Just my two cents

Musings on social media and the world as I see it


Being transparent in a crisis – thumbs up to Johns Hopkins

Johns Hopkins has a wonderful reputation for providing outstanding health care. They also are no strangers to the social media world. In 2010, when a shooting happened at the hospital, they turned to social media with regular updates.

Their efforts were admirable, to say the least, and appeared as a well-coordinated effort even during a crisis situation that was unfolding by the minute. Now, Johns Hopkins faced another crisis, and once again their response can serve as a model for transparency in social media.

As a media relations professional, I’ve experienced the behind-the-scenes efforts during a crisis for a hospital. As an extremely conservative and cautious industry, this is usually not something that is done in minutes, but more likely hours. Yet in today’s world, social media has given rise to the 24/7 news cycle. Media outlets and citizen journalists are posting and reading information and breaking news all the time, wherever they are.

There have been times that we have opted to not post information about a crisis situation on our Facebook page or Twitter feeds. It was felt that this was making it too public and only those who inquired about a situation would be provided with a statement. I do understand that approach, yet it’s not the transparent one.

Transparency is a way to build loyalty and garner advocates for your brand. Being transparent and straightforward in any situation will more likely earn respect even if your community takes offense to what has occurred.

Such is the recent case with Johns Hopkins. This weekend, they chose to post about a very sticky situation with one of their physicians. A physician clearly breached patient privacy and then that physician committed suicide.

Johns Hopkins FB postJohns Hopkins’ approach? They posted it for everyone to see right on their Facebook page. Short, sweet and to the point. The post described what happened, explained that privacy breaches are not tolerated, and stated what they were doing about the situation. You don’t get any more transparent than that, nor can you approach the situation any better.

The comments they received were obviously mixed, especially since some of them were posted by patients. Overall, however, there were nearly 90 “likes” on the post — a show that people appreciate the openness.

Do I think they helped build advocates for their brand? Absolutely. I am so impressed with how they handled the situation, and I hope we can rise to the same level of transparency when I find our organization in its next crisis.

What about you? Do you agree with their approach? If not, what would you have done differently?


Turning bad weather into social media success

blizzard 2The recent Blizzard of 2013 was an eye-opener, especially for people who didn’t remember the Blizzard of ’78. The difference between then and now? Better weather forecasts and social media!

Social media is changing the way hospitals can communicate with the public. Even during a power outage, people turn to their smartphones for information. So when meteorologists predicted Winter Storm Nemo for our area, I felt the hospital accounts I manage should be a source of all kinds of storm-related information.

When blizzard watches became actual warnings, it was time to develop a storm content calendar for communicating with our social communities. With the storm predicted to last about 24 hours, it was important to stay up to date on the latest news to share the most important and helpful information with our friends and followers.

The content calendar focused on keeping people informed with regular updates on the forecast, tips on preparing for the storm, safe driving tips, what to do in power outages, and of course, safety tips for cleaning up afterward, like shoveling and using generators and snowblowers.

It also included key information that was coming from the Governor’s office and the Mayor’s office, including the declaration of a state of emergency, parking bans, road closures, reminders to shovel sidewalks and check on the elderly, and so on.

Beginning Thursday, the day before the storm, we provided the latest information on the weather predictions and how to prepare for a blizzard. We shared the information via our six Twitter, six Facebook and two Pinterest accounts. This continued into Friday, the day the storm was starting, and then wrapped up on Saturday with more posts on both Twitter and Facebook.

So how did I keep up with what to tweet and post on Facebook? Simple–I created a Twitter list that I called “Emergency Agencies.” My list of Twitter accounts included local and federal FEMA offices, our local media outlets, CNN Breaking News, the Weather Channel Breaking News, the state of Rhode Island Governor’s Office , and our local health department, among other key accounts.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover some of our media outlets had twitter feeds you could subscribe to that would include the feeds from all of their reporters. This proved to be incredibly helpful when trying to keep up with the latest news and impact from the storm, and on power outages.

Creating that list resulted in a continuously changing and up-to-date stream of what was happening in the area, and it became a source of what to post out for our own community. It worked perfectly for us, and is something we will continue to rely on in the future.

Our on-call media relations officer also was checking in regularly with each of our emergency departments so we could provide the latest information on accidents and injuries that we were treating. She also was scheduling regular phone interviews with ED physicians to speak with the local media.

This helped to position our emergency medicine physicians as experts by giving safety tips throughout the storm. Also, when the doctors were doing live interviews, I was tuned into the news to tweet out the key information they were sharing.

Those techniques helped keep our streams up to date, as well as keep our local public informed. If you used social media during a weather emergency, what did you do? Share your tips!

This post was originally written for and published on www.hospitalimpact.org, where I am a regular guest blogger.

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How to manage Facebook backlash against a hospital

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.