The Growing Role of e-Advocacy in Healthcare

When Twitter first began five years ago, its primary use was by individuals to inform others of us of important events in their lives in 140 characters – “just 8 tuna sanwich”. Over time, increasingly, institutions and companies began to embrace twitter, media outlets and eventually even individual journalists.  Last year, in a survey of members of Congress, it was found that about 1 in 5 were using Twitter.  This year, it is about 4 out of 5 who are now using Twitter, and virtually every single member of Congress is using at least one of three main platforms – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube.

All of that is to say that there is a growing role for e-Advocacy and in healthcare, a number of stakeholders are taking to it.   Many years ago, if you were engaged in mobilizing grassroots advocacy aimed at legislative change, it took a lot to generate a “wave” of communications.  Fax trees were common.  An organization sent out a fax to ten people who, in turn, were asked to send a fax to ten people, who in turn were asked to send on … the fax asking everyone to fax or write their member of Congress or state legislature.  It was a cumbersome and time-consuming way to generate enthusiasm.  Email, of course, made that somewhat easier.  But today, there is Twitter.

Increasing numbers of patient organizations involved in advocacy are devoting resources to e-Advocacy.  These organizations not only have twitter feeds for the organizations, they have advocacy twitter feeds.  A case on point is the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation which has a twitter feed called JDRFAdvocacy.  In fact, there are any number of non-profit groups with an advocacy arm that have begun such feeds.

The effort is not unique to non-profits.  NovoNordisk, for example, has a twitter feed called NovoNordisk_GA - the official twitter feed for NovoNordisk government affairs and public policy.  And Lilly, which has its Twitter feed LillyPad which frequently features tweets about policy-related issues.

It is common for these feeds to direct followers to articles about current issues, but also to acknowledge meetings and events with elected officials.  In fact, the growing role of e-advocacy was underscored this month when Lilly it held an invitational e-advocacy summit in Washington, D. C.  There were a number of non-profits that advocate in the health care space in attendance at the all day event that included presentations from multiple organizations connected with social and digital media as well as members of Congress themselves.  Lilly’s own CEO Dr. John Lechleiter spoke at the event as well.

Yesterday you collected signatures on petitions by circulating people with paper.  Today you can bring the people to the petition with the use of such resources as electronic petitions provided by change.org.

The world has changed.  Some pharma companies do not even have their media materials circulated by RSS feeds.  Whether or not a company wants to engage in social media as a promotional enterprise, its role in e-advocacy is growing – and working with third party groups in advocacy is a cornerstone to relationship building with patient communities.  And in devising an e-advocacy strategy, a company is more competitive in the ever crowded and ever more complex environment of health policy.

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