With the help of its dedicated communications committee, the Association of Women Surgeons capitalizes on a New Yorker cover that went viral.
The April 3 issue of The New Yorker featured striking cover art by French artist Malika Favre. The illustration portrays four female surgeons wearing surgical masks as they peer down at a patient.
Susan Pitt, an endocrine surgeon at the University of Wisconsin and a member of the Association of Women Surgeons (AWS), saw the cover while attending a medical conference. So, she gathered some fellow female surgeons, snapped a photo, and with just a few keystrokes, issued the #NYerORCoverChallenge and included the #ILookLikeASurgeon hashtag, asking other women surgeons to replicate the cover. And they responded.
From March to April, @WomenSurgeons has garnered more than 2,000 new followers, experienced a 108-percent increase in mentions, and enjoyed nearly a 50-percent increase in profile visits.
— Susan Pitt (@susieQP8) April 6, 2017
In some ways, Pitt was at the right place at the right time to start this social media viral storm. “She was at a conference onsite with other surgeons,” said Katie Keel, AWS executive director. “She was out of the operating room with her colleagues so she was able to focus on it.”
But Keel noted that you really can’t predict when something is going to go viral; you just have to be prepared to respond it when it does.
A few years ago, AWS put together a volunteer-led communications committee. As an association with only a few full-time staffers and 2,000-plus members, AWS relies heavily on member volunteers to carry out its mission. In this case, the committee is composed of 121 members who are medical students, residents, and practicing surgeons that run AWS’ social media channels.
They “are on our Twitter account every day, interacting, engaging, and posting; they’re managing Facebook communications, posting to Instagram, and writing our blog,” Keel said.
After Keel saw Pitt’s tweet, she connected with both Pitt and the committee. The volunteer group had already seen the tweet and started sharing as many #ILookLikeASurgeon posts as possible to try and propel the challenge forward.
This isn’t the first time #ILookLikeASurgeon went viral. Women surgeons launched the hashtag back in 2015 following the momentum of the #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign. That generated more than 128 million impressions, close to 40,000 individual tweets, and upward of 7,900 participants at last count.
“When something goes viral like that, it really is an opportunity for us to make sure that we’re part of the conversation and to make sure that the women who are participating who might not know about us—it gives them the opportunity to learn about what we’re doing,” Keel said.
Already, the latest social media storm has garnered AWS a few new members, as well as some press enquiries from around the country and a whole lot more visibility.
“You don’t know when to expect something like this, but [it’s important] to have a good team of both staff and volunteer leaders to react and respond in a timely manner because in a blink of an eye, it’s going to be over,” Keel said.