What does a video featuring Zach Galifianakis and President Obama, a picture of Batman and Robin, and incessant use of hash-tags have in common? They're used to encourage young adults to enroll in health insurance!
Over the past few months, I have been working with the Great Lakes Regional Health Equity Council (Great Lakes RHEC) in an attempt to encourage young, uninsured Americans to enroll for coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
At first glance, this task seemed like a no-brainer: distill pertinent information to the public so they can make an informed decision about what type of health insurance they should purchase before the March 31 deadline. Also, I could use social media like Facebook to help spread the word and get people excited. However, to say it was easier said than done would be an understatement.
I was dealing with some hurdles. Trying to convey information to a young population is drastically different from conveying information to an older, more seasoned crowd. Explaining how a family of four qualifies for a sizeable deductible in the following fiscal year under the ACA does not resonate with a single college student without much financial experience.
I knew that I had to consider my audience. Being a graduate student in psychology, I had an arsenal of strategies to develop and execute messages that would appeal to young people. First, my information had to be appropriate for audience age. Instead of discussing insurance as if they were middle aged and had years of experience on the subject, I had to consider their lack of knowledge and start from the ground up with information about ACA and its benefits.
Then, it became a matter of engaging the audience. Yes, hard numbers and information about which plans to purchase is important, and we supplied that information. However, how do we capture a young person's attention to get them to read more? Being a young, hip (using that term loosely) twenty-something gave me an edge into understanding what will make them pay attention.
My answer was to engage with internet culture. Given the fact that my generation spends considerable time scouring the Internet for silly pictures of cats or videos of people falling over, it seemed only natural to disseminate information about health care through some goofy pictures with simple captions of the idea. This gave rise to cyber "celebrities" like South Park ski instructor, doge and 'Forever Alone Guy' appearing on the site. With some good use hashtags, these memes became some of the most-seen and most-liked images on the page.
Not only did readers and followers come for the goofy pictures, they stayed for some important information. In a little over a month, the Great Lakes RHEC page reached over 70 likes and the information was spreading. We were bridging gaps between young and old, informed and uninformed.
Following the March 31 enrollment deadline, analytics from the Great Lakes RHEC Facebook page showed that we were reaching our followers on a weekly and/or daily basis, and that the vast majority of people who "liked" our page fit into the youth demographic. According to several followers who were nurses, occupational therapists and grad students, the information we provided on the page helped them to educate and share information with other young adults.
We accomplished our goals of developing a strong social media presence while connecting to a younger crowd. We needed to get them excited and informed about the prospects of health care--information that directly affects their lives. In the end, we empowered young adults to make good decisions regarding their health and financial decisions.
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Mitch Brown is a graduate student in psychology at University of Dayton and works as a social media liaison for the Great Lakes Regional Health Council. His research addresses how people construct individual identity through narratives, humor and evolutionary mechanisms.