Faced with engaging one of the largest organisations in the world, it took the power of social media to harness support for NHS Change Day − the biggest improvement event to date for the service. By Joe McCrea

Illustration about social media

NHS Change Day encouraged NHS staff to create content and make pledges online

Some might have thought it a crazy idea to try to get thousands upon thousands of frontline staff across the NHS to commit simultaneously and publicly to change and improvement for no reward other than recognition and support; but, as one famous agent for change, Steve Jobs, once observed: “Here’s to the crazy ones… because the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

‘The beauty of social media is it can explain and communicate through bite-size images and sounds, far more than words alone’

So how could we harness social media to support the biggest improvement event to date in the NHS? That was a very interesting question. And given that the NHS is often called one of the largest organisations in the world, it was also quite a challenge.

Add to the mix that the question was asked with just 35 days to go before the event itself, and with online pledges standing at around 5,000 against a publicly stated target of 65,000 online pledges. The challenge then became unprecedented.

Fast-forward a few weeks to the aftermath of the event itself:

Going viral

So how did we do it? It was done by doing what successful social media is all about − by going viral.

A full suite of social media channels was established, capable of broadcasting and capturing video, audio and written materials.

An easy “How to go viral for NHS Change Day” video was created (below) and it got to the NHS via traditional communications means, the existing website and via our new channels.

We made sure that all our output explicitly encouraged participants to fulfil the core function of Change Day: visit our pledge page and make a pledge.

Initially, our existing material was captured through traditional means, such as short interviews with senior figures in the health world, green-screened and produced with high production values by a professional film company.

Further material was added at little additional cost by assuming an unofficial role as a central broadcaster for equally well-produced material from the front line, such as a promotional video for Change Day by University Hospitals of Leicester Trust (below).

We began to complement this high-quality material − again at marginal cost − with 1-2 minute anecdotes, interviews and snippets captured on iPhones and capable of being turned around from capture to broadcast, via a Mac Book and iMovie, in less than an hour.

Spreading the word

Communications and digital teams in other organisations who were supporting Change Day were asked to let us use their material as it became available − so our own channels could be constantly growing and changing.

The word began to spread among local NHS organisations and pledgees told us their material was available on the national site. Our social media communities began to grow as parents and colleagues began to come to our channels and comment on or recommend specific items.

‘We are at a point in NHS history when there is a greater need than ever for those who value it to contribute to making it fit for the future’

We relentlessly and instantly cross-fertilised the full suite of our social media channels as new material appeared on one or the other: tweeting, Facebooking, and podcasting audio and video material as it went on YouTube.

Twitter was used as a “breaking news” service with updates on the growing number of pledges and latest examples of pledges from the frontline.

We took part in Tweetchats with HSJ and Nursing Times – as well as webinars hosted by ourselves – in the final week before the event itself.

Unusual and humorous examples of grassroots ideas and pledges from staff throughout the NHS were also encouraged. For example, a Change Day jingle written and performed by staff from Harrogate Hospital (below), became by far the most popular item on our YouTube channel − with a serious message about leadership and change from senior leaders and decision makers.

Of course, the beauty of social media is that it can explain and communicate through bite-size images and sounds, far more than can be done in words alone.

So, to see how we used social media to go viral for the NHS and deliver 189,000 pledges in five weeks, go to our social media channels and become part of our growing movement for change:

If you want to benchmark or improve your own social media capability and performance, you could also use a new social media capability assessment tool developed by the team that designed and delivered our own social media strategy and channels. 

President John F. Kennedy once quipped that “victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan”. In the case of NHS Change Day, it is a victory for a burgeoning social movement for change owned not by hundreds but by tens of thousands across the entire service and beyond. We cannot name all of them individually here, but each and every one of them can be found on our online Pledge Wall. To them all we offer our heartfelt thanks and appreciation − a thousand thanks, 189 times over.

Now we are at a point in NHS history when there is a greater need than ever for those who value the NHS to contribute to making it fit for the future. NHS Change Day and the “change movement” it has sparked shows we can rise to that challenge.

Joe McCrea is social media strategist for NHS Change Day