Providence St. Joseph Health’s Mary Renouf and Melissa Grace on how they used social media to start a youth mental health stigma reduction program

The youth are becoming big-time activists. Especially when it comes to mental health stigma reduction. Mary Renouf
Providence St. Joseph Health AVP of Social and Influencer Strategy Mary Renouf and Social Influencer Director Melissa Grace recently launched a mental health initiative on social media — which focused on reducing the number of preventable deaths amongst youths across the country.

The concept for the initiative came from the health system’s decision to become more active in bettering the community.

“Providence St. Joseph Health wanted to invest money into a purpose-driven project to help better communities within the state of California specifically, where we were seeing a critical need, but also around all of our communities.”

She said they decided to focus it on the youth because they’re still impressionable and motivated to learn and create change. “Especially when it comes to mental health stigma reduction,” Mary said. “The youth are becoming big-time activists.”

Next, they started to figure out how to educate people on mental health issues.

“We know suicide and opioids are problems, but how do we start the conversation and make it acceptable to do so?” Mary said. “And we decided the best way to do that was through social media, because that’s where young people spend the most time engaging.”

To get their initiative off the ground, Mary’s team worked with senior leadership at Well Being Trust — the health system’s foundation dedicated to mental health.

“We built our team and then built the program,” Mary said. “We went through a couple rounds of revisions to find the right partners, message, and hashtags.”

We went through a couple rounds of revisions to find the right partners, message, and hashtags. Mary Renouf
She said having a strategy council allowed them to continuously change and optimize the campaign once it launched. Providence St. Joseph Health is a massive organization, but the Well Being Trust health institute is similar to a startup, she explained.

“We’re small on one side and big on the other, so we can be nimble on the Well Being Trust side and leverage the strengths, resources, and structure of a huge organization,” she said. “Having that backbone helped give the campaign long-term credibility.”

The goal of the campaign was to get ahead of mental health issues and open up conversations about it in a positive way — which led to the concept of #BeWell.

“The idea was that you could help everybody be well, from your neighbor to the kid sitting alone in the cafeteria,” Mary said. “It was a social movement to encourage people to ask others ‘How are you doing?’ and let them know it’s okay to not be okay.”

We realized we were going to have to monitor and expand the campaign to cross platforms, rather than focus on one or two of them. Mary Renouf
The team created the #BeWell hashtag and chose not to customize to the organization’s brand, because they wanted to share a message not promote a product, Mary said.

“We chose something basic because it’s the message we wanted to share, even though it was already being used by other people,” she said. “Over time, that hashtag has truly become ours due to the sheer volume of people using it in conjunction with our brand.”

To get their Gen Y and Gen Z audiences to engage and connect with the goals of the campaign, Mary said leveraging social influencers was essential.

They partnered with athletes across the NFL, NBA, and UFC, musicians from a variety of genres, and micro influencers — including everything from YouTube comedians and fitness personalities to a small town’s local high school football captain.

According to Melissa, the influencers played a key role in an aspect of the social campaign called the “30-day challenge.”

“Each of the influencers took a day and a mental health-related topic or task, like reaching out to a friend, meditating, journaling, or just going outside, and they created small videos to post on their social channels,” she said. “Then, we amplified it on our channels, for added reach and credibility.”

She said the influencers embraced the 30-day challenge, and that piece of the campaign ended up receiving almost 30-million social impressions.

The campaign extended beyond social, and their influencers helped connect the on and offline pieces.

Streaming is a great way to engage kids on social media, because they're already on their phones. Melissa Grace
The team focused on communities that the Well Being Trust serves and planned educational events at local schools and put on free concerts to bring the community together. Often, they would have influencers attend or take part in the events to amplify the #BeWell message.

Melissa said they wouldn’t have been able to execute a campaign of this size alone, so they reached out to media partners like BuzzFeed and iHeartRadio to help them drive their message as well.

iHeartRadio was their biggest partner when the campaign launched, Mary said.

“We found that in California, the youth are 100% listening to the radio, and they’re doing it through streaming services,” she said. “And streaming is a great way to engage kids on social media, because they’re already on their phones.”

Through social media and their partners, the team was able to get conversations about mental health started. “There were communities we knew had a need for the events, but the rest of it was executed through the power of social,” Melissa said.

According to Mary, choosing the right social channels for the campaign to live on was a key step — because pieces of their original strategy proved to be less effective than anticipated.

“You’d assume Snapchat would be a good platform for this type of campaign, but it was too hard for us because we couldn’t moderate or track the conversations,” she said.

When you're having a mental health conversation, especially in a social space where it's visible to everybody, you can't just have canned responses. Mary Renouf
They ultimately decided to focus heavily on Instagram — which they originally intended to be their secondary platform. The team also originally had no intention of engaging on Twitter, because audiences on the platform tend to be older and less culturally diverse than who they had hoped to target.

“People were creating content for us on Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, but we were actually able to intercept a lot of the conversations on Twitter,” Mary said. “We realized we were going to have to monitor and expand the campaign to cross platforms, rather than focus on one or two of them.”

Mary emphasized moderation throughout the campaign was critical, and it came with challenges.

Covering a topic like mental health required responsible and careful social marketing, Mary explained.

“Every time we posted on our channels for this campaign, we had to increase our social moderation,” she said. “And when one major influencer joined the campaign and used the hashtag, we moderated that through our social team and our agency.”

Typically, they would have planned responses prepared to answer comments, but throughout the #BeWell campaign, each response had to be personal.

“When you’re having a mental health conversation, especially in a social space where it’s visible to everybody, you can’t just have canned responses,” Mary said. “It’s truly a one to one conversation.”

In some cases they even had to help followers and direct them to a crisis line, where specially trained responders could take over the conversation. “When you do something like this, you’re obligated to do it the right way,” she said.

The campaign, while unique, fit seamlessly into the health system’s existing social media strategy, Mary said.

The goal of their social media strategy has always been to be accessible, authentic, and human.

Remember it's more than a campaign, it's a movement. Mary Renouf
“We always strive to provide valuable information to our consumers and help educate them,” Mary said. “And when they’re ready to engage with a health provider, we’ll be there for them.”

This campaign not only helped educate the communities they serve, it also helped humanize the health system and open up more one-to-one conversations with their audience.

“The Well Being Trust is here to serve communities in need, and there’s no better way to do that than on social,” she said. “Sometimes it’s the only way to communicate with underserved communities.”

The mental health reduction program is divided into three phases, and the #BeWell campaign was the first phase.

#BeWell was focused on starting the conversation about different mental health issues, then phase two laid out the ways people could help one another and be educated on what causes mental health issues, and phase three will be about driving audiences to take action, Mary explained.

“That’s where we’ll encourage people to actually start making a real difference. We’re creating a digital empowerment hub where we’re giving kids the opportunity to visit the site and learn about mental health,” she said. “They can learn how to create a buddy table in the cafeteria, and parents can learn how to start a support group and talk to their kids about mental health topics. The best part is we’re creating a virtual think-tank for kids to work together to create solutions that will work in all schools around the world.”

With a wide-reaching campaign like this, Mary suggested thinking big and being thorough.

In health care, she said, it’s critical to have every element of a campaign vetted and signed off by clinicians.

“And moderation is key,” Mary said. “You have to be watching the conversation with a campaign of this size.”

Lastly, she said, you have to optimize, because things may seem great in concept, but may not play out the way you anticipated.

“Be prepared and test your creative, message, media partners, and influencers, and be willing to change. Take the data and understand where you can evolve,” she said. “And remember it’s more than a campaign, it’s a movement.”

Mary Renouf and Melissa Grace have been members of SocialMedia.org Health since 2016 and 2019, respectively. You can connect with Mary and Melissa on LinkedIn.