Despite 400,000 people living with Type 1 diabetes in the UK, many people still know little about this chronic condition. Diabetes Week, run by charity Diabetes UK from 14-20 June, is a chance to try and change that. This year’s theme is ‘diabetes stories’ – a timely opportunity to share how telling my story as a Type 1 diabetic, and healthcare brand ambassador, is helping to raise awareness, engage others and advance my communications expertise.
My diabetes story began in autumn 2008, being diagnosed as an ‘only just’ teen. I’d developed the classic four T’s of Type 1 – extreme thirst, frequent toilet trips, tiredness and becoming thinner. I vividly remember struggling to run around a field of sheep on our Shropshire family farm, which had never been a problem before. Following a hasty GP referral, I was whisked to hospital and carefree life, as I knew it, dramatically changed.
Thirteen years later, I’ve had tens of thousands of insulin injections and finger pricks to check my blood glucose and have learnt to accept the daily challenge of diabetes. As my confidence in managing my condition has grown, so has my passion for raising awareness. It’s perhaps no surprise I’ve subsequently carved a career in PR and communications.
In 2020, my life was transformed by Abbott’s Freestyle Libre, a coin-size sensor that monitors my glucose levels through my arm – eliminating relentless finger pricks. Admiring the brand’s technology and ethos, I approached Abbot about sponsoring a One Million Step Challenge in aid of Diabetes UK. After a positive conversation with one of Abbott’s UK marketing managers, who was fascinated by farming life, I signed up to become a brand ambassador without a second thought.
In this role, I share my positive experience of life with a Libre, empathising with and encouraging others to try something new. I’ve honed my blog-writing skills, creating content for Abbott’s global website, showing how the sensor simplifies glucose management in the office and out on the farm. It’s gratifying to hear that Abbott’s social media ads linking to my blogs have a click-through rate of four times the average.
I’ve also told my story on the Freestyle podcast series, local BBC radio and in a supplement in the Guardian newspaper. This fresh perspective on interviews has provided many journalistic techniques to add to my Pinstone toolbox.
In my opinion, social media is the most powerful platform. On my Instagram page @farminglifeoflaura, I’ve gained over 1,800 followers in only a year by sharing how type 1 diabetes fits into daily life on the farm. I’ve discovered a fantastic community of like-minded individuals, from across the UK and further afield. It’s a great way to find tips and tricks to put into practice.
By investing time into sharing my story, I’ve learnt so much about optimising social media content for maximum reach and engagement. I’ve experimented with a variety of features: stories to share a snippet of ‘life in the moment’; Instagram reels to create snappy, eye-catching videos and hashtag strategies to ensure I’m connecting with an audience who will be interested in my content. By focusing my hashtags on different niches, I’ve attracted people who are experts in the world of diabetes or farming, as well as those who admitted to knowing very little about either, but are keen to learn!
It’s incredibly rewarding to receive positive messages from friends and strangers, and see engagement and followers alike improve when analysing my social media metrics. It’s allowed me to validate my ‘A/B testing’ and see what works and what doesn’t, which has benefitted my input on clients’ social strategies.
For me, sharing the reality of multiple daily injections opens people’s eyes to all that diabetes entails. It’s an invisible condition and often people are shocked because I “don’t look diabetic”. As with farming, anyone outside of that community can be surprised at what actually goes on and telling authentic stories can help people to really understand and empathise with the day-to-day reality.