Salt Lake County, Utah, Video Campaign Urges Residents to Improve Their Health

Utah county's health department promotes citizen fitness on YouTube, Facebook.

by / January 10, 2010
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People make choices every day that affect our lives in ways we take for granted. Little things -- like that 11 p.m. bowl of ice cream someone eats four nights a week or the half-hour walk someone else takes every other day at noon -- can play roles in our long-term health, for better or worse.

Habits can be hard to break, even when we know they're bad for us. That's something staff members of the Salt Lake Valley Health Department in Salt Lake County, Utah, probably had in mind when they devised the One Small Change -- For the Health of It campaign, which encourages people to make tiny lifestyle changes where they can -- all in the name of living long and prospering.

"A lot of times with health messages, people are asked to change so much of what they do, and that can be very intimidating," said Kate Lilja, the department's public information specialist. "So the One Small Change campaign was a new spin on that by encouraging people to begin with manageable things."

Terri Sory, the department's chronic disease program manager, felt that these changes can put people on the path to better health. "The more that they make the small change, the more that there is an impact on them individually -- their families, obviously the community, and then our county as a whole," she said. "And then as they continue to make these one small changes and see how easy it is to do, they'll continue to progress in health."

It's definitely a community-minded promotion, which users discover while perusing the One Small Change section of the department's Web site. The numerous recommendations range from the smaller and more personal, like eating healthier or getting a vaccination, to larger and group-oriented efforts, like starting a wellness-at-work program, to the eco-friendly, like using recycled paper products.

"We wanted to encourage Salt Lake County residents to make a healthy lifestyle change this year, and that could be a behavior change that would positively impact our environment, like taking public transportation when available or switching to energy-efficient light bulbs," Lilja said.

But the campaign definitely isn't just tips on a Web page. The key component of One Small Change is the department-made video that's featured prominently on the site and the department's YouTube channel. The department uses social media tools, like Twitter and YouTube, to let citizens know it's out there.

"We decided that our YouTube video would really be the key part of our campaign, and so a lot of our efforts would just lead back to this video which would introduce people to the campaign," Lilja said.

The program combines two of the county's roles -- educating citizens on how to live healthier and using the Internet to reach them in ways that traditional avenues like radio, static Web sites and broadcast television don't.

And besides, a video on a Web page is likelier grab someone's attention than plain old text won't, no matter how wonderfully it's written or laid out.

"Directing people to a video is easier than directing them to a Web site where they actually read through a couple of pages of just information and ideas and instructions," Lilja said.

Lights, Camera, Action!

The video is a quick, informative affair that runs about four minutes and features county employees and friends speaking to the audience, and sometimes to each other, about changes people can make to improve their health or the environment.

"We used employees who were throughout the health department who became our resource, and it was actually a very incredible morale booster," Sory said. "People were excited about it, and they were buzzing about it."

Lilja, the director and camerawoman, filmed short scenes in March 2009 in different locations, none lasting longer than several seconds, in an effort to keep things from getting stale -- a problem that plagues educational productions.

She also switched up the styles of the scenes -- the video opens with the actors speaking to the camera in different places in the community, similar to how they might speak to a TV reporter or documentary filmmaker who's in the field asking questions. After that, the employees either disseminate healthy tips to viewers public-service-announcement style, or they discuss them with each other.

Peppered throughout are shots of people sticking One Small Change stickers on various objects -- boxes, trash cans, signs, bags and other things -- the point being that the stickers, like the video, can remind people that one small change can make a difference.

The department has been promoting the video and campaign since its April debut through Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, and Lilja said staff members have received positive feedback from the public via comments on the YouTube page, other social media avenues and in person.

Lilja said YouTube comments revealed that people have indeed made some positive changes in their lives and felt empowered.

"So really that's what we were going for, especially with the video, was to empower people, to motivate them, to begin on a healthier path," she said.

While Web feedback has been positive, it's not enough to gauge how effective the campaign's been. As of press time, the department's YouTube channel had seven comments from the public, all encouraging, but hardly representative of the entire county.

The department had plans at press time to conduct a survey in January to discern how successful the campaign has been in motivating people to make healthier lifestyle choices, but Sory said the exact nature of the survey or how it would be conducted hadn't been determined.

Behind the Scenes

According to Sory, Community Health Services decides on a goal each year with public wellness in mind, and Division Director Dan Kinnersley works with the program directors he oversees to determine that goal. In early 2009, they collaborated and decided to motivate 67 percent of the population to make a positive behavior change in a year.

Then they got to work on how to make it happen.

"We all got together, did a brainstorming session. Out of that brainstorming session, One Small Change -- For the Health of It was born," Sory said. "And how we wanted to move it forward and what we wanted to do, and then we worked with Kate and decided that we would do the social approach and try a new angle."

Lilja became involved because, as the county communication specialist in charge of new media, Internet interactivity falls under her purview. So once Community Health Services decided that Web 2.0 was the way to go, she was the woman to call. And as fate would have it, it was also around that January that the county became active with its social media tools as well, so the fledgling social media program began to incorporate One Small Change.

"Our first account was Twitter, and then we started to grow and expand to other social media tools as we became comfortable with the ones that we were using," Lilja said. "Twitter kind of has a steep learning curve, so as we became comfortable with Twitter, and we were able to appreciate the benefits of being involved in the social media community, we expanded our program."

And as for the filming of the One Small Change video, production was inexpensive for the One Small Change video because Lilja's office already owned a camera. She edited the footage using Apple's iMovie

software on her personal computer.

"I actually did not have a lot of experience editing video, but through online tutorials and an hour-long in-store training session was able to get comfortable with it and create that video," she said.

Then the county put the video on the site and notified the local media -- TV stations and newspapers -- which covered it and put their stories on their respective sites. Some of them also pushed it on their social media accounts as well.

"They also have Twitter accounts, and they would promote it on their Twitter feed. And then that would start spreading virally with people retweeting the messages, so we got some great exposure that way," Lilja said. And of course, the county also cross-promoted that with its social media accounts.

Both she and Sory recalled that the county didn't have much budget money for the campaign, which is another reason why social media, which is largely free, seemed like such a boon. The only money they recalled spending was $300 to pay a local graphic designer, Matt Shay, to design the campaign logo, a visible symbol of the program, which adorns the stickers that are showcased repeatedly in the video.

Salt Lake County has continued to use social media to distribute tips and posts related to One Small Change and related health programs.

"Sporadically I will post an idea of what somebody could do for their one small change, like something as simple as switching from white rice to brown rice because it's more nutritious," Lilja said. "I'll also solicit responses by asking people, 'What's your one small change? What change have you made?' That's just through Twitter and also Facebook."


Hilton Collins

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.