National Health Communication, Media and Marketing Conference Notes: Event Recap and Industry Trends

All good things must come to an end: The Olympics, Michael Phelps’s career, the Spice Girls’ reunion performance—and, of course, the 2012 National Health Communication, Media and Marketing Conference.

Held last week in downtown Atlanta, the 3-day conference was jam-packed with nearly 50 sessions on industry insights, best practices, and lessons learned for the 1,000 conference attendees and the 1,100 virtual participants. The topics covered in the breakout sessions were categorized into four tracks: to advance science, to bridge divides, to explore innovative tools and technologies, and to improve practice. With so much knowledge shared—and so many people following remotely—we’ve decided to share our notes with you on the conference’s biggest takeaways.

Storytelling. Taking us back to our grad school health theory days, one of the conference’s most prevalent themes was the importance and successes of storytelling within health campaigns. The speakers reminded us that generic messaging rarely works, but that incorporating a story, instead, can breathe life into a campaign, giving it a face, a personality, and real-life experiences with which the listeners can identify. These stories—which range from true personal accounts in interviews to fictional storylines developed for videogames or animated comics—can help listeners more strongly recall the health behavior they should be adopting and the confidence to emulate the behaviors displayed.

Going digital. As alluded to in our previous post, health comm has definitely gone digital and communicators need to step up their digital-game to stay relevant. With 17 million people accessing health information on their phones, mobile health has become the next digital rage. Our own Erin Edgerton found out that “globally, more people have access to mobile phones than toothbrushes or roads” and John Mangano, from ComScore, reminded us that PC usage is on the decline, while tablets and mobile devices will keep us sharing and connected in the future. Attendees explored successful campaigns that used digital gaming media, social media and—believe it or not—artificial intelligence! With the anticipated advent of sunglasses lenses that provide directions to drug stores or diet-friendly restaurants from Google, it seems we are just at the tip of the digital iceberg!

Social media, social media, social media. With people using social media 17 percent of the time that they are on the Internet, its use within health campaigns remained a hot topic throughout the conference. (Side note: The conference hashtag, #hcmmconf, actually was trending in the number-one spot globally on Thursday morning.) The conference speakers focused on social media insights in great detail, including how multiple exclamation marks create online relationships with some teens, how valuable information is often lost in the volume of content because of unnecessary followers or connections, and how organizations must develop a social media archive plan to properly evaluate campaigns. This highlight list, of course, could go on and on, but here’s our favorite takeaway: Social media is not a new idea, it is the just the most popular information-sharing mechanism right now. Do not just use it because everyone else is; instead, be sure to have valid research and rationale to implement it as part—and not all—of your strategy.

(Shameless plug: Not sure how to navigate or incorporate social media into your own projects? Continue to follow here for more updates on our upcoming Social Media Day on Thursday, September 27, from 10 a.m.–2 p.m.)

Integrate and collaborate. Speakers, such as John Mangano, reiterated that the digital platforms of social media and gaming are moving more and more toward total integration across all channels. What does that look like exactly? Mangano gave the example of marketers using the information shared on social media sites to target specific individuals with television ads instead of the semi-generic placement style used now. Mangano also recommended greater collaboration across the public and private sectors to improve the health of our nation, suggesting that government health departments adopt a greater focus on Web site aesthetics from the corporate and commercial world to improve the look of health information and decrease reader skepticism.

Be inspired. In a session hosted by Craig Lefebvre and featuring social marketing rock stars Andre Blackman, Alex Bornkessel, Doug Weinbrenner, and Punam Keller, conference attendees got a lesson in finding inspirations in our everyday lives that can drive us to do better, strive higher, and achieve more. After mind-expanding and heartwarming presentations—including one that announced the newly launched Rampy MS Research Foundation—session attendees took to the microphones to share what inspires them. It’s safe to say that everyone left the room reenergized and inspired.

Take risks, use humor and be realistic. Finally, the speakers also encouraged conference attendees to take more risks when developing campaigns. Dr. Mary Harris and Jim Washer, the closing plenary speaker, showed how stepping out of the box with surprising strategies or a sprinkle of humor—such as the CDC’s Zombie Apocalypse—can often reap unexpected rewards and give your brand greater authenticity. (We’d like to add, though, that adequate research should support this decision for these risks to be the most effective.) Washer’s recommendations came with a caveat, however: be realistic with your desired goals and outcomes. Understanding how you will measure success before implementing the campaign will produce stronger metrics and aid communicators in the evaluation process when considering if such risks should be taken again.

For more insights like those above, be sure to check out our conference hashtag #DanyaDigital on Twitter. It truly was an inspiring 3 days, and we are looking forward to next year’s meeting of the minds. Until then, be sure to follow us @DanyaIntl for all your health communication needs!

By Katy Capers

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