How Creating On-The-Fly Digital Content Can Fill an Immediate Audience Need

When some U.S. athletes at this month’s Olympic Games started showing up at their events with dark red circles on their torsos, sports commentators and the media hungrily sought answers to what the marks could be.

In less than a day after the spots were…spotted, the story of the mysterious circles was becoming clearer: they were the result of cupping—a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice that involves placing cups on the skin to create suction.

NCCIH Instagram post on cupping.

Our communications team at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), the Federal Government’s lead agency for scientific research on health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine (like TCM), quickly identified that there might be an opportunity for our agency to be a part of this conversation.

As we watched the stories on this ancient practice break around us, and as our press officer began to receive a string of inquiries from the media, we knew that we needed to provide our audiences with high-quality, evidence-based information on the topic. And fast.

While the reactive nature of throwing the hook and latching into a breaking story to share information is not new, it can be helpful for organizations to know when to jump on to an opportunity that might require a nuanced approach. In the case of the Olympics, the challenge was compounded by additional rules put in place by the U.S. Olympic Committee about what non-Olympic sponsors can and can’t say about the Olympics on social media.

As we tried to figure out our role, our team walked through the following thought process:

  • Do we have information on cupping?
    No. Not more than a sentence.
  • Ok. But is there a need for evidence-based information on this topic?
    Yes. Press inquiries are ringing off the hook with reporters wanting to know about the science behind this practice.
  • Can we pull together a fact sheet based on literature searches and information we have that would be helpful to the public?
  • Can we share this information without mentioning the Olympics?
  • OK, then let’s do this!

    The key in all of this was recognizing that 1) there was a legitimate gap in information that we knew we could fill (what does the science say about cupping) and 2) this was information people were looking for. Within a couple of hours, the team:

    • Organized interviews with the media;
    • Developed content where content did not exist in the form of a quick “In the News” page on cupping;
    • Crafted and pushed out posts to our social media platforms (by using the hashtag #cupping, we put ourselves in the relevant conversations without ever mentioning the Olympics).

    In the weeks since we posted the cupping information, we learned:

    • Posts to our social media sites reached tens of thousands of people and generated more than 1,000 views to the Web site;
    • Time spent by people on the new cupping Web page was 97% higher than the site average for 2016;
    • The content reached new audiences;
    • Our Facebook and Twitter posts were the highest performing content for that week.
    NCCIH Facebook post on cupping; this Admin view shows that it reached over 17,000 people and shared 120 times.

    What these results tell us, particularly with regard to the actual time spent by people on the cupping Web page, are that:

  • We accurately identified a need for information that we knew we could fill and that fit within our organization’s scope;
  • The content developed was made up of information and resources people wanted to read and explore;
  • We shared the information across our digital platforms in a timely manner that made it relevant to the ongoing conversation about cupping.
  • In an ideal world, we would have seen this coming. But a big part of developing digital content for successful platforms is balancing being prepared (think well-developed and thought-out content calendars with crafting relevant and timely content for those on-the-fly, newsworthy moments that you just can’t predict. Like when a world-renowned gymnast walks onto his apparatus with his skin covered in large, red, angry-looking circles and everyone wants to know: What are those? Yasmine Kloth is a Digital and Social Media Strategist at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Institutes of Health (NIH).