A brand's dream might, traditionally, be a well executed campaign, a high ROI or glossy press coverage. But in today's digital world, it equally could be a viral tweet. For a 'normal' company, a viral social campaign might mean more brand awareness (and in turn, sales), but to Melissa Thermidor, Blood and Transplant Social Media Manager at the NHS, it means so much more than that; her tweets could literally save lives.
Last week, her Twitter thread about how The NHS needs more black blood donors went viral; the first tweet alone amassed a huge 22k favourites and 13k retweets. It gained a massive amount of interaction; I personally saw my own friends, and celebrities I follow, organically interacting with the thread for the best part of the day, despite blood donation not being the most glamorous of topics. The tweets were written in an informal tone, whilst preemptively (and factually) clapping back at the notion that the NHS might be called 'racist' for requiring a certain type of blood donor ('Isn't everyone's blood the same? You're racist! ISSA THREAD!'). The thread also included perfectly curated reaction gifs from popular TV shows and celebrities, making it relatable, and yes: sharable. The interaction was so natural it felt like it was written by your favourite tweeter, not the National Health Service.
Not only was the tweet thread wildly successful from a brand's perspective, it also taught thousands of people an often misunderstood truth about blood donation. Black people are ten times more likely than white people to have a rare sub blood type called 'RO', which is crucial in the management of sickle cell disease. RO blood is rare yet critically necessary to help patients, so awareness of the importance of donation could truly impact lives.
After reading troves of reactive tweets along the lines of 'this social media manager needs a raise!', I tracked the Gif Queen Melissa herself down to find out why she took such a humorous approach to such a serious topic.
How did you get into social media, and specifically the niche of medical social media?
I’m an early adopter and had a Facebook account when you could only register if you had a uni email address. I started my career in the publishing space at a time when magazines were being forced to go digital or die, but I got tired of telling people to buy, buy, buy. I wanted to use digital for something more meaningful and quickly realised that all digital isn’t created equally. Social media can be such a toxic space and I wanted to bring in some positivity. This is a really dynamic and exciting industry with a large creative scope. I really want to grow this space and find new innovative ways to educate and empower.
Some people might expect a very boring social media presence from something as huge and important as the NHS - why do you use a more youthful tone on their accounts? Do you think there’s a balance you have to keep when discussing something so serious?
Just because we’re the NHS, doesn’t mean that we have to approach social media in a certain way, and that’s the biggest misconception. The expectation is all wrong.
It’s really important for us to recruit younger donors as most of our donors are aged 45 +, and the fact is younger donors don’t want to see grayscale images telling them to keep their GP appointment. It’s always about finding topics that your target audience is interested in and finding a way to weave your messages alongside them. I’m a millennial and American – definitely not a boring combination. The donors who make our work possible do so selflessly. It is because of them, and the people in need of donations that I strive to be the best in all we do.
Your recent viral thread about black blood donors was a tricky, often misunderstood topic. Why did you take the approach you did?
You’re absolutely right, it’s tricky, misunderstood and really difficult to understand (and explain), that’s exactly why that approach was taken. It was really important to clear up any misunderstandings and bring the focus back to what’s really important – the patient. Over 15,000 people in the UK are affected by sickle cell disease and receive regular transfusions. I didn’t want to make this about race or anything else, it was really about setting the record straight to make sure that we can collect the right blood for the right patients.
How did you find Twitter’s reaction to your thread?
Ahhhh! It was amazing. Absolutely surreal. I got a bit emotional, seeing so many new black peeps sign up to donate and make the decision to help save lives. It was also really heart-warming to see individuals that I really admire like, Ava Duvernay, JK Rowling, and so many others get involved to help spread the message. The thread was even featured in my hometown paper, The New York Post. It’s such a great feeling to see individuals not just RT’ing, but actually taking action. YASSS!
What’s the most common thing social media managers get wrong?
You need to see the big picture!
Many people forget about the audience and their needs. Social should be a conversation and it’s almost like a virtual relationship – you fight, throw emoji’s and then you gif and makeup. We should be enabling stories to come from people, not just pushing messages at them. Who likes being talked at all the time, I know I don’t; and the ever annoying ‘What’s the ROI’ – traffic should never be the bottom line, engagement goes a long way!
Which brand’s social media presence inspires yours?
I LOVE Innocent, Cancer Research and Greenpeace, and my personal audacious female empowerment faves are Kelechi Okafor and The Slumflower.
What’s your top tip for choosing the best gifs for your tweets?
I’m an 80’s baby, so I will likely be swayed by GIFs featuring The Fresh Prince, Sinbad, In Living Colour, Charles in Charge, etc..
I have a few personal faves – anything Judge Judy works for me and I hate GIFs with too much text. It’s really about finding the right tone and balancing it alongside the message you want to convey. It’s all about balance and humour.
Thank you Melissa! Melissa manages @givebloodnhs and @nhsorgandonor. To find out more about giving blood please visit blood.co.uk.