If global health communication was characterized by anything in 2010, it was the rise of Twitter and other social media among non-profit organizations as a way of bypassing increasingly irrelevant traditional media and taking their messages directly to their target groups. From the Global Health Council, we saw more and more of our members — large and small — embracing new media like blogging, micro-blogging and social networks like Facebook. At the year’s last meeting of our Global Health Communicators Working Group in November, I asked for a show of hands of those whose organizations were not using social media. No hands went up.
The trend established itself in the early days of January with a handful of reproductive health organizations that coordinated communications efforts around U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech on the 15th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development resulting in more than 500 tweets, or 10 per minute. As the year went on, more and more organizations employed coordinated social media campaigns, especially with Twitter — PAI on the Green Budget, PATH on the Blog Action Day on Water, Johns Hopkins University on World Pneumonia Day and several on the U.N. Special Summit on the Millennium Development Goals, just to name a few. The Global Fund launched its “Born HIV Free” campaign in May that relied almost exclusively on online video and social media. The secret was trying to motivate as many of your colleagues — including those not working specifically on your issue — to join in your campaign, understanding that they might later ask you to join their campaign.
It looks like this trend will continue into 2011 as more organizations deploy these tools. Here are our other picks, in a crowded field, of top global health communications developments we observed this year:
1. The earthquake in Haiti showed how mobile technologies could be used as a force for good. An unprecedented amount of donations were received via mobile text messages. And Ushahidi Haiti was an innovative mapping tool that helped organizations on the ground coordinate their actions.
2. 2010 was a coming of age for mobile health, with its potential for helping developing countries solve thorny health problems with technology. Much of this was highlighted in the stunningly successful mHealth Summit in November that drew over 2,500 participants from 49 countries, including Bill Gates and Ted Turner.
3. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation upped its growing influence in global health communications considerably: In August, it transferred its “Living Proof” campaign to the ONE Campaign. In September, it helped The Guardian newspaper launch a new global development website. And in October, it helped ABC launch a global health series, “Be the Change; Save a Life,” that aired its first episode on ABC’s 20/20 on Dec. 17. This trend was analyzed minutely in a two-part series in the Columbia Journalism Review and in this interview by Tom Paulson with Kate James and Tom Scott of the Gates Foundation.
4. The Huffington Post grew in importance to the global health community as more of us learned to navigate its waters and get ourselves and our bosses registered as HuffPost bloggers. This was given a boost in October when HuffPost launched HuffPost Health.
5. The successful Women Deliver Conference in Washington got coverage global health advocates usually only dream of — it was covered by 235 reporters and generated 295 news stories. It helped that Melinda Gates turned up to commit $1.5 billion in new grant money for maternal and newborn health.
7. In November, Link TV launched ViewChange.org, a new technology which combines the video-sharing power of YouTube, the depth of information of Wikipedia and the mission-driven focus of an advocacy website.
8. The 2010 winners of the Global Health Council Excellence in Media Awards included Australian television, an undercover African journalist and a bio-medical journal.
9. And advocates found that contests were an effective way to gather data and find solutions to development challenges. For example, Forum One Communications hosted the Aid Information Challenge. And the World Bank is hosting one now called Apps for Development, that challenges the public to create innovative software applications for solving some of the world’s most pressing problems.
10. We also noted the increasing use of open source platforms for communications such as Drupal and WordPress gaining more and more traction in the international development community.
Have I missed any big global health communications developments? If so, let me know and post a comment below.