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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pitting Cancer Support Organizations Against Each Other-Really?

I received an email yesterday from the communications manager of the Oral Cancer Foundation, asking for me to review the OCF on a website, so they would have a better chance to win the Cancer Fighters Award. Deadline is Friday for the reviews. Each review is counted as a vote on the site, and the organizations with the most positive reviews win the title of Cancer Fighter. I won't include the email message here - it has one of those disclaimers at the bottom that says the message is only intende for me, blah, blah. But I will name the site that is causing our great support organization to yank its members' tails and demand their participation: GreatNonprofits . I checked out the site, and saw that they have already pitted the Religious LGBTQ groups against each other for the Pride Choice Awards. Another contest for the Green Choice Awards resulted in their first list of Best Environmental Nonprofits. Okaaaay. To my librarian side, the lists are just one hair above meaningless - results of those that took the bait and wrote a message on a website, with no way for the reader to know if the reviewer truly exists, or what the 'positive review' really means in the scheme of things, or how the review should lead the reader to be more likely to donate money to the non-profit. Our library could run one of these schemes: we could ask all of our health professionals (nurses, physician assistants, radiology techs, cardiologists, endocrinologists, family physicians, neurosurgeons, oncologists, healthcare administrators, billing specialists, security officers, environmental services, maintenance, other librarians - you get the picture, and the list is way too big and varied for this rant, and probably equals in percentages the number of cancer support groups for the MANY types of cancer) for their vote/opinion on what is the best information resource that helps them get their job done. The number of users is finite, and is not equal across the different professional groups - just like the number of cancer survivors/caregivers that participate in each of the cancer support groups. In our library, I would imagine that the resources for students would get the highest number of votes - we have many more students than professionals, just like most educational institutions. And security would be one of the smallest groups represented, even if 100% of the department voted. Depending on how well the chains are rattled in various cancer groups for the GreatNonprofits contest, I can bet that some of the top "Cancer Fighters" will include lung, colon, prostate, and breast cancer , with oral cancer not even making the top 10 - except that we in the oral cancer section of the world do tend to be more likely to toss our opinion around at times, and might vote more.
Ahem - back to my post.
I am not a marketing professional, but I play one at work, where I have been assigned to get the word out about our library and services, just as the communications officers get the word out about the cancer support groups, and websites get the word out about their content - all in order to get more visitors/customers. I have a problem when a website's content only exists due to coercion or contests or for money - it should be freely given, unbiased, without implying that if the person's nonprofit is not chosen with the most positive reviews, it is assumed to be lacking that special something. People needing consumer health information and cancer support shouldn't have to worry about their main sources of information support winning beauty pageants - they need to know the information on the forums is from actual people who actually experienced similar treatments and outcomes. (Note - sometimes, one needs to assume from the start that this is not the case until proven otherwise - after all, On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're a Dog). I am not totally knocking the GreatNonprofits website for their use of social media for their awareness campaign. I am knocking them for leading their viewers to believe that the reviews they find have more value to the viewers' useage and donation choices than the reviews really do. On their About Us page, they compare their reviews to restaurant review sites and the reviews found on Amazon. I understand when I read restaurant reviews that they could have been written by a competitor, or a brother-in-law (hopefully being negative and positive in nature, respectively) or a cranky customer that keeps coming in so they can write another bad review. As for the reviews on Amazon, well - in the past, some have been discovered to have been paid for (and how many weren't discovered?).
Bottom line: be an Internet skeptic with reviews as well as other activities you do on the 'Net. Research the support and information resources available to you, hopefully with the assistance of a librarian. Evaluate the support and information you receive from the website and the forums. It is so hard to do when a person is desperate for any information in the crisis situation of being newly diagnosed or a loved one diagnosed with mets, but a part of you must remain skeptical of the information you locate until you can check it over with your health care professional. The Oral Cancer Foundation had information on it that saved me during treatment three years ago, and still is a high quality site. Their site has excellent content, managed forums, and are worthy of donations on their own merit. They do not need to participate at all in the GreatNonprofits hoopla to get noticed, in my opinion.
If you are looking to donate your hard-earned dollars, let your local librarian know if you really want to scope out a good nonprofit - we can help you get to the source of unbiased ratings/reviews.

1 comment:

Jeanne said...

Teri--great post! I agree whole-heartedly. This is just one hair above stupid, as well as meaningless.

Different groups/organizations have different missions ... seems to me that this contest exists to promote the Web site you mentioned, nothing more. The results will certainly not produce useful info for cancer patients.

Who links to my website?