If leaders of many local public and private health organizations take the message they heard Thursday on social media to heart, San Joaquin County, Calif., residents soon could start seeing regular tweets and multiple Facebook posts coming from area hospitals, the health department and even your personal medical provider.
The leaders were gathered at the Cabral Agricultural Center for the annual Public Health Week luncheon, focusing this year on "Innovations in Social Media."
Unlike established practices of sending out news releases, posting fliers, calling a news conference or even sending an email to members of the traditional media, social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram allow an organization to speak directly to its audience in real time, anytime it likes, and get immediate feedback.
As keynote presenter JC DeVera noted, social media provide an earphone to listen and a megaphone to amplify your message.
DeVera, just three years after graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, is the communications manager for the Greenlining Institute, a public policy think tank based in Berkeley.
He gave a primer on how social media sites work and shared some fundamentals for how organizations with limited budgets can make them work for their purposes.
"There needs to be an intentional investment to do the job right," DeVera said. "You have to have a plan." He cited his favorite quote: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."
With the caveat that social media may not be for everybody, "It depends on your organizational goals. Always keep them in mind," DeVera said.
You must have a purpose in mind when starting out building a social media program and answer the following questions: Who is your target audience? What do we want to accomplish by using social media? How much time and resources can we invest? Do our goals with social media connect with our overall organizational objectives?
"It's important to take those things into account. After you have answered those questions, hopefully you will have more clarity," he said.
DeVera has created a handbook, "The Art of Listening: Social Media Toolkit for Nonprofits," available free in the publications section of the greenlining.org website. The handbook goes into greater detail.
While San Joaquin County may not be the cutting edge when it comes to technology implementation, several local organizations have already embraced social media in a big way. Perhaps one of the most popular efforts comes from the Stockton Police Department.
Following years of budget cutting leading to a severe decrease in police officers and lagging public support, "We saw the importance of keeping the lines of communication open," police spokesman Officer Joe Silva told the health leaders.
"Social media at the Stockton Police Department has just taken off. For a department our size in the United States, we have the No. 1 'most likes' on our Facebook page with over 31,000 likes," Silva said.
In addition to Facebook, the department has Twitter and Instagram accounts to reach different demographics and uses two alert systems, Nixle and Tipsoft, to spread its message on active police incidents.
"It makes my job a lot easier because the media is following us and it gets the media to respond," Silva said. The department also has its own mobile phone app that is free for anyone with an iPhone or Android phone to download.
"We need the public to be vigilant. Social media is how we have achieved success," Silva said.
Other agencies that shared their social media experiences with the health leaders Thursday included Manteca-based Give Every Child a Chance, which provides numerous youth programs and opportunities and works closely with south county school districts, and the Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library
"It keeps the library always present in people's minds. We want the community to come to our libraries. It isn't the library you grew up with - in 2014, we have programs almost every day. Having this online presence helps us get our message out," said Suzy Daveluy, coordinator for the library system's youth services.
As part of the Public Health Week event, San Joaquin County Public Health Services Director Bill Mitchell made a special presentation to honor Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Stockton for its overall work in contributing to the health and wellness of county residents, especially this year in working to enroll people in health insurance, providing them with greater access to care.
©2014 The Record (Stockton, Calif.)