The face behind Diabetes UK’s social media – by Vicky Larkin

Ever wondered who the face behind social media at Diabetes UK is? Who favourites your tweets? Who writes the comments on Facebook? Who films silly videos on Snapchat? Who posts recipes on our Pinterest board and Instagram page? Well, that’s me. After teaching for many years and living in Spain, I decided I needed a change. I ran the London Marathon in 2014 and enjoyed fundraising for my chosen charity (Kids Kidney Research) so much that I knew I wanted to work for a charity. I started working at Diabetes UK three years ago in Supporter Care. I helped people on the phone, over emails and through letters with queries about membership, fundraising, donations and much more. It was a really great way to get to know our supporters, learn about diabetes and understand how the charity works. Then a job opportunity came up in the Digital team and I ended up communicating with our supporters through a different way – social media.

Never a dull day

No two days are the same in my job and I never know what I’m going to turn my computer on to in the morning. A trending hashtag like #DiabetesDanceDare, an offensive line about diabetes on TV the night before, an inspirational fundraising story. I start by going through all the Facebook comments and tweets that have come in since 5pm the previous day (we check social media between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday). Sometimes it might be quiet with just 50 or so to read through but other days I may have over 300 to look at. On World Diabetes Day last year we had nearly 1,500 comments come in, so as you can imagine, I had a very busy day responding to them all and sending some to our Helpline and Press team to answer.

Two sides to my job

There is another side to my job. I’m also responsible for putting out all the posts and tweets across all our social media accounts. The content is created by other teams like Fundraising Events or Enjoy Food for example. I’m then in charge of making it work and appeal to our followers on social media. This could be making a message fit in to 140 characters for a Tweet (which can be tricky sometimes!) or changing the language of a Facebook post to be less formal or use less medical jargon.  I want our social media pages to be places that people can come to for useful information, friendly support and advice, and feel like they can come back anytime. It’s frustrating when people post spam or insensitive comments and I try to hide anything like that as soon as I see it – this is why our House Rules are so important, so that people can find out what is and isn’t acceptable in our online community.

Challenges

One of the toughest challenges in my job is definitely trying to please everyone. We try our best to post about a range of topics to cover all our audiences – people with Type 1, Type 2, gestational and rarer types of diabetes, parents of children with Type 1, people who are newly diagnosed, friends and family of people living with diabetes, and the list goes on. Each of social media sites reach different people of different ages. Facebook and Twitter are our most used platforms with over 130,000 followers and 150,000 followers respectively. I guess we have to accept that we will never please all those people all the time.  I am constantly learning about what people like to see or what may cause a debate.

Favourite moments

I love it when we put a really popular post on Facebook that gets lots of positive comments, shares and likes. One of my favourite posts was about Clifford Whittaker who was the first person in the UK to be presented with our H.G. Wells medal for living with diabetes for 80 years. His story touched a lot of people who saw it on Facebook and he received so many lovely comments from people living with Type 1 saying how much he had inspired them. The diabetes truths that we shared during Diabetes Week 2016 not only helped to raise awareness and bust some myths around diabetes, but also reached over 1 million people – that’s when we know we’re doing a good job! I try to give messages of encouragement to people who are fundraising for us and it’s really rewarding when people recognise this and feel they have been supported. It’s also lovely to see people who are newly diagnosed benefiting from talking to our Helpline or being taken under the wing of the #doc (diabetes online community).

Out and about

Some people presume I just spend the whole day sitting at my desk looking at Facebook but that’s not the case. Last year, I got to join our Amp Shoes pop-up shop and do some live tweeting to raise awareness about the number of diabetes related amputations per week. It was really interesting to see how many people had no idea about diabetes and the complications it can lead to. I also had the pleasure of meeting Roy Johnson, one of our campaigners. In fact, that’s one of the best parts of my job. Meeting amazing people, getting to know the very friendly, supportive #doc and putting faces to Twitter handles. I went to the launch of the State of the Nation report in the Houses of Parliament last year and immediately spotted @Fractis (Bob Swindell) and @Broomowl (Andy Broomhead). I rushed over to say hi to these very familiar faces from Twitter and suddenly realised they had no idea who I was as they had never even seen me before.

Helping out at a roadshow
Roadshow helper
At Parliament for State of the Nation report launch
Report launch

I see how diabetes can affect people and their families every day in my job, from a worried wife wanting dietary advice for her newly diagnosed husband to a video of brave child testing without even making a fuss. So it’s only right I should do my bit to help. I have volunteered at roadshows to help people find out their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and this year I hope to volunteer at one of our weekend Type 1 family events. I’ve also signed up to do Swim22 so wish me luck and keep a look out for my blog posts on that!

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