Social Media Interacting with social channels

How do you establish a social media network for a government body? Which channels can be used? Who decides what gets published – and, more importantly, what doesn’t? What type of content do you use for which topic? We asked Ilana Bischof. Hailing from eastern Switzerland, she has been setting up and expanding social media activities at Swissmedic since May 2020.

For example: The impact of an information sheet

The current options and conditions for carrying out COVID-19 tests are currently being discussed intensively in Switzerland. An information sheet written in collaboration with the FOPH describes the benefits of the different test methods. One passage discusses the possibility of detecting infectiousness by PCR (polymerase chain reaction; a laboratory method for examining DNA). A lay person could interpret the way it is written to mean that PCR tests are basically not able to identify infections. The subject suddenly became a hot topic in social media. The text had to be rewritten, but the change was a reason for covid sceptics to speak their mind. They saw the modified text as confirmation that Swissmedic is involved in the alleged COVID manipulation. “That was a tough call for me,” recalls social media expert ­Ilana Bischof. The situation ultimately calmed down again – thanks to the clear information provided in social media and other channels.

For example: Explaining vaccine processes for social media

How can complex processes be explained to the general public in two minutes without losing scientific precision? “We had to start by asking a few key questions,” Ilana ­Bischof explains. What process does a vaccine go through before it is authorised by Swissmedic? What criteria does a new vaccine need to fulfil? How is a vaccine different from other medicinal products? How can the urgency of a vaccine be accommodated in an exceptional situation like a pandemic without compromising on safety or quality? “We used scribble art to produce an explanatory video. The result is amazingly informative and at the same time entertaining,” Ilana Bischof concludes.

For example: International cooperation with other authorities

International cooperation is one of Swissmedic’s core activities and an important part of its organisation. One example is the ORBIS project, bringing together leading authorities such as the FDA (USA) and representatives from Singapore, Canada and Australia. “ORBIS is an important subject. Our post explained the launch of a medic­inal product that was authorised in a record-breaking four months as a result of this collaboration,” Ilana Bischof says. It was a treatment for breast cancer. Cancer is a subject that affects everyone and to which everyone has an emotional response. “The rapid authorisation was a great success – it’s practically impossible to put a negative spin on messages like this,” the social media expert concludes.

Illana Bischof Portrait
Illana Bischof Portrait
“We want more”

One thing is clear. The numbers of posts, followers and likes notched up so far are not very conclusive. “We need to find our place in the social media jungle. The same applies to the kind of content we post and the publication formats,” Ilana Bischof continues. I’m in favour of wide-ranging and systematic implementation of visual elements. It’s no longer a secret that pictures and videos generate more interest, clicks and interactions.” The pub­lication of an infographic, for example, is enough to generate more attention. Bischof explains, “I’m a big fan of infographics – they let us communicate complex content with simple visual tools.” However, infographics are time-consuming to produce and expensive. Moving images are another example that illustrates the visual tools that Swissmedic will need to deploy more frequently in future. “A short video on nitrosamines had over 1000 views – that’s where we need to be looking,” says Ilana Bischof with conviction.

Same content – different channels

One striking aspect is that to date a lot of content has been posted simultaneously in several Swissmedic channels. “That’s going to change once we’ve overcome the slack period in terms of content,” Ilana Bischof states confidently. “Cross-posting* isn’t ideal. But having no posts is worse,” the social media expert concludes. “At the moment we’re not posting enough. The flow of information from the departments is a trickle rather than a flood. People are not yet aware enough of our new channels,” she explains. Her aim is to convince the re­sponsible people in the departments that their content is interesting enough. “It’s our job to present these top­ics so that they are attractive to the respective target groups, to produce a few photos or some moving content, adding hash tags and catching behind-the-scenes moments for the audience.”

*Cross-posting is the term used when the same content is posted on different platforms or sent to different groups.

Spoilt for choice

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or others. Selecting the right channel is also a question of resources. “Every channel has its advantages and its target audience. We have to keep an eye on all of them all of the time and place content specific to the target group,” Ilana Bischof explains. “Twitter is followed mainly by politicians, journalists and a few IT people. LinkedIn is used mainly by experts and a professional network, and that’s where we can make valuable contacts.” And Facebook – does that really go with Swissmedic’s content? “Absolutely. We can make the public aware of our topics on Facebook. The information on our website is not formulated in a way that makes it easily accessible to the general public – it’s intended for specialists. Facebook is a good way of communicating without content and language barriers. That’s important for us and a great opportunity to create trust and gain support,” says Ilana Bischof, who has made Bern her home.

“I’d like to see people being more courageous in pushing their own work as a topic suitable for social media.”

Relevance and potential

One thing is clear, though: the potential of possible content is enormous. “My job is to recognise this and bring the people in charge round to the idea. In addition to reviewing internal sources, I spend up to two hours a day surfing the Internet and looking for interesting content. Where is Swissmedic being mentioned? Is there anything we could share? What can we contribute to the discussion? Which trending topics have we missed? Are there any topics where Swissmedic needs to take action?” Support from within the organisation is of course essential. Ilana Bischof hasn’t come across much opposition yet. “At most a certain degree of scepticism, but that’s normal. The feeling I’m getting is one of openness and trust – particularly from management. That’s a great basis for continuing to expand our own channels.” At any rate, the new social media specialist is looking forward to examining all the options. “My colleagues at Swissmedic are afraid of giving away too much about themselves – but that’s not necessary at all. I’d like to see people being more courageous in understanding and pushing their own work as a topic suitable for social media.”

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