Just my two cents

Musings on social media and the world as I see it


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Ebola, enterovirus, and the dark side of people

ebola virusFor several weeks, concern has been building to a level that is becoming close to a panic here in the U.S. People are very concerned about the potential spread of the Ebola virus. Parents are worried about their children being affected by Enterovirus D-68. Their concerns are certainly justified, as these diseases can have serious or fatal outcomes.

During times of crisis, I always thought that we saw the good side of people. And to some extent, we have. I know there are medical staff from my own organization who have jeopardized their own health and safety to go to Liberia to join others and help address the Ebola outbreak there. These are the people who are doing good and have stepped up to the plate to help their fellow man.

Unfortunately, what is becoming more apparent to me is that times like these also bring out the worst in people, and their ability to be cruel. Let me explain what I mean. There are people who call in “anonymous tips” from a hospital saying there is an area quarantined and that someone with Ebola is there. Or a hospital nurse who calls into a radio talk show to report she doesn’t know how to use protective gear and staff are frightened and declare the hospital is not prepared to deal with it (when in fact it is).

What do these people think they are accomplishing? Do they find it funny? I’m sorry but I fail to see the humor in any of this. Are they disgruntled staff who think they are hurting their employer’s reputation by reporting such false information? If that’s the case I hope there are repercussions for their actions.

Such actions not only instill fear, but also diminish the public’s trust that the hospital is prepared to handle such an outbreak. And social media only adds fuel to the fire. People actually became ill due to a false rumor that circulated across the globe telling people drinking salt water would protect them from Ebola. These rumors even resulted in deaths. 

To me, what may be even more disturbing are also those irresponsible members of the media who use their position to further stir up panic due to ignorance, ego or a lack of understanding of how false information can spread like wildfire. Rather than doing what responsible members of the media would do and report the facts only, and do their best to quell a panic, there are the members of the media, who are out there stirring up their own levels of panic: the radio talk show host who falsely announces that a man with Ebola was vomiting outside a major trauma center, and who declares that the hospital is not ready to care for these patients (his opinion). Then there is the nationally known doctor who appears on a morning talk show and declares that the virus could mutate and become airborne.

So come on people, act responsibly. Do your job, whether it be providing health care or reporting the news, get the facts straight, don’t start rumors, and help to allay the public’s fears, rather than add fuel to the fire.


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Nothing is free anymore. Don’t be fooled.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a Red Sox fan, and yes, I’m was also an Obama supporter. (Let the comments fly — feel free!). Red Sox fans love to see their team celebrated. So to see them at the White House with the president is just a wonderful thing.

As I watched the live stream of the event, I saw an unbelievable moment when Big Papi himself, David Ortiz, presents POTUS with an “Obama” Red Sox shirt and stops the action to take a selfie with the President who was happy to do so. So here’s this great selfie that I loved and had to retweet, along with nearly 40,00 other fans.

But today, it turns out the April Fools joke was on me and so many others. Apparently the selfie that appeared to be a spontaneous moment full of fun and good humor was once again, sponsored. Yes, that’s right. Just like the multi-million retweeted Ellen/Oscar celeb selfie, this was also pre-arranged as a promo for Samsung.

Now I know that brands have lots of power and they also rely on their advertising and marketing to make a profit. Yup, I get it. But I feel duped and disappointed to learn that this was not a good-hearted, spur-of-the-moment thing. Instead, it’s just another way for a big brand to capitalize on a great moment.

Seems to me even social media is all about the money now, and it’s becoming more apparent by the day.  What a shame.

UPDATE: In this morning’s Boston Globe, David Ortiz vehemently denies that the photo was pre-planned. I certainly hope that is the case. I think we all want to believe that these kinds of magical moments still happen. And if it is true, leave it to Big Papi to be the one to make us all believe they can.


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A milestone – celebrating five years in two different ways

The americanThis week my hubby and I celebrated our 5th anniversary. A milestone, some might say, especially those who knew us in our more, shall we say, “tumultuous” years. But things change, time passes and suddenly it’s five years later. Because we’re in the middle of trying to sell our home and buy a new one, our plans for a lovely tropical vacation to mark the occasion were out the window. So instead, we went out for a nice lunch, and I enjoyed the feeling of being quite decadent sipping cocktails in the middle of the day. (And if you’re looking for a great restaurant in Providence, RI, try The American. Highly recommend it! My grilled shrimp on fresh baked multigrain with a lemon caper spread was quite scrumptious, as was my cosmo!)

Anyway, enough about that. This year also marks another milestone for me — it’s been five years since I launched social media for my employer. It’s been an amazing, never dull, always something new, dip your toes in and try the water, learn from your mistakes and find the next big thing kind of five years! I’ve learned many lessons along the way, and I’ve met some amazing people.

There are so many people you meet in social networks, especially like Twitter and LinkedIn, who are always willing to help, or to listen, or to read a blog post and to share it or to laugh with you or offer their sympathy. Then there are also people who never cease to amaze me, and usually not in a good way. Below is a list of some of the more remarkable things from my five years in social media that will forever be embedded in my memory. All of these are real, but I won’t use names or exact quotes, to protect the not-so-innocent.

  • A tweet that stated the user would send a “bag of feces” to our patient financial services department if someone did not call him. He didn’t realize we were on Twitter, and was happy to get a response from us. Needless to say we were both happy he got a phone call.
  • A Facebook user who demanded the hospital take down a post from its page because he didn’t agree with it and he didn’t think we were presenting it accurately… to the point of calling a member of the management team to demand it be taken down. It was a link to an actual news story I might add, not an OpEd.
  • A post from an employee of one of our hospitals posting a picture of said hospital’s emergency department and saying never go to the [expletive] hospital. Lovely.
  • The hospital staff member who had a blog and went into very specific details of his patients that day, including physical descriptions and what they were wearing and the health issue they were having. Did you really think that wasn’t a violation of federal HIPAA privacy laws or did you simply think those didn’t apply to social media.
  • The child who was furious that his parents took him to one of our hospitals and had to be banned from the Facebook page because of his rantings, only to create a new Facebook page to “hate” said hospital. Obviously the warnings to parents we share about monitoring their children’s use of social media were ignored!
  • The girl who took a picture of the “no pictures or videotaping without authorization sign” and then tweeted it and posted on Instagram for all to see. Nice.

Now I know I represent my employer in all things social and so I have to watch what I say. I’m actually very nice and don’t say what I’d really like to say to these people when I respond. Although I do love surprising them when they don’t know we are active in social networks. But even if I don’t say it, I’m sure as heck thinking it! You can feel free to fill in the blanks.

So now, dear readers, share some of the things that have surprised you the most in the social media world.


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Communicating with patients; stick with the tried and true

Even in our socially networked world, sometimes the best form of communication is a blast from the past.

Even in our socially networked world, sometimes the best form of communication is a blast from the past.

Over the years, the way we communicate with patients has changed drastically. I remember the days when, working for a health plan, we would coordinate postal mailings. Then email came along and then text messaging. And of course, there’s always been traditional media outlets–television, newspaper and radio…

You can read the rest of my latest post for Hospital Impact here:


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Social Media — forget technology: it’s all about the human connections

communicaitonsI’ve always said that my favorite part of social media is to be able to talk to people one on one. It’s a nice change. After years of issuing press releases, and coordinating interviews, and writing speeches and newsletters to SEND a message out, I was never able to get to know people in the audience, or receive

With the dawn of social media came a huge change. People are connecting with each other and those people may never have known each other if it weren’t for the networks and the changes and capabilities technology  has given us

Today, I read this article in the Huffington Post about why brands need to become more human in social media, and it’s a trend that’s needed because of the way technology is changing. There are many salient points in the article, and you certainly won’t hear any argument from me when it comes to technology changing. It’s a constant, ever-evolving  thing, and it can be hard to keep your finger on all those changes

Respectfully, though, I need to argue with the author about the reason brands need to be more human. It’s not because of technology changing, but it’s because the technology is now there that allows brands to BE human. The past decade has drastically changed how individuals can connect with others and how brands can reach their audience. I propose that the reason brands should even enter the world of social media is to strip away all the corporate speak and just talk to other people.

The days of one-way messaging are long gone. The days of a brand spitting out its mission and vision and a few ads are over. If brands are NOT putting a human voice behind their social media and interacting with their audiences, fans and communities as people, then it’s all pointless.

I’ve often said that my favorite part of my job is the chance to get to know people in our brands’ communities as individuals. These one-on-one relationships are important, not only for the brand’s reputation, but because it is done with sincerity… and that’s something that must be part of all of your communications. If it’s not, social media users today are savvy enough to know when it’s just corporate speak. And then it’s time to rethink your plan, because it’s just not working.


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What job candidates can teach health care communicators

Sometimes a fresh look can do a world of good for your communications!

Sometimes a fresh look can do a world of good for your communications!

Sometimes we do a job for so long that we lose perspective. We think “been there, done that.” But it’s never a bad idea to take a fresh look.

I recently had the opportunity to interview a candidate to fill an open position on our media relations team to replace a colleague who recently left. I developed four questions I thought would give me a good sense of her work style and skills and where her passion lies. Getting a better feel for that would help me determine if she was a good fit for our team.

The interview went really well, and the questions did exactly what I hoped. They led us to a much deeper discussion of how things have changed in the world of public relations, marketing, and inevitably, social media.

As I spoke with her, though, I realized our discussion was actually making me reexamine how we do things. As a result, I came up with some essential actions hospitals should consider when launching their own marketing plans and social media efforts.

Blogging – Don’t have a blog? That’s understandable. While incredibly valuable from a content marketing standpoint, they are time and resource intensive. So why not counter that by looking for guest blog opportunities for your experts. They could be either one-time posts on a breaking news item or a regular column on timely topics. Either way, by selecting well-respected and well-read sites (think KevinMDWomen’s Health or Psychology Today), you’re positioning your expert among a whole new segment in the population. Be sure to include links to your social sites so these new readers, in turn, can connect with you there.

What’s on your calendar – Hopefully you’ve got a calendar for social media, similar to an editorial calendar that will guide your content through the year, at least on a general basis. But is that working for you? How are you developing that calendar–are you building it in a silo, or as part of a team looking at the larger objectives and mission within the organization? Does the calendar include posts that will build engagement and trust for your brand, or is it only a placeholder to support tactics in the marketing plan? It’s a new year, and it’s time to evaluate your calendar and its content.

That brings me to another topic I didn’t discuss with the candidate, but something that needs to be addressed on a regular basis:

Analytics – That dreaded word. But the fact is, if you’re not looking at how your social media efforts are working, then they are probably not worth doing. We all know resources are short, especially financial ones, but the back-end analytics on many of the more popular social media sites like Google+, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter are all free. (As a side note, if you set up a Twitter advertising account, you will then have access to the analytics for your account. On Pinterest, as long as you verify your website, you also will have access to the analytics.) These give you a snapshot of what is and isn’t working in your social media plan.

You also can dig as deeply as you’d like in many of them. I’ve found Tweet Reach for Twitter accounts, campaigns and hashtags. For Pinterest, you can check out one of my favorites, Tailwind (formerly PinReach). If you do have a budget for it, then you’ve got even more choices. The fact is, though you can still analyze what you’re doing at a basic level for free, you want to be sure you’re moving in the right direction and not wasting your time in the social world.

Those are three things we should all be looking at, but there are plenty more. What are you reevaluating or working on in terms of your social media plan?

A version of this post was originally written for and appeared on http://www.hospitalimpact.org. One thing to note, we ultimately hired that fantastic candidate (hi Elena!). 


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Getting the message out — keys to effective communication in the digital age

communicationsFor my entire adult career, my jobs have always been in the communications departments of large companies. In the many roles I’ve had over the years, I was usually involved with communications to a variety of audiences — employees, physicians, customers/consumers, media, board members, general public, etc. The rules of thumb of communications have remained consistent through the years, in that communications should be strategic, timely and appropriately tailored to each audience.  That’s all well and good.

The problem today, with digital tools like social networks, is the timeliness factor. We no longer have all the time in the world. The longer you wait to post an important message on your brand’s Facebook page or tweet it out or post it to your online newsroom can make or break a brand. If there is an important customer/consumer/patient piece of information to get out there, your brand can certainly take a lot of heat for not being timely and getting the necessary information out to the public as quickly as it should have. And if you don’t, what’s your defense? We couldn’t get our act together?

Working as a communication pro in the digital age means we no longer have the luxury of “working within a news cycle” to craft a message as perfectly as possible. We no longer have hours to deliberate as a group over one draft after another. Today, it’s much more important to get the key points of the overall message out as quickly as possible. And it must be honest, forthright and timely.

Personally, I think one of the worst impacts to a brand’s image is when a major piece of information about your product or service gets to the general public by any means other than YOU. You should be the one taking charge of the messaging and leading that effort by being the first one out there and using every avenue at your disposal to do so — traditional media, social media, websites, online newsrooms, blogs, etc. as well as internal communications so your staff is aware of what is happening too.

Once it’s out there, you can’t control what is said, and you can actively talk WITH your audience, not just send the message out there. That’s the beautiful of communication in the digital age. If negative comments or inaccurate information is out, you can respond to the criticism and provide the right information. You can be on top of the messaging, if you get out in front of it, and your brand will be all the better for it; even if it is delivering bad news, it’s all about being honest and forthright and timely. People will appreciate that and your brand will benefit from it.

Is your brand working with the new rules of the digital age in terms of timely communications?


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Schedules or Spontaneity – what makes you the best you can be?

photoPlans and lists and schedules, oh my! For some people, that’s their worst nightmare. For me, well, I need structure. I need those plans, and lists to check off and schedules to follow. Even if I try to be spontaneous, it backfires on me and gets me agitated and anxious and worried. Whether it be my work or my personal life, when my routine and my schedule are thrown off, I’m in for a bad day, and probably a sleepless night.

My husband, on the other hand, hates making plans, never uses a list unless he’s grocery shopping (yes, he does that and I’m SOOO grateful!), and never feels the need to check anything off. If something gets done, it gets done, if not, well, it will get done another time. I can feel myself gasping for air at the thought of that. Opposites attract, so they say!

It took me a long time to realize that this was just who I am. It’s not a character flaw, or a personality deficiency, it’s just the way I function at my best. When I was doing media relations as my job, it’s no wonder I was a walking breakdown ready to happen. The fact that any one phone call from a reporter doing a story can throw a wrench into the works of your day is too much for my need for organization and structure to bear.

That’s why doing social media is such a good fit for me. I can plan my day around a set schedule, and do it quite easily. For a while, I was filling in as a media relations officer for one of the hospitals while we recruited a replacement for the role. So I was juggling my normal, set schedule, with a bit of the more haphazard, constantly fluctuating world that is PR and media relations. Looking back on this period, it’s no wonder I was a bit loony!

Now I’m feeling more like myself, back into a set schedule and being more productive, and much happier. Social media lends itself to this type of personality. You can stick to a schedule, like responding to tweets and Facebook comments, set time aside to build content, and even identify a block of time when you can read blogs and articles to keep up with what’s going on in the constantly changing industry. Yes, it can be a 24/7 world, but it can also be one set by a calendar and a to-do list too. Ahhhhh, I feel better already. And wow am I productive when my days are carefully planned!

What about you – are you a fly by the seat of your pants kind of guy/gal, or do you need that written-in-ink kind of day to be your most productive self and feel your best?


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Sometimes the water doesn’t slide off a duck’s back

Photo by Neil Howard/Neil Howard (neilalderney123)/Creative Commons

Photo by Neil Howard/Neil Howard
(neilalderney123)/Creative Commons

There are some days when you can just let things slide, like water off a duck’s back as the saying goes. There are other days, well, not so much.

It’s on those days when my mind wanders and I start the “what if” game. What if this, then that. Like, “what if I didn’t need the money…then would I still be doing what I do?”

I’ve often said that I love my job and I do. I love being able to connect with people on a one-to-one basis. I love the trust that I’m given to represent a large organization that’s critical to the community. I love being able to feel like I’m doing something good by sharing helpful information that could improve the health of the community (like our mission says). I also love learning something new every day.

But I am enough of a realist to know that sometimes loving what you do just isn’t enough. Sometimes the aggravation and the things that are out of your control that impact your day-to-day work just become too much to overlook.  That, combined with the recent resignations of two colleagues with whom I really enjoyed working has gotten me thinking. A lot.

So what do you do when you get to that point? Very good question and one I need to ponder. I’m not naive (at least I try not to be!). I am well aware that the grass isn’t always greener, so jumping ship to go to a perceived greener grassland isn’t always the best option. So that means you have to evaluate your options closely and figure out what can make things better.

Clearly the answers to this conundrum will not be clear overnight. But it’s something to think about and to work on. Life is too short, right? We are the only ones who will make ourselves happy.

So now I pose the question to my readers: have you ever felt like this? What did you do?


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Does your company have a strategy or are you a fish out of water?

Photo by kainr/Creative Commons.

Photo by kainr/Creative Commons.

I think it’s often easier to find the things that are wrong in your company rather than appreciating the good things. Recently two things opened my eyes to just how lucky I am to work for the company I do.

The reason for this post, though, is not to shower accolades on my employer, but rather to point out some important things that could impact the marketing and social media efforts of companies.

Last weekend I was at a wedding, and one of my former colleagues was there. I was thrilled to see her because I adore Caitlin. She is a smart young woman, a beautiful and talented writer and a genuinely nice person.

She is now working for a biomedical company. She made a point of telling me how behind the times the company is. There is no overall marketing strategy, there is no coordinated communications efforts or advertising efforts, and social media is a completely mystery to them. In fact, the vice president asked her, “So, that Skype. Is that Facebooking?” Wow. It seems almost impossible in this day and age, right? Surely that company is an anomaly, yes?

Apparently not. Yesterday, I read a post shared by Mark Ragan called “Lessons from a social media disaster.” The post describes a company that appears to be in total chaos: no strategy, no leadership, no IT support, no content creators. Another wow.

So I guess that company that was NOT an exception to the rule. I guess I am lucky in that I work for a company with a clear mission, vision and goals. On top of that we have strategies and clear tactics for all of our marketing and advertising efforts. What we do always supports the overall mission, whether it be marketing, social media, advertising, or caring for our community. We also have policies and procedures so everyone can understand what is expected of them.

Having worked in this environment for all of my career, I think I would be completely lost in a company that didn’t function this way. It’s hard to imagine trying to do anything today when you don’t have a coordinated effort among all the parties responsible for your company’s success. In fact, it sounds like a perfect prescription for failure, right?

Or maybe I’m just partial to doing things that make sense. Personally, I think it’s that strategy that holds the key to success in everything you do. Without a plan, you’re kind of like a fish out of water, especially when it comes to social media.

Do you have a plan when it comes to your marketing and social media efforts? Are there things that you would change about your organization’s environment or culture that you think would help its success? What would it be?