Using facebook for a live Q and A session

Abigail MacDougall explains how Time to Change used facebook to foster discussion on tackling the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental illness.

Mental illness will affect so many in their lifetime (the stats are as high as one in four), yet often people feel they can’t admit they’re affected by it, let alone talk openly about their mental health. Time to Change campaigns to change attitudes to mental health problems.

The campaign is supported by a social marketing strategy, which has periodic campaign ‘bursts’, using different approaches to help effect public behavioural change.

Last year, we focused on how many people behave in ways that could inadvertently be hurtful to people with mental illness. We set up a social experiment to see how many people would positively respond to a flatshare advert with Erik, once he disclosed that he had depression.

It was a controversial yet successful campaign, and raised many issues with our vocal Facebook followers which they wanted to talk about.

Time to Change on facebook

Facebook has turned out to be a wonderful way of bringing people together and giving them the space to talk with people who all have something in common. A vibrant community has gradually built up on the Time to Change Facebook page, with people who are keen to share their experiences, offer advice to others and who want to debate mental health and discrimination issues.

Working with a subject like mental illness and stigma means that we can have a lot of live, emotional content, but we’ve learned not to be afraid of this, rather to embrace it! If we need to remind people of the community guidelines, we do that publically (it’s on the info section of the Facebook page too). We find that if someone steps out of line, someone else in the community will pick them up on it - great peer-moderation!

Because Erik is a real person with a real-life experience of depression, it put the campaign into a context which people could recognise in their own lives. We decided that rather than Time to Change responding to the many queries and conversations, we should ask Erik himself to give an account of what it was like to take part in this experiment and advertising campaign. So we decided to do a Q&A on the Facebook page.

How we prepared

We prepped our followers by trailing the Q&A on Twitter and on Facebook in the weeks before, encouraging people to leave their questions in the comments section of the post.

We also set up a profile for Erik, so he didn’t have to speak as Time to Change, and so we could help direct the conversation if it strayed off track, or moderate people’s comments if necessary. We almost never delete people’s comments, and make a point of responding openly and honestly to criticism, only deleting posts which are damaging to the other users.

Managing the Q&A

On the day of the live Facebook Q&A, Erik came into the office and sat next to me using a laptop, so I could moderate whilst he was focussed on responding to the questions. Having questions in advance gave him the chance to prepare, and also let us know the kinds of things people were interested in and the volume of responses. We then asked Erik to reference those questions in his responses – and mix these in with live questions people asked as the Q&A took place.

I kicked it off with a welcome to Erik, and from that post (which went into all our followers’ newsfeeds), people started to leave their comments and questions underneath. And from there, Erik posted up his responses all on the same ‘thread’. (Visitors to the Time to Change page can view posts from Time to Change or posts from everyone else. This helped the Q&A to all remain in one place, making it easy to read and follow.)

Part way through, we put up a fresh post, as the previous thread was getting really long – but also so that people would be reminded that the Q&A was taking place, as it would appear in their news feeds and remind them. (It was at lunch time, so people joined us when they could).

We linked through to our twitter feed as well, with excerpts from the Q&A, so people could join us from there – or not miss out if they couldn’t make it onto Facebook. And as is the nature with Facebook, the Q&A remained up on the wall, so if people had missed it, they could go back to read it and add comments when they had the time.

What happened

As you can see from the comments, people were keen to ask Erik about the social experiment and why he wanted to take part, but they also asked him advice about how to manage depression and the resulting stigma. Erik could speak honestly and knowledgably, and made a powerful impact.

Erik’s response took me by surprise. I was concerned that he may have felt under pressure to defend the social experiment, and be anxious about how public it was (by then we had over 30 thousand followers). But he was so supportive of what we were trying to achieve, and enthused by the tangible, positive difference he was making to people’s lives that he couldn’t have been a better advocate for Time to Change.

He said he actually found the whole Q&A experience very helpful, because he realised he was really connecting with people (albeit keyboard to keyboard, not face to face) and talking with the campaign, which is essentially a large group of people all wanting to end discrimination.


I was so happy at how positive and encouraging the live chat was, and how tangible it made this social movement. The public nature of Facebook meant that our followers were able to share it with their friends, spreading the message to people we couldn’t reach alone.

We’ve repeated the same format for live Q&A chats since, and it’s great to know we can use this model again and again to bring the different voices of the campaign together, breaking down the ‘them and us’ into a united ‘we’.

Abigail MacDougall is Digital Manager for Time to Change.

by Abigail MacDougall published Oct 24, 2011,
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