Just my two cents

Musings on social media and the world as I see it

How to manage Facebook backlash against a hospital

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I believe in transparency in managing Facebook pages for hospitals. It’s vital if you want any credibility in the social sphere. If there’s something “bad” going on, I remind the communications team we need to include Facebook messaging in the communication plan, and the sooner the better. Of course this transparency always comes with a risk. How will our Facebook friends react to this news and what will the comments look like?

We recently had an issue at one of our hospitals. Ideally, I would want to post something on Facebook before it made its way to the public via the news media, but that wasn’t the case this time. Unfortunately, the communications team did not get a lot of advance notice, and before we even had a response in place, the story was already on the news at noon. So I posted the following:

You may have seen news reports about charges against members of the staff. Please know that we take these charges very seriously, and we will not tolerate activities that may put our patients or staff at risk. The physician left RI Hospital June 30th 2011. His privileges are now suspended & the ortho tech has also been suspended.

Given a negative story about the hospital, it has to weigh on the minds of our staff and cause concern to our patients about the quality of their care and safety while at our facility. If I were a betting person, I would bet on negative comments … and I was prepared for them. But I was very surprised by what was actually posted and very grateful for having a social media policy in place.

This from an employee: It’s very disconcerting to have to be an apologist almost constantly for your place of work. I have great pride in the people I work with and I don’t think the transgressors employed by this hospital realize how much their thoughtless and dangerous actions affect the majority of hard working, selfless staff members that will continue to work tirelessly here at [the hospital]. That being said. I am most disgusted by the fact that they put patient lives in danger. It’s another sad day….

This from a former employee: These type of people should be banned from healthcare. We must be vigilant in keeping our patients safe and free from harm.

OK, these were understandable and expected.

My response: Thanks for your comments, everyone. We know there are thousands of hard working, dedicated members of the staff who are committed to caring for our patients and providing the best, safest care. For that, we thank you.

And this from a patient: I worry about the lack of discretion the hospital is showing by using this Facebook group to comment on an ongoing criminal and internal investigation. Even on the Internets we can be tactful and there’s a good reason why: the presumption of innocence and avoiding potential libel. Risk management ought advise you to stick with stories about sunscreen and vitamins and to let them handle the press releases.

Wow. That was unexpected. First, we didn’t comment on the investigation. Second, we were tactful, or at least I thought so. And finally, risk management does not distribute press releases; my team does! But I reeled in my personal opinions, of course, and responded:

[name of patient], thank you for your concern. We are committed to transparency, and this is one outlet for us to do so. If there is something in the media about our hospital, we feel that it is important to address any issues on this page.

Followed by support from a member of the staff:

…I applaud RIH for not dumbing down this page and trying to dismiss this recent event (not that I think sunscreen protection is dumb)…

And more from the patient:

In the interests of transparency, has [the hospital] articulated a social media policy or plan to do so in the near future? I think a status thread like this, the Facebook ‘Like’ feature and all of these new Internets doohickeys serve to show why simply linking to a press release on the [company] website with commenting disabled would’ve been a more appropriate group posting. A representative of the Hospital can quickly lose sight of their role by clicking a button marked ‘Like’ on an Internets website. Just which part of M. Koohy’s statement does [the hospital] officially endorse? See what I did there.

So, here we have an employee supporting transparency and a patient questioning the use of social media and allowing comments, and wondering if we have a social media policy in place. Thankfully, because we do, I was able to point our patient to the policy and also explain why we “liked” a comment:

We do indeed have a social media policy and it is available to all our Facebook friends through the Discussions page. The reason I “liked” [the employee’s] comment is because he supported our use of this page. Please know that we do not take social media lightly. We recognize that people want to have a voice, and that is why we have entered the world of social media, including this page. We expect that voice, however, to be respectful, as almost all our friends are on this page.

There are two lessons to be learned from this exchange:

1. Being up front, honest, and transparent in social media is vital to its success and to the reputation of your brand, whether it be a hospital, a small B2B business, or your own personal page. If you do that, at least most of your friends and followers will respect your candor and it will encourage loyalty for your brand.

2. A social media policy is absolutely vital. How would the hospital have looked if our social media efforts were being questioned by someone and we didn’t have a policy to stand on?

So now I call on all of you and ask how you would have handled the situation. What you would have done differently?

This post was written for and originally appeared on www.hospitalimpact.org.

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Author: Nancy Jean

I love reading, writing, music, the beach, and being a mom to two rescue dogs. My job is social media for health care.

One thought on “How to manage Facebook backlash against a hospital

  1. Pingback: Keeping transparency, especially when it’s personal | Just my two cents

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