But LeBeau’s social media skills and knowledge led to her using Twitter and Facebook in ways only a millennial could. Now, she searches for popular mental health-related hashtags to seek out people in need of help. During the slow parts of her day, the 25-year-old sends emojis and gifs to encourage users. Other times, she shares resources to inspire people to seek help.
“People can see we’re not a scary organization,” she said. “We’re very open-minded, down to earth, very approachable. People can see that on social media and are a little less intimidated to seek support from us.” After breathing life into the association’s social media accounts, LeBeau found “there was an increase in followers, people are more engaged and more people are learning about our organization.”
The Toronto-based Mood Disorders Association of Ontario isn’t the only group using social media to reach out to the public. Other organizations are beginning to realize social media’s power for two-way communication, and the importance of those who can master these platforms. “It does take a lot of time and resources to properly manage social media,” LeBeau added. “Social media roles are definitely growing, a lot of organizations are realizing they need to have an online presence.” By using social media, mental health organizations can help people share stories, which helps break the stigma around mental illness, LeBeau said.
Previously, LeBeau had worked on social media accounts for a graphic design firm, and completed a co-op placement at the now-defunct Toronto International Book Fair. LeBeau said social media is the perfect field for her because it allows for greater levels of interaction between customers and clients, which is something employers are increasingly seeking. Initially, LeBeau signed on for just eight weeks. After showing her employers what she could do, she was hired on for six months, and then another six months after that. Since then she’s been the association’s official social media coordinator.
As a social media coordinator, LeBeau spends some of her time searching for relevant conversations online. She said Twitter is especially useful because it’s easy to narrow down tweets by topic and location. One time, she saw someone tweeting about high cost of mental health and LeBeau responded, informing the user about the association’s free services. On a more casual level, she also sends motivational quotes or images to people to cheer them up. It’s “fun to play around with that and make people feel better at the same time,” she said, adding that some of the most gratifying moments are when people tell her she made them smile. She said “it takes me by surprise because people aren’t expecting that.”
At a recent event about the connections between epilepsy and depression, LeBeau used Instagram Stories to show followers behind-the-scenes activities, share information about guest speakers and show what they learned. She noted many events are “not something everyone can attend, but they get to see what it’s like so they might attend an event in the future.” That’s just one tool LeBeau uses to reach out to people, and as social media develops, new tools will undoubtedly be used as well. “It’s very exciting, how it’s new and it’s changing so fast that you have to stay ahead of the trends.”
It hasn’t been an easy road, though. LeBeau said she wasn’t given much direction early on, and had no one to teach her how best to spread the association’s messages. Despite having been established 30 years ago, the organization was not well-known, something LeBeau set out to change. “You can’t just have everything you put on social media be promotional, because no one wants to follow that,” LeBeau explained. “It can be pretty boring.”
The first few months were the biggest learning curve, as LeBeau figured out what worked and what didn’t. Early on, for example, she made a post referring to patients taking medication, and received negative feedback. Since then, she’s learned not to post about topics that can be considered taboo among the mental health community. Topics like medication or religion tend to drive people away, as do articles that are too academic or technical, said LeBeau.
But she’s also learned that people enjoy shorter, more digestible articles, and are drawn to images over text. She noted sharing contact information of professionals over social media is important as well, since many websites can be difficult to navigate. “So if you can just tweet someone and tell them where to go, that can be helpful for any organization,” she said.