Perspectives is a series uncovering routines, inspiration, and insights by marketing leaders shaping the future around the globe.

Perspectives ft. Aleksandra Kuzmanovic, Social Media Manager, World Health Organizations Future of Marketing

EDITOR’S NOTE: Aleksandra Kuzmanovic is the Social Media Manager at the World Health Organization (WHO) – where they direct international health within the United Nations system and lead partners in global health responses across 193 countries. 

In her words, she shares:

  • Her experience managing social media for WHO 
  • How to work with limited resources
  • Her hopes for the future of marketing

What does the World Health Organization do? 

We are a specialist UN agency, evidence, and science-based organization. Our main job is to provide governments, our member states with recommendations on how to improve people’s health – whether that’s emergencies or pandemics, like COVID-19 (which we are all experiencing), or non-communicable diseases like cancer, heart disease, lung disease, a rare disease, or it’s risk factors, improving physical activity, the quality of the air we breathe, or the quality of water we drink. It’s a really wide range of standards and recommendations that we provide governments with so that they can take further action on policies and strategies to protect people’s health in their own countries. 

Any health issue you can think about – we collect data, evidence, and work with scientists around the world to guide the best possible actions to protect others. 

I can’t even imagine how much work goes into planning all of these different campaigns. What does it really mean to be a social media manager at the World Health Organization? 

It’s a big responsibility, but it’s also inspiring because social media channels are providing us the opportunity to provide people all over the world with health advice and information that all of us need on a daily basis – within seconds.

Of course, there are limitations in terms of how many languages we can cover, how fast we can deliver all the information and knowledge, or as I mentioned, we’re a science-based organization, so it’s also translating those technical terms and pulling them into public health advice and language for the general public. It’s very important that all of this information is timely so that people can actually benefit from all the information that you’re putting across our social media channels.

We don’t have space for errors because it’s always about people’s lives. Not only during COVID, but any other health issue – and it is inspiring to know that we have the possibility of reaching many more people way faster than ever. 

“There is no room for error.” That adds a little bit of more pressure on social media managers like you. You mentioned that the World Health Organization has to communicate across multiple platforms. Can you give me an idea of just how many platforms that is?

In terms of social media channels, we are present on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and at the beginning of the pandemic, we were extending our presence to TikTok and Snapchat. We’ve been present for years on YouTube on Pinterest, so these are the main accounts that we are managing.

But in our structure, we have headquarters in Geneva, where I’m based and work. We also have six regional offices. We have over 160 country offices as well. Depending on the platforms that are used by the local community, some of our country offices are present on a WeChat, for example, in China or Vkontakte in Russia, so there are some other platforms that are managed by my colleagues, either in regions or country offices and reaching people in local languages.

For context, how big is your social media team?

There were only two when the pandemic started and we already had a big following, and I think this is common for all UN agencies and the public sector that our teams are understaffed – not only when we look into digital communications; it’s the overall department of communications, and then also looking into technical – we have many programs led by just one person. So again, just putting a little bit of context that it’s not only the social media team is small, it’s across the organization where it is common. But we have very talented people on the team with different sets of skills. Some are stronger in analytics, which is important because all our decisions are basically done by listening and analytics, and social media is 99% listening – not only for our social media decisions, but social media is very important, in general, for other communications or other strategic decisions on what is happening around the world, and how to actually address people’s concerns.

Some are very talented in developing content quickly for different platforms – like Instagram stories or TikTok videos. We work very closely with the audio-visual team.

We host live Q&As with our experts very often. We’ve done them for several years, but during the pandemic, we started weekly, regular live Q&As. We do this by monitoring social platforms every day throughout the week, reviewing all the comments and questions that we receive on our social media posts, and based on FAQs, then we decide the theme of the conversation and go live.

In real life, we are in the comments section, taking questions from viewers and our experts are answering questions, addressing concerns, responding to misinformation and rumors that are spreading. People have direct access to our experts – but these sessions can go up to one hour and it’s too long for everyone to watch it, so we have talented people, who clip these afterward and share further across social media. That’s one example of a product that’s been used in several ways. 

What has been your favorite campaign (or top-performing campaign) that you’ve worked on?

In terms of scale, campaigns during COVID are something that has had a reach that we haven’t seen before.

I think the first one that had a very huge impact was our hands campaign that ended in May 2020. We had our Director-General talking about leading by example or building trust would do the video and basically, he was explaining how to wash hands properly.

We kicked off the challenge by asking people to share their videos, but we were nominating celebrities, influencers from politics, show business, singers, sports athletes. And in a very short period of time, the hashtag was used over 2 billion times – and effectively. It was a very successful campaign across different channels.

It was the first campaign at that scale and the first big thing that we did on TikTok. We also had a similar challenge, where we called on people to properly wear a mask. And there’s also quite a lot of vaccine content we’ve done this year. 

A big thing that I worked on is running some brand lift studies on our COVID vaccine content and prevention. This was another level now on measuring the effectiveness of campaigns, especially as we’re in the second year of the pandemic… people are bored with us. 

We all want to go back to our old lives, where we can celebrate, hug, meet our friends, and have no limitations on how we can stand far away from each other, wear masks, etc. It’s more challenging for us to continue being interesting and have people come to our page and listen to our advice, so we introduced this measurement to see the effectiveness of our company. What we learned is that the baseline knowledge between December 2020 and December 2021 has significantly increased when it comes to vaccines in particular, which is a short period of time for people to have way more information and knowledge about something.

Analytics and measurement are really important for us in continuous improvement. Outside of COVID, something that’s dear to my heart is a campaign from a few years ago; I created a small campaign on Valentine’s day that offered different public health advice.

Around Valentine’s day (including for those who are single and lonely), we shared mental health messages and supportive messages – it wasn’t just about safe sex, reproductive health, and health precautions. And it was well-received by the audience.

Subjects that I personally like to work on are our mental health campaigns. Mental health is a really popular subject on social media. And the reason I like to work on it is not because of that – but there are a lot of opportunities to get messages out there when there is high interest.

Then you have more engagement and more listening to make your campaign more successful – by that, I mean reaching more people with information. 

What are some of the challenges that you face when dealing with some of these changes in social media? 

This has nothing to do with the pandemic, but we could repurpose more of the same content across platforms (like an infographic or video). We need to adjust and customize content for each platform – but some platforms make it easier than others. 

With a platform like Facebook (or Meta), it remains a big challenge for us to get picked up (especially during this time) because the content we provide is educational and more serious. It’s hard to transfer it into something that’s fun. And there’s not necessarily always a call to action. 

This is something that we’re still figuring out – how to make our content more digestible for the audience. On the other hand, we do have limitations in terms of skills and resources on the team to produce for this platform on a regular basis as we do for others.

The other challenge we have is increasing community management on our channels because the number of comments and replies is in the thousands. It’s very hard to do two-way communication and respond to everyone, so one of the ways we do that is with the live Q&As summarizing what people are asking and then finding a way to respond.

But in order to engage with your community, you need to do more. An audience we have among followers is very young, but traditionally, our number one audience includes governments and ministers of health, policymakers, scientists, and beyond – whether they are not really our followers, so there’s kind of a mismatch.

We always want to communicate with the public, but in internal demands, when our colleagues come to us, we want to communicate to those people, too – but they’re not necessarily following us in all channels. It’s challenging to meet all the targets because not every product that we develop is of public quality.

And some content, as I mentioned at the beginning, is very technical for scientists and policymakers, so it’s also measuring the right thing to post on social channels – while also meeting other targets. 

What’s something you’ve learned in the last two years?

From a public sector perspective, one thing that’s important to have an effective social media presence is to have support from your leadership. We are lucky to have leadership that understands the power of social media – and not just social media but communications (but definitely social media).

When our Director General got into his role, he already had an understanding of social media, as he was a heavy user of Twitter. So because we still have a lot of bureaucracy in our processes and way of working, having the leadership that explains the power of social media and having a social media-first approach on how we communicate is important – especially during the pandemic and digital era. 

We were all asked to stay in lockdown for months – and the only way to communicate with people was through strategic channels, so that puts even more pressure on us to communicate as fast as possible… all the new information that we have to share on social media channels. That was a big change for us (and a positive change).

Another learning is that our team is small – but the advantage of that is that you can actually build your skills and do more of what you like. I mean, there are things that we all have to do in any job – whether we like it or not – but we do have a bit more freedom to experiment with and embrace different skills.

And I think the most important lesson is to always tell the truth. Even if it’s not good news – even if you make an error – it’s always good to admit it. Otherwise, it will come back to you. I did say at the beginning that there is no space for errors because it’s people’s lives we’re dealing with, but we are also humans and everyone makes mistakes. Also, we are in this crisis or pandemic, and working on many occasions 24/7, so errors can happen. But it’s also way better to admit it yourself. 

Some of the other lessons in terms of social media… listening to your followers – and beyond your followers… the conversation.

Quite often, listening to some other accounts or channels is when you get new ideas and see what’s trending. For example, we looked at different accounts that have catchy visuals in terms of simple design, but very strong colors – and it’s something that we started testing on our accounts. And we realized that it actually works way better than having icons and drawings that explain what we are saying – that actually just simple titles with texts with strong colors works. When you scroll through the newsfeed, it’s something that sticks out – you can’t miss it.

So again, listening and being flexible to continuously adapt to new trends on social media. Algorithms and features change, which is something that we embraced this year and that’s been doing really well for us. 

We have quite high listening numbers, which also gives us the opportunity to have more speakers at the same time. For example, Clubhouse wasn’t so easy to start as it was a separate platform, so having it on Twitter worked way better for us because we have a big presence and following. 

Let’s go back to visual content – specifically user-generated content. Why do you think it’s important to invest in user-generated content?

We prefer using hashtags that are already out there… where the conversation is ongoing and trending, and there’s already interest in the conversation. 

Creating a new specific hashtag for everything is not something that really works unless it’s already a subject hashtag, where people are already discussing that subject and we can use hashtags to find that information more easily.

What does the future of marketing look like from your lens? 

I think the public sector needs more space. Advertising is really growing. During the pandemic, we received support, including ad credits to reach people with COVID information – but this hasn’t been the practice before and it probably wouldn’t be a regular practice. And I know that my colleagues and other UN agencies or NGOs are really struggling because, on certain platforms, the advertising space is growing so much that organic traffic is really not getting enough attention. 

On some platforms, I also noticed that our non-COVID content is having way lower engagement – and that’s something that I’m worried about. The digital space is, yes, for all marketers to make the best use of each platform – they have targets, KPIs, and audiences. But there is a group of us working in the public sector who also need to use the space to reach people with information that is not necessarily about products and services, but it’s advice – whether it’s health, the environment, or other social issues.

Of course, that is in the algorithm, but it’s maybe a call-out to platforms to think about this as they are increasing that advertising space – there has to be a space for the public sector to be very visible. It may be life-saving information. 

But it’s another level of learning for us on how effective campaigns are, how effective our message is, and then looking how to broaden the team that helps make them more effective – looking into advice from social scientists, from someone else who works on misinformation or universities or academia. When I say public sector, I think of either public institutions or NGOs – organizations that don’t have big budgets to use the advertising space.

Even the visuals that are produced don’t come from the budgets of our team. We would never have a budget to pay for it, so we operate with very limited resources and we have a huge task to reach people with information that they need.

So I’m hoping for a digital ecosystem that’s inclusive and more shared within the advertising space and using it for for-profit and nonprofit purposes.

And don’t get me wrong – I think it’s also great that platforms are expanding, adding sales features, ads features, etc. because it gave small businesses and crafters the ability to sell their products. It’s probably also a good way to boost the economy in some places because if you look into this crisis, many people lost their jobs and they had to be creative to find ways to for their income… and social media is a very good place to find people who are interested in your product or service. 

We’ve worked with platforms quite a bit to develop features – not just using ads – but developing new centers, dedicated pages, and prompts on the platform, but this has been pushed with COVID. We’ve done some things before COVID on vaccine information, but there are so many different health issues – it really needs to expand. It can’t just be because we are in a pandemic and in crisis…

Many people suffer from other diseases (non-communicable diseases kill over 40 million people each year.).

So it is something that we could do – use social media and digital channels to help people protect themselves from risk factors. And this is where the power of social media could be – a chance to invite different influencers who are interested in different health issues to join us in promoting public health advice.

How do you wind down from a long day of work? 

I love rollerblading. In Spring 2020, my thing was that I’d come home from work, go for a ride, and then come back.

Then, I did quite a bit of hiking last summer because we couldn’t travel anywhere so, within Switzerland, I did a bit of hiking that I’d never done before, but it really helped to spend some time in nature.

On Sundays, I forget a little bit about work, but you can’t really disconnect because it’s harder to catch up with what’s going on. And it helps to keep an eye on things – like what’s happening and if you need to react because, again, it’s about people’s lives and you have that adrenaline that drives you when you’re in such crisis. 

Many people are affected or infected every day and many die and many don’t have access to a vaccine or to oxygen or to all those tools that would save someone’s life, so it is something that really drives you to get up in the morning and go to work and stay longer. It’s been a big drive for me personally, but I do try to do things that include some physical activity to disconnect and do something for myself. 

What advice do you have for people who are trying to get into a similar role like yours, or work with a company like the World Health Organization?

From a social media angle, I think you really need to love this job because it is demanding. You can have a time management plan, but with health and emergencies and social media, you have to accept that you need to be flexible and adjust your plan.

I think the most important thing is to be passionate about the cause and love your job. Attention to detail is [also] important. 

What are you excited about or looking forward to? 

I’m looking forward to 2022. We are entering this third year of the pandemic and I am hoping and excited to try new things. 

We are trying to revise our strategies – to have a strategy that actually has a plan. We need a customized plan for each platform and we’re investing more in video, vertical formats, and things that are trending for young audiences. But whether we succeed or not – we’ll see. 

We have leaders and experts in the organization who are inspiring and amazing in their fields, so I’m hoping that we’ll find more creative ways to hear their voices on social media. And there’s definitely more to come in terms of addressing health by working with platforms, expanding our research, and working with academia so we can understand more patterns that are happening and how to address them. 

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