Hold the Megaphone and Pass the Tomatoes

By Jean Kelso Sandlin, Senior Strategist

To stay informed in this fast-changing social media landscape I read a lot. I read books, blogs, new research on how people are using the Internet to access healthcare information and case studies of how hospitals are using this new media to successfully connect with their communities. One blog I read this morning said, “The Internet should be used like a megaphone.” I disagree. I don’t know about you, but if I see someone on the corner with a megaphone, I walk the other way.

The “megaphone” takes us back to the old media model when hospitals would define a message and then scream it out–hoping it was loud enough, and that you picked the right corner to get the most traffic, that the people passing by spoke the same language as the megaphone user and could hear the message over the street noise, and that the message might be meaningful to them so they would remember it and remember fondly who was behind the megaphone.

Finding the right metaphor for the Internet and social media can be difficult – it’s wide reaching in its variety of offerings. People must be self-directed in order find what is useful to them. It often starts conversations among people who would otherwise never meet and, by doing so, can foster a sense of real community.

This week when I was exchanging squash for tomatoes with a colleague, it hit me. The Internet is like a free farm. If you are not familiar with the concept of a free farm, it is when people bring the bounty from their garden and share with others. For example, if you grew more zucchini than your family can eat, you would lay down your squash, look around the table at what others had brought and decide what your family could use–maybe a few tomatoes. While browsing the bounty, you meet the person who selects the zucchini and you strike up a conversation. She tells you about her fantastic new zucchini cake recipe. In some communities, these arrangements are called bounty tables or sharing tables. No matter what they are called, the gardeners come with something to share, they take what they need, and usually there is a community atmosphere where ideas or information are shared.

In seeking healthcare information, people come with information to share, are eager to learn and often times create a sense of community. Consider how a Birthing Center site can invite new moms to ask questions and share information about their newborns or how cancer survivors can encourage those who are newly diagnosed. Certainly, the strength of new media is not in the concept as Internet as megaphone–a loud one-way message–the strength of the new media is in sharing the bounty … tomatoes anyone?

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