Mobilising people in social media: the #welovethenhs debate

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Image by alice-palace via Flickr

Update: in the first week of the #welovethenhs debate on Twitter, 18,000 people shared over 37,000 stories.

In the last two days, almost 11,000 different people on Twitter have entered into a debate about the benefits of the UK healthcare system. Between them they have shared over 20,000 different stories that range from individual experiences to debates and evaluations of the merits of public health care over a private health insurance scheme. The levels of involvement are impressive and have been driven primarily by people sharing their own personal stories rather than being driven by a corporate or organisational Twitter campaign.

This discussion and debate is a great example of people coming together on a shared topic of interest. They are telling their stories or giving their opinion and tagging it with the #welovethenhs hashtag so that others can find, read and share what they have said. At it’s very simplest this is a great example of how social media work, and in particular of the kind of dynamics that exist in an online community:

  • People with a story to tell write about it and tag it, so that
  • People who want to find similar stories can easily sort through the information that has been shared, and
  • These stories can then be passed to other people and shared again so that more people can read it

People who don’t know each other can read and comment on each others’ stories - they are connected not by the fact that they actually know each other, but that they are interested in similar issues and want to talk about the same things. There are, of course, limits to hashtags as a way of sorting information on Twitter, but for quickly escalating debates like this they are a useful way of showing the strength and weight  of opinion on a particular issue.

But perhaps the most interesting element of the NHS debate on Twitter is the subject matter itself. With less than 12 months to go before the next General Election in the UK, the public are having a debate about an issue that is always a major component of any election campaign, and they are doing so in social media. And Prime Minister Gordon Brown joined in the discussions with his own opinions. Expressed via Twitter.

We’ve posted before about how Social Media can sometimes be the wrong medium for politicians to express their opinions or to make announcements (especially about Gordon Brown’s YouTube trauma). But this is a case where users themselves have started and are having a discussion on an issue that is of keen political, and electoral, interest. If they are this engaged now, on an issue of great interest but sparked by remarks by a US politician then we might be looking at an interesting and engaged set of debates on Twitter and across social media during the upcoming General Election.

I hope all the Parties have their social media strategies sorted.

* For up-to-date statistics about the #welovethenhs hashtag go to what the hashtag?!

  • Brown joins NHS Twitter campaign (guardian.co.uk)
  • Britain To Civil Servants: Go Forth And Tweet (huffingtonpost.com)
  • #welovethenhs takes over Twitter (stuartbruce.biz)
  • Twitter Army defends UK healthcare system (thenextweb.com)

What are the economic benefits of being online?

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Can you quantify the benefits of people being online? We think you can. Our sister firm, FreshMinds Research, published a report with UK online centres last month which looked at how you would start to build an economic case for digital inclusion. The report is available to download in full here, but the summary findings are as follows:

What’s the benefit to individuals?

  • Save both time and money - access to greater information and an increased choice of places to purchase
  • Improved educational attainment - more effective learning and access to more motivating materials
  • Increased salary prospects - e-learning and computer literacy increase employability and promotion. Salaries are an average of 3%-10% higher if you are online
  • Greater satisfaction with public services - increased flexibility, convenience of access and overall higher standards of service

What’s the benefit to the government?

  • Cost savings and increased efficiency and productivity - increasing use of online public services allows the government to concentrate it’s efforts elsewhere. One NHS initiative is expected to save the UK government £68 million in 2008

What’s the benefit to the private sector?

  • Greater efficiency and productivity - employees using internet based applications to process work more efficiently
  • More sales opportunities - using new technologies to reach customers more efficiently
  • Increased demand for ICT products and services - more access and use of the internet will drive demand

What’s the benefit to society?

  • Less social exclusion - involving members of marginalised groups in mainstream society activities
  • Increased civic participation - providing wider opportunities for self expression for citizens
  • Enhanced working and natural environment - fostering a more stimulating working environment as well as flexible and remote working practices

What’s the benefit to the wider economy?

  • Increased demand for the ICT industry - driving further innovation and efficiency gains
  • Greater UK competitiveness - attracting inward investment
  • Increased GDP growth rate - enabling further investment in research and development, which will feed back into a virtuous circle of GDP growth and technological development. This would be upwards of 1.54% growth in GDP over three years

Some interesting thoughts here. The full report contains more detail and theory behind each of these so give it a read if you’re interested.