Participating in social media conversations is vital as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration seeks to raise its presence as a resource for evidence-based information and insight about mental health and substance abuse, according to an article on the SAMHSA website. “The added value of social media is the conversation component,” Kaitlin Abell, SAMHSA public health adviser, said in the article. “The two-way nature of social media is what makes it different [from other communications channels]. We can actually listen to what people are saying and then engage in two-way dialog.”
Instead of relying entirely on traditional communications channels to provide information, data and news to the public, SAMHSA has found blogs and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter enable real-time, personal conversations with the public.
Abell has led SAMHSA’s efforts to join social media conversations for two years. By offering information and resources about behavioral health issues in social networks, the agency is reaching more people and influencing public understanding about mental and substance use disorders.
SAMHSA’s blog plays a central role in this effort, according to the article. The blog, a platform to respond to fast-breaking stories and publish opinion pieces, fosters informal conversations about key behavioral health issues, and puts a human face and voice on SAMHSA’s work. “We try to make sure our message is conversational,” Abell said in the article. “It allows us to respond quickly to trending stories with more in-depth content than we can provide in a tweet or a Facebook post.”
The article cited the Supreme Court’s June decision permitting same-sex marriage. Abell’s team worked with SAMHSA’s subject-matter experts to develop a blog post that described the importance of community and family acceptance in supporting the behavioral health of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transexual. The post gave SAMHSA an opportunity to respond to a breaking news article from the behavioral health perspective — and included a number of resources and links about behavioral health issues specific to the LGBT population.
SAMHSA has focused much of the rest of its social media strategy on Twitter and Facebook, which offer the greatest opportunities for engagement. Abell said Twitter offers an excellent environment for observing and engaging in conversations about important issues. “Twitter allows us to participate in conversations as they’re happening,” she said in the article. “Rather than posting static, one-way messages, we can listen to what people are saying and then engage them in relevant conversations.”
In August, SAMHSA participated in a conversation about reducing mental health disparities among diverse racial/ethnic populations. The Twitter conversation — which used the hashtag #MMHM2015 — was hosted by Latinos in Social Media, the largest organization of Hispanics engaged in social media, as part of National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. As one of the featured panelists, the chat provided SAMHSA with an opportunity to reach and engage directly with this influential community.
SAMHSA takes a different approach on Facebook.
“While Twitter is a great tool for monitoring and participating in real-time conversations, Facebook requires a different strategy,” Abell said in the article. “Facebook posts have more longevity and we find that Facebook has a higher return on investment in terms of getting people to visit our website and share our content.”
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