free-ranging conversation with andre blackman, pulse + signal

April 28, 2010

in free-ranging conversations (interviews with wellness innovators)

andre is a known entity in public health and technology communities. he’s worked in the social marketing/health communication space in the nonprofit and agency world, as well as in digital public relations. he blogs at pulse + signal, which he recently expanded into a consulting firm to help organizations empower communities to lead better, healthier lives. and somehow he fits in guest blogging at healthgamers.

i got into the mind of andre (his twitter account name) about what it takes to make a decision to be healthy and what companies can learn from public health campaigns and their use of social media.

fm: what does it take to make a deep-rooted decision to be healthy? is there are core thing that needs to happen?

ab: social marketing has long been a method to improve positive behavior change among populations. in my opinion, a person needs to first know and understand the reasons why they should do something; simply saying it is good for them usually doesn’t do the trick, at least not in the long run. it’s also important to show people how to make those decisions, rather than giving them a big two thumbs down on drinking alcohol or having unprotected sex. this is especially important with youth populations.

tying behavior change to other parts of their lives—such as family, friends and self-confidence— puts making health decisions into perspective. the father who wants to be healthy in order to play baseball with his kids or the daughter who saw a family member pass away suddenly from lung cancer due to smoking. these are small components to helping people make long lasting healthy decisions.

fm: absolutely. i agree. when companies talk about saving money with health care as their main message, my response is: is that money for you? or for your employee? because employees don’t care too much about the former, unless you go on to say why that matters to them in terms of their job security, money for pay increases, etc. otherwise, connect with people through what’s important to them.

once they reach people, how can companies support them through the process of considering, planning for, and making a difficult change?

ab: although corporate wellness isn’t my expertise, i would think that companies can support their employees by giving them incentives not only for enrolling in a program that can benefit their health but also incentives for their forward progress. giving someone a starbucks gift card just for signing up and never following up with them is sort of like the college student who gets a free t-shirt for being swindled into buying a credit card – friendly up front but tumbleweeds and crickets chirping soon afterward…no continued support, which can lead to failure and unattainable goals (as well as unchecked spending!).

fm:  what are examples of public health campaigns that you think work?


this is public health (association of schools of public health)

truth campaign (legacy foundation)

national hiv testing day

all of these campaigns use a combination of storytelling, statistics, and facts. the first and third campaigns have an education component as well as a call to action, which is important in getting people to actually change their behavior. the first two campaigns also took non-traditional routes to get their message across, giving public health and the anti-smoking landscapes a breath of fresh air. lastly, each of these campaigns involves the people, increasing the chances of word of mouth dissemination. this is done by making sure there are social media components (e.g. facebook, youtube, twitter, etc.)

fm: the health care world has really taken to social media. we’re not seeing this in companies as much, though i think that’s going to change—rapidly. what should companies know about how social media has benefited public health campaigns?

ab: public health campaigns have traditionally been about informing the masses on behavior change and/or prevention issues surrounding a health issue. these campaigns can range from anti-smoking to washing your hands during cold/flu season. while those campaigns have been mostly effective and have been around in one form or another for the past few decades, social media brings another element – an element of engagement and feedback.

social media has given a voice to the individuals whose lives public health is trying to improve. these new media tools allow the public health world to do a few things:

1)      be there first: by establishing an easy to navigate presence on the web, state and local health departments can quickly give their constituents a place to go when there is an outbreak, question on a specific condition or general health alerts.

2)      be the credible source: apart from being their before any misinformation, valid public health information sources such as health departments, the cdc and other public health organizations, can show themselves to be the authority on questions or issues.

3)      word of mouth power: once you are there quickly as a credible source for public health concerns and information, you can look to social media engagement to help provide widespread distribution through contacting leaders in various online communities. local health departments can look to possibly reaching out to location-based blogs to add an information widget (e.g. about vaccination locations, reasons to wash your hands, a text messaging campaign, etc.) to their site where readers of that blog can learn and interact.

fm: you have lots of experience reaching hard-to-reach audiences. many companies struggle with reaching non-tech savvy workers, for example. do you have any crossover lessons we can learn from?

ab: many times hard to reach audiences make use of other communication forms – it’s important to understand the statistics surrounding which forms are useful for which populations and then connect with them there. at that point, you can coach them into making use of other forms of communication (e.g. text messages), but it’s important to find them where they are first to introduce them to your message. another example is that of african american and latino youth, who although may not have the best access to broadband internet – they are avidly using their mobiles/smartphones for communication. interacting with them here first, where they are already comfortable, will go a long way in reaching your communication goals.

have a question i didn’t cover? ask andre in the comments.

know someone who would make a great free-ranging conversation? let me know in the comments, by email (fran @, or DM.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

fran April 28, 2010 at 4:47 pm

normally i’d delete a trackback like the one above. but, c’mon. you have to appreciate the ridiculousness of this one.



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