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Healthy social media

Coming at this whole marketing thing with a different mindset than my colleagues has been interesting. I’m a health communication major, and so right from the get-go, the joke was that I was being trained to convince people that they should avoid all of the things that these savvy marketers were being trained to sell them! While that’s an easy and humorous distinction between our programs (and maybe only a little bit accurate), I’ve begun to see that when it comes right down to it, the fundamental desire to contribute to the greater good in the world fuels both ideas. What marketing and health communication both ultimately do is to get people’s attention and informs them about something that will make them feel better – be it physically, mentally, or spiritually. Sound like a stretch? Try this on for size:

The proliferation of social media like Twitter, Facebook, Delicious, and scads of others show the popularity of such a thing is here to stay. Most sites walk a fine line of being easily dismissed as time-wasting sources of digital narcissism – or – being recognized for the great societal power they both hold and provide, and used in a more generous (dare I say altruistic) way. The fact is, they’ll probably always skim along the top of that fence because people’s needs and interests are different. Twitter is often railed on for being the epitome of conceit and useless, “who cares?” information. Depending upon one’s point of view, though, each topic could be inane or pretty valuable. We can be alerted to a friend’s breakfast choice just as easily as to a major traffic tie-up that could impact our commute to work. Typically, the reaction to each of those updates would be, in order, “yawn” and “thanks!” However, if you know your roommate just ate an omelet, you probably won’t choose to whip up a quiche for dinner. And if you walk to work, being told of a car accident on the Interstate is just about as important to your morning as an extra bag of ice is to a polar bear.

Perhaps that is the practical perception but I think there’s another possibility as well. What if Twitter links health communication and consumerist marketing on a deeper level? What if your best friend’s “I just tasted the rainbow!” tweet (although meaningless to many) makes you think of a Spring Break roadtrip during which you survived only on Diet Yoo-Hoo and Skittles, and that makes you laugh out loud (which improves your mood, and lowers both your stress level and blood pressure), and compels you to go to 7-Eleven to buy soda and candy (successfully completing the motivation-to-purchase cycle)?

I assert that it is evidence there is a connection. Health Comm and Marketing are not unrelated, they are not distant cousins, they are not even good and evil twins. They are quite intertwined, and might be considered more akin to Janus, the Roman god with two faces… except that he was the god of doorways, and that’s really not relevant to this analogy. So maybe not. Still, this has all been mind-bogglingly revelatory to a health comm student dropped into the alleged enemy’s camp.

Then again, maybe it’s just a nefarious plot by the suits on Madison Avenue and at the HHS. Or maybe it’s just a bunch of hooey. In any case, now I have a craving for Skittles.

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