Jessica Turner from Vanderbilt University Medical Center shared how they developed and amplified an “honor walk” video that went viral with 2.4 million views

In February, Jessica Turner — Program Manager of Content Strategy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center — learned from their LifeFlight team that an “honor walk” was being organized for a paramedic, Kyle Fisher, who had died unexpectedly and whose organs were being donated. (In an honor walk, practitioners across the hospital stop what they’re doing and stand in the hallway to honor an organ donor as they are being moved into the OR.)

Vanderbilt had done other honor walks, Jessica said, but Kyle’s story and work as a paramedic presented a unique opportunity to share the practice on social media. His family agreed, seeing this as a way to amplify Kyle’s last act of valor and help communicate the importance of organ donation.

So, Jessica and her colleagues on the social media and media relations teams set about creating a video that succeeded in both telling Kyle’s powerful story and helping Donate Life acquire twice the number of organ donations in February than the previous year.

The social media team recognized the potential that the video would go viral and make a meaningful impact on audiences across the country.

We thought that it would be highly shareable, but we had no idea that it would go as viral as it did. Jessica Turner
Over the weekend, they worked closely with the VUMC public information officer, Matt Batcheldor, working on the story. “We pulled together samples of other honor walk videos and gave our reporter guidance on what to film with his iPhone during the walk,” she said.

On Monday, the social team’s videographer, Iain Montgomery, interviewed a nurse involved in Kyle’s care and then turned to the storytelling strategy.

It was important to keep the video short and simple to make the greatest impact, Jessica said.

“We didn’t need to show the whole walk to make an impact,” she said. “And we only wanted to have the one nurse’s voice throughout the video.”

They used text overlays throughout to relay the story but keep the video concise without having to use more time for interview content. This allowed final video to clock in at about one minute.

“It was important for us to generate awareness about organ donation,” she said. “We felt like that was the biggest opportunity with the video, that people would be moved by Kyle making the decision to be an organ donor.”

To drive that goal home, they included Donate Life’s URL in the video instead of a link to their own transplant center.

The team also kept the family in mind with every decision.

It was really a privilege to get to share his story in a way that resonated with millions of people around the world. Jessica Turner
“That’s part of why we waited a week and a half to go live,” she said. “We wanted the family to have the opportunity to approve all the content and we needed to give them the time and space that they needed.”

It was also important to the family that the video be shared. “It was really a privilege to get to share his story in a way that resonated with millions of people around the world,” said Jessica.

While the social media team worked on the video, the public information officer wrote a long-form piece, which gave the social media team a place to send people to learn more after seeing the social media post.

They launched the video and story simultaneously a week and a half after Kyle’s death.

The social media team then turned their attention to the amplification of the video.

They first launched it on Facebook and, once it started to go viral, they also posted to Instagram. Because it was slightly over one minute long, they opted for a two-slide approach on Instagram where viewers swiped to watch the second half of it.

Then the LifeFlight team shared it with the EMS community on their Facebook page. Having that early sharing and amplification strategy made a huge difference in their results, Jessica said.

“We thought that it would be highly shareable, but we had no idea that it would go as viral as it did,” she said. “It’s been several weeks and it continues to get comments from all over the world, which is tremendous.”

Because of the high engagement Jessica and her team were seeing on the video, they made sure to dedicate more resources to responding and monitoring.

We wanted the family to have the opportunity to approve all the content, and we needed to give them the time and space that they needed. Jessica Turner
Many of the comments were people sharing their own meaningful stories of either receiving the gift of life through organ donation or losing someone and that loved one giving their organs.

“Those are comments that always merit a response,” she said. “Certainly it meant heavy monitoring days, but what a beautiful thing to get to be a part of.”

According to Jessica, the story started going viral on its first day — which caused some unexpected problems.

“Our website with Kyle’s written story crashed the day after we posted it,” said Jessica. “But we hadn’t gone to our web team and said, ‘We’ve got a piece going viral. Are we okay on bandwidth?’ That was a big takeaway for us that, if we see this happen again, we need to alert the web team sooner.”

But she and her team are proud of how they were able to handle the video throughout the process and the results they’ve seen so far.

To date, the piece has had an organic reach of more than 4 million and the video has been viewed more than 2.4 million times.

But, beyond metrics, she was proud of what they’ve been able to show through the video. “From a social media perspective, we’re always looking for great stories that combine the work our employees are doing along with a patient care story,” said Jessica. “It was neat how this video came together to highlight something that was important and meaningful and really showcased Vanderbilt as being a special place to work and receive care.”

Several weeks after the video went viral, the social media team (part of Strategic Marketing) gathered with the News and Communications team, along with executive leadership from both departments.

It was neat how this video came together to highlight something that was important and meaningful and really showcased Vanderbilt as being a special place to work and receive care. Jessica Turner
They discussed the results and identified what went well and what they could take away from the process.

“We had all identified strong collaboration as a real key to the video’s success,” she said. “News and Communication reaching out to us quickly was what allowed us to even move forward with this video, so that collaboration was something that we really celebrated.”

They also came away with the insight that the iPhone was the right choice for filming this particular video. “It was not disruptive in the way a videographer with a big camera would have been,” said Jessica. “And we found that identifying a single voice for the video — the nurse who cared for Kyle — made for a simple yet impactful video.”

If they were to change one thing about how they put out the video, Jessica said it would be how they linked their social posts.

“We had two links in the Facebook post — one to learn more about Kyle, and one to Donate Life to learn more about organ donation,” she said. “Because of that, we can’t tell in Facebook metrics what clicks were from what. Had we used to bitly links, we would have been able to clearly determine what that data was.”

For anyone tackling something similar, she recommends setting up tracking links, particularly if you’re linking outside your institution.

Jessica emphasized that they likely wouldn’t have seen the level of success and engagement without the strong collaboration across teams.

“It really was a lot of people who came together, both in preparing for it and thinking through it,” she said. “Then once it went viral, it was all hands on deck in terms of monitoring and the web team.”

She said their experience with this video is a great proof point for how teams can work collaboratively to tell great stories and use a combination of video and website content successfully.

Jessica Turner has been a member of SocialMedia.org Health since 2016. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.