October 25, 2016 | ,

The connection between social media and saving lives

How our social media strategist advocates for a better world, and invites millions of people to join her.
Four people take a selfie in front of a wall of inflated female condoms.
Lippi Doshi, senior digital policy communications associate at PATH, takes a selfie with colleagues in front of a colorful wall of inflated condoms during a PATH After Hours event. Photo: PATH/Christopher Nelson Photography.

Editor’s note: Guest contributor Laura Anderson interviewed PATH’s senior digital policy communications associate, Lippi Doshi, to learn how she shares PATH’s stories and news with millions of people across a multitude of digital channels.

Q: What is your job at PATH?

I strategize, manage, and coordinate PATH’s social media presence and digital advocacy efforts.

What that really means is that I am an advocate for improving the health and livelihood of women and children around the world, and I believe that communication starts that change. So I figure out how PATH can use social media to share our global health expertise, get us into the right conversations, build partnerships, advocate to decision-makers, show leadership in our community, shape and amplify our brand, and make lifesaving change happen.

Q: What is PATH’s social media presence?

Today, our presence includes pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and over 10 Twitter accounts. We send out daily information best suited for the audiences that follow us on each channel.

Q: How do we choose our platforms and campaigns?

Social media is still new, and new platforms appear every year. However, only a few have had long-term, world-shaping success. We’ve made sure to be on all of those channels.

We evaluate new channels by their audiences—which group of users they are reaching and how that aligns with our goals. There is no perfect formula for a successful social media campaign. To be a social media expert, one has to be willing to learn and unlearn all the time. In my career, a lot of people have asked me: “What will be the next Ice Bucket Challenge?” However, most social media experts will tell you to never try to make a campaign go viral. What is most important is engagement, and engagement turning into action. If a campaign is smart, well-targeted, and well-monitored, the impact will be positive. If it goes viral, that’s a bonus!

The "SheChandelier," constructed of 100 menstrual cups and strands of light.
One of our more creative social media campaigns was the #SheChandelier. Our PATH shop made this chandelier with 100 menstrual cups to help break the culture of silence around menstruation. Photo: PATH/Lippi Doshi.

Q: How do we ensure our social media content starts a conversation—and keep that conversation civil?

It’s very easy for an organization to turn social media into their megaphone. I don’t see it that way. Social media is a convening of all people (not just like-minded people) who volunteer to listen to each other. We recognize this at PATH and start conversations by asking questions to our audiences or posting digestible information that inspires sharing.

Just like any conversation on any platform, we occasionally receive a negative comment. This is where being an evidence-based organization is great. We deflect negative comments with factual information.

Q: When did you get involved in this work?

Global health was my career goal from day one. I studied it in undergrad and went on to a master’s degree in Global Disease Epidemiology and Control.

Q: So—how did you make the leap from disease science to social media for global health?

As part of my program, I went to India to work on the closeout of a 20-year US Agency for International Development (USAID) family planning project. A mentor asked me to join her on behavior change communications projects, including public service announcements, radio ads, and other communications interventions.

It struck me that the global health community wasn’t taking advantage of the most modern form of communication: social media. I came back to the United States and started my own global health news blog and Twitter channel. Support for it grew very quickly, especially among the NGO community, proving to me that social media was relevant to global health. I went on to lead several high-profile social media strategies before joining PATH. These included social media strategies for community health worker coalitions in Bangladesh, the Global Newborn Action Plan, the first Global Newborn Health Conference, and for the field offices of USAID’s Maternal and Child Survival Program.

Q: What developments in social media are you excited about right now?

I love how powerful live video is becoming. People want to know what’s going on and what it looks like, in real time. That information is so accessible between friends: Why shouldn’t it be accessible between businesses—or better yet, between social good implementers like PATH? Social media is all about access and we should take advantage of it. PATH’s social media team is starting to post with Facebook Live and has been playing around with the idea of opening a SnapChat channel.

Black and white portrait of Lippi Doshi.
Lippi Doshi in New Delhi, India. Photo: Courtesy of Lippi Doshi.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?

It’s important for PATH to be well-connected with social media leaders in our community online and off-line. So I also cochair Social Media for Global Health, a working group of more than 400 professionals who work in digital communications and social media for global health institutions. We meet to share campaigns, discuss trends, educate organizations about social media, and help prioritize social media to improve global health.

My colleagues and I talk a lot about the “echo chamber” of global health on social media. While it’s impressive that our sector has taken on social media so quickly, we often share messages that we already agree upon—with only each other! PATH’s digital and social teams prioritize reaching new audiences.

Social media is an invitation into someone’s living room. You can reach someone in the communities where PATH works, a celebrity, a policymaker, or just Grumpy Cat. Social media is crucial because it provides PATH access to many target audiences that we could not reach through traditional channels.

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  • Laura Anderson was formerly a writer and editor at PATH.
  • Lippi Doshi is a communications and digital advocacy officer at PATH.