Over a week ago, hundreds of men uploaded photos of themselves with the hashtag #itsokaytotalk on Facebook and Twitter. They were participating in a social media awareness initiative for mental health, encouraging men to break down the stigma of not being able to talk about the matter freely among friends.
Awareness around this topic spread very quickly in a short space of time, attracting mainstream media to cover the conversation. Example below:
Inspiring campaigns that have caught our attention
#itsokaytotalk isn’t the first campaign that has caught my attention, and, for the most part, awareness campaigns like this are perceived as inspiring.
We’ve seen a few over the last couple of years: The Bucket Challenge, the no-makeup selfie, not to mention the Australia’s annual #ruok day.
But are these campaigns effective? Or are they just an opportunity to post photos, laugh or attract likes?
To me, it depends on two things:
1. What they are trying to achieve
2. Is what they are trying to achieve meaningful
Social media activism often attracts cynics who argue that small changes on social media do not really suggest support for a cause. But if the purpose of a campaign is awareness, a selfie or a changed profile picture on mass media can be viewed and shared amongst millions of people internationally, ultimately achieving a campaign’s goal.
Social psychologist, Melanie Tannenbaum once noted the best way to convince people to care about something is to show them what other people actually do.
They don’t always go to plan
The No Make up selfie of 2014, an initiative pushed by Cancer Research UK, prospered when women saw their friends post an all natural selfie, with a donation link attached.
The initiative, started when Laura Lipmann, uploaded a photo of herself without make up, led many to follow suit. It was simple – affirmation and self-confidence to encourage cancer research, and by uploading a photo and showing support, friends and family of those individuals were inclined to also show support.
But despite the millions donated as a result of the campaign, the #nomakeupselfie received large criticism. Many were accused of missing the point when women were recognised as brave for just taking a selfie without makeup.
Perhaps the reason for this was that the content promoting the cause, was perceived as vain and a means of getting ‘likes’.
The Bucket Challenge also went viral in 2014, drawing over 60,000 supporters. The campaign involved pouring a bucket of cold ice over your head and summoning friends to take up the challenge.
As a result, more learnt about Amyotrophic Lateral Scleorisis, the progressive neurogenerative disease at the forefront of the campaign. But in this campaign, awareness was the goal and because the challenge was light-hearted and comical, individuals were willing to participate, and audiences were enthused to watch the attempts of family and friends.
Brad Hesse, former chief of the Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch at the National Cancer Institute in the US, said that campaigns are successful when they are tailored to the values and resources available to audiences.
In the case of #itsokaytotalk, the campaign focused on mental health, a strong value for many. Mental health, particularly for men, is rarely addressed. This initiative’s aim was to encourage discussion and awareness that would help reduce the suicide statistics in men. By using an internationally recognised symbol for ‘okay,’ men all over the world were able to begin breaking down the stigma, some even offering personal anecdotes to their selfie post.
Where does this leave us?
Awareness can get people talking about change and change behavior, but it is the way an awareness campaign is approached that is key. Social has an innate power in its ability to project opinions and ideas about society, understanding the audience, and know what you are trying to achieve will help drive your campaign.
After all, if you want to get people talking what better way than to start a hash-tag on the one form of media that reaches audiences across the globe.