The role of social media in launching Ireland's new abortion services

My Options social media graphic with contact details for the new website and Freephone number 1800 828 010. Background photo shows a woman using her smartphone

Áine O'Connell - Social Media Executive

On January 1st 2019, abortion was introduced into Ireland. This historic change in the law resulted from the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment. As the health service rolled out abortion services for the first time, we knew that social media would play an essential role in informing the Irish public. 

Ireland’s new unplanned pregnancy support service is called ‘My Options’. It consists of a website and a Freephone line on 1800 828 010. These provide information on all your options, continued pregnancy supports and abortion services.

We began planning our social media content for My Options in October 2018, three months before our go-live date. Just as we saw lots of social media activity around the referendum, we expected to see the same for the launch of My Options.  Social media is a flashpoint for this kind of debate.

Creating our social media content

All the information about the services we provide is created based on research and evidence. Our social media content for this campaign was shaped around insights from focus groups and in-depth interviews. 

We reviewed a number of different names for the service. My Options was selected as the most inclusive by the focus groups. The focus groups showed a clear desire for the content to be plain-speaking and engaging. They did not wish to shy away from using the word ‘abortion’ in our content.

Our social media posts and images explained what My Options service is and how people can access it. We needed to keep our content simple and clear. With all this in mind, we settled on the #HSEMyOptions hashtag and designed imagery reflecting our clear messaging.

The conversation on social

When My Options launched, a discussion took place on social between people on both sides of the debate. As per our social media guidelines, the social team hid comments that were inappropriate, abusive or irrelevant.

We reviewed over 2,500 comments in the first two weeks after the launch. We learned during our #ProtectOurFuture HPV vaccine campaign that it’s more effective to monitor the conversation on social than by actively engaging with commenters. 

We also monitored conversations beyond our own Facebook page. This uncovered a number of illegal and unethical activities that we were able to report to the relevant parties.

We use a social media management tool that allows us to monitor and review all of our social media channels and profiles at once. This meant we could keep track of social conversations and sentiment. It also enables us to review comments that may break the rules of our community management policy.

Tracking the conversation on social

The service is currently advertised on Twitter @HSELive and on our Sexual Wellbeing Facebook page

Over 1,200 tweets using #HSEMyOptions have been recorded to date. There is a potential reach of 944k people. On Twitter, the reactions were balanced.

On Facebook, our posts promoting the new service have been seen by 255,000 people. They’ve generated over 3,500 engagements which were largely positive. 

We continue to closely watch the social conversation for any developing stories that may arise. It seems that the service has become normalised on social, as our engagement rates have been steadily declining. 

The reaction of the public

A survey of 1,000 members of the public took place in early 2019. The majority of those praised our tone of voice and our use of language. 32% saw the My Options campaign on social media. The campaign was seen on social more than any other channel. This highlights just how important social media was to this campaign.

Working with our call-centre team, HSELive, we’ve handled many queries from the general public on the new service. We took the public feedback on board and rolled out a web chat service too. 

Social media allows us to see and respond to the public’s concerns about My Options in real time. This results in a more inclusive and better service. My Options is receiving praise from within our health service and beyond.