We’re strong believers in the power of members as messengers, especially in the socially networked era. And the latest proof of that power comes from a spontaneous campaign among doctors working in the UK’s National Health Service.
Last week, UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt threatened to impose mandatory weekend working on hospital doctors in England. He claimed people were dying because of a “Monday to Friday culture” in the NHS.
He’s far from the first right-wing politician to insinuate that people working in the public sector are lazy. It’s an article of conservative faith that public-sector workers don’t make that extra effort the sainted private sector would demand.
Yet in conservative-led jurisdictions, public-sector employees are working harder than ever, trying to bridge the gaps created by cutbacks from, yes, conservative politicians. They’re far more committed to the people they’re serving than their right-wing employers are.
For communicators, the challenge is to make that point without playing into the right-wing narrative by sounding entitled or whiny.
NHS doctors rose to that challenge with a spontaneous campaign dubbed “I’m In Work Jeremy,” started by a trainee doctor. Within just a few days, thousands of them had posted selfies: photos of themselves and colleagues on the job, on the weekend, tagged with #ImInWorkJeremy. As of today, the hashtag has appeared more than 125,000 times.
And the impact went well beyond social media. Mainstream news outlets picked up on it, starting with a news website for GPs and eventually drawing coverage from The Guardian, the BBC and more.
What did #ImInWorkJeremy do right, and what can you learn from it for your next campaign? Here are seven lessons:
They seized the moment. When a news event happens, there’s often a brief window for you to make the most of it, when people’s awareness and emotions are at their highest. If you want them to take action, that’s the moment to do it.
— Amy Baggott (@amyvbaggott) July 18, 2015
They put the people first. The trainee doctor who started this has remained anonymous, wisely opting to leave the spotlight to the community that rose up around the hashtag.
— Gordon Shepard (@sportsorthdoc) July 18, 2015
They kept it simple and emotional. They constrained the campaign to a single day: Saturday, July 18. (There’s a lot to be said for starting with a small container and letting it overflow; the response carried on well past midnight on Saturday.) And they kept their call to action both straightforward and directly tied to the emotion people were feeling: Hunt thinks you’re slacking? Here’s how to show him he’s full of it.
— briony c (@ateapotandacake) July 19, 2015
They paved the path. The campaign used their Facebook page to speak directly to supporters, and give them a very clear idea of how to participate, when and how.
They struck the right tone. The vast majority of the posts aren’t inflammatory; they state in a very matter of fact way that the doctors are hard at work on the weekend. Where there’s anger, it conveys a strong sense of doctors’ passion for their work and dedication to patients.
Yes we are angry. Not about working weekends we already work. But for an attack that suggests we don't care about patients #ImInWorkJeremy
— Natalie Silvey (@silv24) July 18, 2015
They knew their goals and had a theory of change. The campaign’s Facebook page posted a response to a comment that appeared on Pulse, the GP news website, complaining that there’s no point trying to change the Health Secretary’s mind. The campaign said “Of course we’re not educating Hunt, but by targeting him, we can educate and change the minds of the public who’ve been fooled by him.”
They anticipated criticism. And they inoculated (being doctors, after all!) against it, stressing the importance of snapping and tweeting the selfies only during break times, and ensuring no patient information would be inadvertently shared.
Right – #ImInWorkJeremy , but so are nurses, HCAs, porters, lab techs, theatre staff, volunteers, cleaners, cooks…
— Dr Keith Grimes (@keithgrimes) July 18, 2015
If we had one piece of advice to offer in the aftermath of this success, it’s this: don’t let the momentum dissipate.
Nobody expects a coherent political movement to coalesce with offices, a board and an executive director in the few days following a spontaneous online eruption. But it would be downright tragic to let all that political energy fade away.
Fortunately, there’s every sign that this may have just been the beginning. A parliamentary petition to debate non-confidence in the Health Secretary gained 100,000 signatures nearly overnight; that’s more than enough to trigger a government response and require Parliament to consider debating it.
The key lesson for progressive Canadian communicators? Be ready for these opportunities. Think through some scenarios. Make sure you’re able to deploy a campaign site and online petition quickly and easily. Know who your most networked activists and supporters are, and have them on the Twitter equivalent of speed dial.
Channel your members’ passion and political energy, and you’ll be amazed how far it can take you.