Welcome back to TakeFive with TweetReach, our ongoing interview series with influential members of the Twitter measurement universe. This week, we’re excited to speak with Beverly Robertson, National Director of the Pregnancy & Newborn Health Education Center at the March of Dimes (find them on Twitter here). We spoke with her about the incredible opportunity social media presents to disseminate health information, particularly as it pertains to the March of Dimes mission: healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. Beverly hosts a Twitter chat with the hashtag #pregnancychat once a month, featuring revolving topics around health, pregnancy and babies. She also hosts ad hoc chats with the hashtag #preemiechats. More recently, The March of Dimes participated in a joint Twitter chat with the Center for Disease Control for Birth Defect Prevention Month (January) with the hashtag #1in33chat.
TweetReach: Welcome, Beverly! Let’s start with talking about how you got started using social media. Can you describe your first “ah-ha” moment?
Beverly Robertson: Actually, I was in India back in ’07 and saw so many young women texting. Watching them, it struck me: what a tremendous opportunity for delivering health information. When I came back, I looked into creating a texting program for the March of Dimes and it was prohibitively expensive. BUT Twitter was free, and women could access it through their phones if they wanted to. March of Dimes joined Twitter in August of 2007. My vision back then was to offer a pregnancy tip of the day. Everything has changed since then.
TweetReach: When did you start doing the Twitter Chats with March of Dimes? How important was measurement when you started them, and how has that evolved?
Beverly Robertson: We started doing chats on Twitter in April of 2010. In the beginning, I tracked stats as a matter of course– but we now rely on TweetReach to not only see our reach, but understand which topics resonate with our followers and what times of day are best to chat, as well as the importance of having guests.
TweetReach: What has surprised you the most about the chats? What about the data you get from measuring them?
Beverly Robertson: The most surprising thing is the interactivity- no, not even that- it’s the openness with which our followers not only share their personal triumphs and trials, but their gratitude to us as an organization. Also, don’t host a chat at 3pm ET; people are at the bus stop picking up their kids! Simple really, but it was not on my radar. The most interesting thing (not really surprising) about the data is it how far a simple retweet will go with the right people with a large following. On a side note, beyond the chat reports, I love reading the Tracker reports. It is sometimes surprising to see who is talking about the Foundation and the reach the conversation has.
TweetReach: There are many different ways to measure activity, but how does March of Dimes gauge your success?
Beverly Robertson: We look at reach numbers, of course, but also the number of contributors and growth year over year. I absolutely go back to compare the numbers over time and analyze the strengths, weaknesses, and growth opportunities of the chats– and make changes based on them.
TweetReach: Do you feel the approach or reliance on social platforms is different for a nonprofit organization? What would you recommend to one that is just starting on their social strategy, or is uncertain of how to even begin?
Beverly Robertson: Social Media is critical not only for delivering mission messaging, but in introducing the organization to a new audience, as well as keeping track of what people are saying about you and your mission. It also is critical to take the opportunity to thank your donors and volunteers publicly for all of their hard work and support. I cannot tell you what a tremendous response we get for doing that. My recommendation is jump in, but listen before you speak.
TweetReach: The last chat you held in December was on hyperemesis gravidarum, which the Duchess of Cambridge was recently diagnosed with. How do you typically choose chat topics? Did you find more engagement with this one since it related to a recent news event involving a well-known figure?
Beverly Robertson: Some of our chat topics are planned in advance based on a specific monthly activity (November is Prematurity Awareness Month, for example) while other are more spontaneous, like the hyperemesis one (Editor’s note: The March of Dimes held a Twitter chat on December 5, 2012, on the topic of hypermesis gravidarum, or severe, chronic and debilitating morning sickness). With the flu being so bad this year, we are planning a chat on Flu During Pregnancy on Feb 1st. I also see what people are talking about in my streams, or ask outright what topics our followers would like to have covered. I did not find that the hyperemesis chat was better because it was in the news. I think a better lead time and more promotional opportunity is more critical to success than celebrity hype.
TweetReach: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us and share your thoughts and findings, Beverly!
Beverly Robertson is the National Director of the Pregnancy & Newborn Health Education Center at the March of Dimes. Under her leadership, The Center provides information in both English and Spanish via tradional, written and online inquiries as well as through social networking.
She is heavily vested in new media, leading the social media mission messaging team: tweeting on @marchofdimes, and @babytips as well as managing the blogging team for News Moms Need and Nacersano blog. She holds webinars, workshops and speaks at many conferences on the benefits of social media and the need to engage the public, as well as the importance of Hispanic Outreach. She keeps a watchful eye on non-profit uses for new technology.
Beverly has a MLS degree from Rutgers University, an MA in history, and an archival certificate from New York University. She has a BA in Spanish from Ohio State University.