When nine-year-old Sam Gardner was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, not only did his home of Grand Falls-Windsor come together to support him, but the online community did, too.
“You can’t put into words or on paper how good it feels, how overwhelmed you are,” said Kellie Gardner, Sam’s mom. “It’s amazing how when the community needs to they pull together to help.”
Gardner wasn’t interested in media attention, but was quick to agree to Canadian Blood Services’ offer to run a Facebook campaign for Sam. The Be on Sam’s Side Facebook campaign, which took place during the month of August, accumulated about 350 “likes” on Facebook.
“I wanted it to be a positive message and to make a difference, right? And that’s what it did. That’s what we wanted to accomplish,” she said.
From Aug. 1 to Aug. 31, more than 500 people “shared” Sam’s story, and the CBS Newfoundland and Labrador’s Facebook page got more than 2,100 hits. The campaign inspired other patients to share their stories on the Facebook wall and donors to give blood products for Sam, who was receiving platelets every two days and red blood cells every seven days.
“Even strangers were making comments and, of course, when we were in the hospital I’d read these comments to Sam, and it really helped,” Gardner said. “It kept us positive and knowing that there were people out there rooting for us.”
Sam ended up finding a bone marrow match in his brother and had a transplant on Aug. 15.
Canadian Blood Services (CBS) only launched its Facebook sites across Canada in January of this year — later than most organizations.
“We’re a little behind the eight ball with regards to social media, and we realize we need to be there,” said Dana Meadus, community development co-ordinator for CBS in St. John’s.
Health Canada regulations prevented CBS from using Facebook as a method of communication until recently. Where confidentiality can be an issue, CBS wanted to make sure they were following all the right steps before launching the page.
“If you re going to take it on, you need to be managing it on a day-to-day basis, because if someone posts a question, we want to get back to them as soon as possible,” Meadus said.
The logo and CBS description on the Facebook pages are the same across the country, but the content is province-specific.
“We’re trying to be consistent in that way yet have different flavours, because, you know, Newfoundlanders want different things than people out in Manitoba,” she said.
Meadus said Facebook is the key social media avenue for CBS. Although its Twitter account has been around a little longer — about two years — it hasn’t been as effective.
“I find Facebook is working better for us with regards to having a conversation. People can see more pictures, videos, things like that,” she said.
Not only does social media create conversation, but it’s a way — perhaps the only way — to connect residents in every corner of the province.
“It’s not a St. John’s thing, it’s not a Corner Brook thing, it’s a provincial thing. It’s great to get everybody coming together as a community,” Meadus said.
Be on Sam’s Side was the first highly successful social media campaign CBS in Newfoundland and Labrador has run.
“When we first posted Sam’s picture on August first, the reaction, it just went through the roof,” she said. She said Facebook is a good way to retain people. Rather than feeling guilty about never getting around to reading a monthly newsletter, people actually have to seek out the Facebook page in order to interact.
“I think it’s going to be huge — I think it’s going to be the way to reach people,” she said.
In the wake of a successful online campaign for Sam, CBS is kicking off its next one Nov. 15. The campaign, dubbed “Miracle on…Wicklow Street” (the name changes to whatever street the clinic is on), gives people the chance to dedicate a blood donation to someone with a Christmas card.
“We’ll be giving people the chance to dedicate their miracle this season,” said Paul Doucet, communications specialist for CBS Atlantic region.
Donors will be given a holiday-themed postcard to send to a friend or a family member. Donors will have the option to have their pictures taken holding a whiteboard with a personalized message. The pictures will go in an album on Facebook.
Doucet said holidays are some of the most challenging times of year for the blood system. Regular donors are away on vacation, busy, or simply out of habit.
“When we have a holiday, that’s a day that we miss re-booking people,” he said. Doucet said he hopes this campaign will educate new donors and encourage regulars to commit to appointments during the busy Christmas season.
CBS is launching another campaign in St. John’s in early January, and this time the focus will be on Twitter.
“When a donor comes into the clinic there will be posters and info at the check-in to give them a chance to scan the QR code that allows them to “check in,” Doucet said. Donors can scan again on their way out of the clinic — about an hour later — and will have the option to tweet the number of appointments the clinic still has available that day.
“This will show any followers how quick and easy the process is,” he said. CBS is tapping into the growing need for instant information and fast communication.
“The immediacy of it is important — that’s what people want. We did see that as a big element for us,” Doucet said.
CBS is working on yet another social media campaign: a Facebook puzzle game that will start in the spring. Donors will be able to flip over a certain number of tiles on an online puzzle, eventually revealing a picture and story of a blood product recipient.
“It’s an interesting and innovative way to take part in the blood community,” Doucet said. Each tile represents one unit of blood, and like blood donation, the puzzle can only be completed by a number of donors.
“If you have a 50-tile puzzle, it’s a car accident victim,” Doucet said. Sharing recipient stories is one of the best ways to raise awareness of the need for blood.
The Telegram is encouraging people to head down to the Canadian Blood Services clinic at 7 Wicklow St. in St. John’s to donate blood for the annual The Telegram Saves Lives week. The clinic is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.