When we saw the outpouring of interest and support for our recent post on content marketing for the common good, we decided to build the topic into a regular feature theme on Content Roundtable.
Little did I realize at the time that the next post in the series would spin off from my own experience with a winter fall, a mild head injury, and a community of support that made the episode far less eventful than it might otherwise have been.
Saturday, March 9 in Ottawa began as a gorgeous, crisp morning with a bright sun, melting snow, and warm air that carried the feel of early spring. When it was time for our Shetland Sheepdog, Maydeleh, to take her morning walk, I decided to set out in light shoes rather than my heavier, treaded winter boots.
Half-way around the block, I lost my footing on a patch of ice…and I’d never realized anyone could fall nearly six feet that fast. I landed on my bottom and pitched backwards, and my head bounced twice on the pavement. Either before or after the second bounce, I remember the sensation of seeing darkness and pushing it back. I think I shouted out a very bad word, then told someone I couldn’t move.
Loose Connections (not the ones in my head)
That someone turned out to be Kelly, previously known to us as “mom” of Theo, one of the many dogs Maydeleh likes to meet on her twice-daily strolls. The dog walkers in our neighbourhood are what Malcolm Gladwell would call “loose connections”—we’re all part of each other’s extended networks, even though we mostly don’t know each other well.
Kelly and Theo stayed with me, and they were soon joined by “mom and dad” of Charlie Brown, the clever and gentle Standard Poodle who often greets us on the path by the Rideau River. They covered me with blankets, called my daughter and 911, and stayed with me until the ambulance arrived. The paramedics were awe-inspiring—fast, smart, calm, informative—just as their colleagues were almost 18 months ago, when Karen took a spill down the stairs and shattered her ankle.
All very well, and if these words are coherent enough to get through our editor, I’m obviously on the mend. But what does any of this have to do with content marketing? At their core, content marketing and social media are about building community, and I’m telling this story because it took a community to get me the care I needed and, possibly, to keep me alive.
Depending on Each Other
I’m not sure how alert I was while I was on the ground, but I was acutely aware (and incredibly grateful) that people were taking a chunk out of their Saturday morning to look after me. Afterwards, I thought back to another, vastly more widespread health and safety emergency where the community response failed.
After 739 people died in the Chicago heat wave of 1995, sociologist Eric Klinenberg traced the large majority of the impact to areas where people didn’t know their neighbours, or didn’t trust them enough to feel safe leaving their apartments. For lack of fresh water and respite from the heat, they died in their homes. While the heat was the catalyst, the killer was a lack of community cohesion.
Klinenberg showed that the absence of solid, place-based social networks, on top of poverty and demographics, determined the outcome in adjacent neighbourhoods. “The people of Englewood were vulnerable not just because they were black and poor but also because their community had been abandoned,” according to a New Yorker article on the study.
What Can Content Marketing Do?
In the last few months, we’ve returned to some of our client work on the social determinants of health. It’s an area where content marketing and social media can make a huge difference:
- By helping people engage
- By bringing community stories to a wider audience
- By introducing a powerful new advocacy tool to help make the case for robust, community-based health programming.
The wider public health community is also pointing toward the powerful connection between virtual and geographic communities. “Your zip code shouldn’t predict how long you live, but it does” is the tag for a hard-hitting campaign [pdf] by the California Endowment that relies heavily on print and billboards, but is also amplifying its message via social media.
Through this lens, I know the care I received before the paramedics arrived was as much about locale as it was about the friendly bonds among dog walkers. I’ve lived and walked dogs in other kinds of neighbourhoods, too, and I have no doubts about what the California Endowment’s geo-statistics tell us, or where the public health programming is most needed.
As I rough out this post about eight hours after my fall, the prospect of forced, uninterrupted bed rest is more daunting than the mild headache and stiff neck muscles. But I know it’s really a matter of good luck and privilege that Maydeleh and I were walking in a neighbourhood with the cohesion and resilience to take care of someone who’s hurting. The kind of neighbourhood where everyone should be able to live.
Which leaves me with two new variants on the idea of content marketing with purpose:
- Content marketing and social networks can play a powerful role in helping communities recognize and take action on grassroot imperatives like the social determinants of health—both by sharing stories like mine, successful and not, and by linking health outcomes to geography the way the California Endowment is doing.
- The next time local or provincial politicians even think about cutting funds for paramedic services, they’ll find us on Twitter and Facebook, and we’ll see how budget restraint fares against a different kind of cohesive community.
How do you see content marketing and social media making the link between geographic and online communities?
(And have you thanked a paramedic recently?)
(Photo by Andreanna Moya Photography)