Increasing Outreach, Feedback, and Virtual Communities
By Meredith Hogan Pond
Facebook. YouTube. Twitter. Blogs. As a Nation, people
of all ages use social media applications every day to update
friends, family, and colleagues. We announce personal
milestones, share articles, tell stories, and post photos and
events we hope will be of interest. In short, we’re engaged in
an ongoing conversation, a virtual community.
Similarly, in response to President Obama’s request
for Open Government, SAMHSA has developed a robust
“digital engagement” program with established presences
on four major social media channels—Facebook, Twitter,
YouTube, and Flickr. In addition, the SAMHSA blog serves
as the hub for these behavioral-health-focused efforts.
“The priority is to become more accessible than
ever to the audiences SAMHSA serves,” said SAMHSA
Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. “SAMHSA is looking
for innovative ways to connect with people who need
behavioral health information, services, or just have a
simple question about recovery or treatment.”
Currently, SAMHSA’s main focus for digital engagement
is outreach and feedback. The goal is to increase and
improve communications with the behavioral health
field, public and nonprofit organizations, the recovery
community, and other audiences and individuals concerned with substance abuse and
mental health issues.
To support this work, SAMHSA
recently launched “Ask SAMHSA!” With
its home base on the blog, Ask SAMHSA!
is an opportunity for public questions
and comments on a new topic each
month with answers provided by experts
in the field (see Ask SAMHSA!).
“Digital engagement is just another
term for social media or new media,”
said Stephen A. Randazzo, a web and
media specialist at SAMHSA’s Office of
Policy, Planning, and Innovation. This SAMHSA team
includes Andrew Wilson and Deanna
Stephens, who recently presented an
interactive session, “Federal/Coalition
Partnerships: SAMHSA, Social Media,
and You,” at February’s Community
Anti-Drug Coalitions of America
(CADCA) Leadership Forum.
“Whatever you want to call this phenomenon,” Mr. Randazzo said, “most of America uses it in one form or another almost every day.” SAMHSA sees this as an opportunity to promote its mission and its messages and to open a dialogue on behavioral health issues. “Why is behavioral health essential to health?” he asks. “Let’s talk about it.”
“Through social media and the
connections it provides, we’re reaching
people faster than we could any
other way,” Mr. Randazzo added. “At
SAMHSA, we are working collaboratively
with different parts of HHS.” Last
summer, for example, after the
Deepwater Horizon oil spill, SAMHSA
sent out a text message on mental
health issues via the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention’s network.
According to SAMHSA, information
reached thousands of people in the Gulf
region direct to their mobile phones.
SAMHSA is making every effort to
bring something new to the website
for online visitors. ”We want people to
make SAMHSA’s website a place people
visit frequently, to encourage people to
become part of our online community,”
Mr. Wilson said.
“Social media is a competitive
environment,” said Ms. Stephens. “But
for users of Facebook, Twitter, and other
platforms, these tools offer opportunities
that many individuals never had before.”
SAMHSA social media pages include
Facebook. SAMHSA now has more
than 7,300 followers who “Like” the page
and comment on posts. “We have a lot of
behavioral health providers on Facebook,”
Ms. Stephens said. “Posts are talking about everything SAMHSA does and everything
that relates to SAMHSA’s mission.”
On the other hand, SAMHSA never
intended that Facebook replace any
traditional channels for dissemination.
“We see Facebook as an opportunity to
extend our reach to new audiences and,
at the same time, maximize use of limited
resources,” said Mr. Wilson. “Here’s an
opportunity to engage the public and
behavioral health organizations in a very
By participating in conversations on
Facebook, SAMHSA can help ensure
that the Agency’s ideas, its vision, and
its messages are included in discussions.
In addition, SAMHSA links to credible
news sources that post topics relevant to
the Agency’s work.