledge, health organizations need handcrafted, creative content so people can engage with it.
Health organizations need to dive deeper into their target audience(s) and find valuable content based on the consumer’s interests and motivations. The content also needs to be remarkable. According to Berger:
“Remarkable content provides social currency because they make people who talk about them seem more, well, remarkable.”
In healthcare communications, you should almost always provide an example or visual to help explain the health-related concept. This will not only help with readers with lower health literacy rates, but it will also boost the attention and social currency value of the content.
Step 2: Triggers
Triggers are prompts that keep people talking about your brand or product. Berger provided a great example of triggers that may help you understand this concept better.
Rebecca Black’s song, “Friday”, has a prevalent trigger associated with it. Can you take a guess on what it is?
Drum roll please… the song’s title, “Friday”, is the trigger! When this song was popular, every Friday people would turn on this song because it was Friday.
Health organizations could easily take advantage of triggers because health is related to everything you do. Content could be focused on everyday health and wellness topics to prompt healthier decisions and lifestyle habits.
Step 3: Emotion
If you make someone feel an emotion with your content, you will create a bond with the recipient of your message. This person then has the ability to share your message with their network and spread your brand to potential new customers of your products or services.
According to Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, purchase decisions, brand loyalty, and customer engagement are directly related to the subconscious mind. Emotional benefits can overpower the rational benefits of a product or service because people care about how they feel with a product or service.
Healthcare organizations should be factoring in how they can make people feel. A prime example of doing this step right, is Health Beat, a brand journalism publication of Spectrum Health. Health Beat publishes inspiring patient stories of hardship, hope, love, joy, and excitement that spark a range of emotions in their readers, leading them to share those stories on social media so others can share in that emotional connection.
Step 4: Public
Another step that is crucial is “public.” A key factor of this step is observability — meaning if people see something, they will engage with it. How far the engagement goes depends on the content and the person.
Berger also relates this concept to “social proof.” Social proof can be seen in how people wait in line for an overpriced cup of coffee. People assume the longer the line, the better the coffee. But in reality, they are herding to “social influence.” Social influence has a big effect on behavior.
Health organizations can take advantage of this step, but have to be careful what topics they promote and educate about.
For example, Berger discussed how anti-drug ads aren’t always the best tactic to prevent people from using them. Although the aim of these ads is to prevent young adults from using drugs, the response was often the opposite. Berger informs us that anti-drug ads promote drugs as bad, but clearly showcase that people are using them.
Showing the drug use creates visibility and social proof that can increase the appeal of drug use among teens, and even create a larger problem. It is important to remember this example as a cautionary tale when moving forward with health-related campaigns.
Step 5: Practical Value
People share practically valuable information to help others. This includes useful information.
Useful content is different for every person. It could be a tutorial video on how to prepare a meal, or an infographic giving consumers useful, relevant information. The opportunities to create useful informative content in healthcare are endless.
So, how do you know if your content has value? Ask yourself if the content provides a functional or emotional benefit to someone. If it does, you have your answer.
Step 6: Stories
Stories carry things — a lesson or moral; information or a take-home message. According to Berger, stories “provide a quick and easy way for people to acquire lots of knowledge in a vivid and engaging fashion.”
So how do you know if you are creating a good or bad story?
Good stories provide social currency, emotion, and practical value. Bad stories do not.
If you want to create desirable, shareable content in healthcare you need to put these STEPPS into action.
- Social Currency
- Practical Value
Think about how your message could be woven into these important considerations, and then wait for your consumers to engage with it or not. Then make adjustments and try again.
Remember, you can’t make something viral, but your audience can.