The Whole Picture

Here at the Hospice Action Network, we like to consider ourselves more than a little savvy when it comes to social media. We put new patient testimonial videos on Youtube on a regular basis. We post on our Facebook page at least 12 times a week. We’re active on twitter. We live-streamed the 2010 HAN Hill Day Pep Rally for free over the internet to thousands of Hospice Advocates nationwide. As an organization, we are always on the lookout for the ‘next big idea’ to advance Hospice Advocacy.

No one can deny that the Internet has been one of the most important vehicles in the last century for facilitating communication and action. But is it our entire future as advocates? “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted,” a piece published in The New Yorker, by Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it is not. If you have a few free minutes, we think its well worth the read. The crux of the article is that while the internet and social media have made it easier to share information and in some ways advocate for causes, they simply cannot replace a structured, well coordinated grassroots advocacy operation.

This bears some thinking. The modern worldview frames the Internet as a cure-all for any number of logistical problems, sometimes to a ridiculous degree- ‘look, my iPhone can pay my taxes, control my TV and feed my cat!’ And it’s true that there are many wonderful features for advocacy that the Internet has unleashed- our Legislative Action Center is a powerful tool for breaking down barriers between you and your elected officials, and helps us to send tens of thousands of messages at a time to them stressing the importance of hospice.

In the article, Gladwell draws some lessons from the highly organized approach of the civil rights movement. He describes the hierarchy that was critical in organizing so many of the rallies and sit-ins that eventually led to some of the most monumental legislation of the last century. When he states that “…the civil-rights movement was more like a military campaign than like a contagion”, Gladwell is suggesting that social media inherently lacks the structure that made the civil rights campaign so successful.

The lesson we take away from the article is that sometimes advocacy can’t be reduced to mouse clicks. If you’re reading this, you almost definitely have an email account — how many emails in your inbox were important this morning? How many did you read start to finish? How many did you delete sight unseen? The Internet has removed almost all logistical barriers to communication, but it hasn’t quite figured out how to capture passion. When somebody clicks on a link, do they read all of the content on that page? There’s no way of knowing. The metrics the Web can collect are intriguing, but they’re not the whole picture.

What we do know is that a dedicated, coordinated group of people do have the ability to affect change. For the last few years, the NHPCO’s lobbying affiliate has been recruiting a group of people who constantly go above and beyond their normal jobs to do any number of concrete tasks to advocate for hospice on the federal level. We have people organize Congressional visits to their program. We have hundreds of people fly to Washington, D.C. to take direct meetings with their elected representatives. We have people willing to call their officials to tell them their personal hospice story. These tasks take an immense amount of coordination, preparation, and to be effective everyone must share a common message. We are so thankful for these dedicated Hospice Advocates and we know that no amount of Facebook posts or emails can replace them. We’re always looking for more of these Hospice Advocacy Local Leaders. We’ve developed some significant resources, trainings and educational offerings for those willing to take it to the next step. If you’d like to get more involved, you can email us at to start a dialogue.

Thanks for your time, and thanks for being a Hospice Advocate.

Tony, HAN Staff.