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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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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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?


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Forget FOMO. I’ve got FOBF – fear of being forgotten

ambulance at night.This July, I took a two-week vacation from work. It was the first time I can remember that I took a hiatus that long from work. I promised myself and the Mr. that I was going to unplug. So with the exception of a few personal Facebook status updates and deleting unnecessary emails from my inboxes, I was mostly MIA from all things social & tech.

The day I returned, I wrote a post for my blog and I thought I would start doing more frequent posts, since I was feeling so rested and ready to get back to things. Then at 10:00 that night my mom called to tell me she had just called the rescue for my dad. My parents are in their mid-80s, and so that phone call in the middle of the night is something I always dread.

That night was spent in the emergency department, and my dad was finally admitted at 5:15 a.m. I drove my mom home as the sun was rising. I had to start working in just a couple hours, and I was just heading home. As I was driving, I thought to myself that I couldn’t remember the last time I was coming home at sun rise. Leaving for the gym at that time is much more my speed now that I’m a 40-something and not a 20-something.

Of course, with that night in the ED, the vacation and the relaxation that came with it quickly became a distant memory. For the next two weeks I would pick my mom up and drive her to the hospital, where I worked on my laptop from my dad’s hospital room.

During that time, I did everything I had to for work, but I feel like I was barely a presence on Twitter or Facebook or Google+ (which wasn’t often for me on a good week!). As for my blog, well, it hasn’t seen a post since this all started, until this one. While I’m thrilled to report that my dad is now home and on the second part of his recovery, I’m feeling completely forgotten in social media.

There were a few wonderful people (and they know who they are) who often asked how dad was doing and expressed genuine care and concern. I’m especially grateful for those amazing people both in Twitter and in the real world. It’s astounding how quickly you find out who your real friends are when you’re in a crisis. (And there’s a lesson in here for brands too… the same is true of those loyal followers you’ve built through your social media efforts. They will come to your aid in a crisis!)

It’s taken me all these paragraphs to get to my point: I get nervous about not being more visible, not being a regular contributor or a regular blogger. I feel badly about not keeping in touch with people on Twitter or reading their blogs with any set frequency. And I feel like I’ve let people down by not sharing the great info they’re putting out there. I’m not suffering from FOMO, I’m suffering from what I’m coining the “Fear Of Being Forgotten,” or FOBF.

But in the long run, is it just our own minds that tells us we should feel badly about taking this hiatus from the social world? Does anyone really care if we’re not visible or not blogging or commenting for a while? More importantly, does anyone really notice? I’m sure the people who we are in touch with regularly would notice, but in the big scheme of things, does it really matter?

Personally, I’m hoping it doesn’t matter, because this FOBF can really weigh on you! Have you ever felt this way?


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Another day, another tragedy?

Photo from Wikipedia.

Photo from Wikipedia.

Is it just me, or does it seem like lately we’ve been hit with one tragedy after another? Today, we awoke to the total devastation in the town of Moore, Oklahoma, after a nearly 2-mile wide tornado swept through, leaving it in total ruin.

Because I had to be at an early morning panel discussion on the use of social media, my normal routine was way off. I did not see the morning news, or tune into Twitter or Facebook first thing this morning. When I finally did get to social, I find myself asking if people are becoming immune to these tragedies.

From my streams and newsfeeds, it seems that so many people were basically sticking to their own agendas. I even looked through the tweet stream of hospitals across the country and was shocked and slightly appalled to see that many were just carrying on with business as usual.

Is it just me? Am I being overly sensitive? Am I wrong to think that we need to be a little more respectful in the social sphere and acknowledge what is going on? Is it inappropriate to step away from our self-serving agendas for even a day? I know I’ve posted about this before, right after the Boston bombings. But for some reason, it seems like less attention is being given to the countless number of victims of Mother Nature’s latest wrath in Oklahoma than tragedies in the past, and I’m not sure why.

Even my hometown paper, the Providence Journal, apparently didn’t think Oklahoma was Page One news. Seriously? This has been called one of the worst tornadoes of all time. Families lost children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles… not to mention those who were wounded, and all of their possessions gone. Of course possessions can be replaced, but people can’t.

I am saluting the amazing folks at @NormalRegional who in the midst of their own tragedy are tweeting and posting important updates to their Facebook page to help people find their loved ones, to direct moms-to-be as to where they can deliver their child, and other important information, from a hospital that was leveled, by the way.

And yet the rest of us go on tweeting about Lasik surgery (really?) and “want to make your hot body hotter?” (I kid you not.)

Maybe it is just me, but I choose to be respectful of what people are going through and put aside the company’s social media marketing efforts FOR ONE DAY in favor of supporting our fellow man. If that seems silly to you, then maybe I’m in the wrong business. (And I must add in here that I’m so grateful to have a director who is of a like mind and believes that we need to show a little respect during times of tragedy. Phew.)

But in this writer’s opinion, showing sympathy for your fellow man and trying to understand their plight during a difficult time will speak more loudly for your brand than any other tweet or Facebook post you might want to put out there. Do you agree or am I alone in this thinking?


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What a difference 10 years makes – the evolution of hospital crisis communications

old fashioned telephoneLike the rest of the world, I was in utter amazement as the story of the Boston Bombings played out, and it’s something I can’t stopping thinking about. I can’t imagine what the victims and their families have been living through since it happened, and all the recovery time still ahead of them.

In the aftermath, I can sit back and think more clearly from a professional point of view. The first thing that comes to mind is what those media folks were experiencing at the Boston hospitals. I totally understand. They were inundated with media trucks, media calls, reporters wanting answers to a myriad of questions, assignment desks calling for constant updates on patients, requests for interviews, and the list goes on and on. Then of course there’s the need to keep the public informed, and that’s when each hospital’s social media efforts came into play.

I think they did an absolutely phenomenal job in as difficult a situation as any we experience in this line of work. I recently came across a great article that speaks to the communications efforts by these three hospitals, and it warrants sharing, as do the kudos that these hospitals deserve.

It was this same article that brought me back 10 years to the horrible nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I., at The Station. I was 10 years younger, and I have to admit, a lot greener about crisis communications.. I had only been working for the hospital for a year and a half when the fire happened. And while I am very lucky to be among the few in Rhode Island who was not personally impacted by it or knew someone who was, it is an experience I will never forget.

Of course those times were very different. Back then we relied on phones, faxes and emails to share information. What a difference social media would have made that night, and for the many weeks afterward, when we had patients at our major trauma center in Rhode Island. We received 63 patients that night. And many of them were critically injured and required care for long periods of time.

We were flooded with national and international media outlets, all following one of the worst fires in history, and one of the biggest stories to ever come out of Rhode Island. There were so many things about that night that could have been done differently if social media existed.

Families would have known immediately if their loved ones were safe or among the missing. As a hospital, we could have posted information immediately as it happened, with updated numbers of patients and conditions. We could have posted information for families on where to go when arriving at the hospital and resources for them to help in the aftermath, and even connect families who were experiencing the same things. The media could have turned to our social feeds for regular updates. The speed and immediacy of our communications response would have been drastically increased with today’s technology.

None of us ever want to experience a crisis, especially of the magnitude of the Boston bombings and The Station fire. But personally, I’m glad we have social media now to help us better communicate when we do experience them. I don’t think we can appreciate enough the increased power, reach and flexibility it provides us with, especially in a crisis situation.

Does/has your hospital use social media during a crisis, or do you plan to in the future? How?

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


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Responding to a crisis that isn’t yours

Boston-marathon-Facebook-cover-photo-630x456There have been two recent tragedies that have played heavily in the news and of course in social media. The bombings in Boston and the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas were horrific events that demanded the attention of the nation and made news across the globe.

Whenever something occurs of that magnitude, in today’s world, many of us automatically turn to social media to obtain the latest breaking news, to share our own thoughts or to pass along information we think is relevant. That’s all well and good when it’s from a personal standpoint. From a brand standpoint, most of us have our own crisis management plans (or at least we should) that provide us with direction in times of emergency.

But when you are using social media as a marketing tool for your brand, what do you do when a crisis occurs and it’s not yours? Your crisis management plan is in place for YOUR brand, not a tragedy like Boston, Texas or last year’s shooting in Newtown, CT.

There has been a lot written lately about this subject. From the danger of unmonitored scheduled tweets from @GuyKawasaki to the tweets that were simply poor judgement and in really bad taste like Epicurious.

A very smart blogger I follow, Mark Schaefer (@Markwschaefer), had a wonderful post on his {grow} blog about this very subject. More recently, my friend Lisa Buben (@lisapatb) recently asked if we should tweet or not during extraordinary events on her Inspire to Thrive blog.

Personally, I think you have to first acknowledge the situation. I think you look self-absorbed, insensitive and uncaring when everyone is turning to that situation and you’re still tweeting about how important your new book is.  I remember when the shooting occurred in Newtown. I immediately stopped tweeting and we turned all our attention to this. We offered the resources we could, but mostly we offered our condolences and support.

Even when it’s not a crisis of your own, I truly believe you must recognize it. The whole point of social media is connecting with people and sharing our humanity. That means when a tragedy befalls someone else, especially when it’s as big as those situations, it’s time to step away from our own agendas and be part of this social community we have built.

Even the day after a crisis has occurred, I still don’t feel right about going back to regularly scheduled posting. I just feel like it makes a brand appear cold and uncaring, and even personally for that matter. I believe you have to wait at least 24 hours and then test taste the waters.

I have adopted that plan for the brands I manage. After a tragedy has occurred, I announce that we’re going to interrupt our regularly posting due to the situation. During that time, I will post releveant information that I feel is important to relay or share with our own community for their health or safety. I will also share resources that are relevant to the situation that might help others. Usually I wait 24 hours to even consider going back to normal posting. At that point, I acknowledge that 24 hours has past and slowly start moving back into regular content, but still including some relevant posts about the situation at hand.

That’s my plan, that’s how I approach it. It’s not because someone told me that is how I should do it, it’s just what feels right, what feels respectful, and what feels most comfortable and natural. Social media is about reaching out to people… and in a tragedy that’s even more important. Because when it comes to a tragedy, you or your brand aren’t all that important in the big scheme of things. It all comes down to getting some perspective I guess.

What do YOU do in a crisis that isn’t yours?