Just my two cents

Musings on social media and the world as I see it


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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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Being inspired by writing, and why readers are so important

dear readerI am an avid reader. For work and for keeping up with all things in the social media world, I subscribe to a number of blogs through Feedly. If you don’t know Feedly, I recommend you check it out. I came across it when Google announced they were doing away with Reader. I switched and never looked back. Bye-bye Google! (I love when I can say that, by the way.) It’s a great way to organize all the blogs you love and get a quick glance of what you’ve missed from the headlines. But I digress.

Now that I’m back into my normal routine (and yes, I always use that term loosely!) I try to spend at least some time during the business day to try to keep up with what’s going on. What has LinkedIn changed lately? (By the way, if you missed the news that we will soon be able to post long form content on that network, read this post from Social Mouths). What are the best tools in blogging? I love to hit up my friend in social networks, Lisa Buben (@lisapatb) and her Inspire To Thrive blog, because she always has some great tips and tricks for readers. So by day, I go through quite a few of my favorite bloggers, which usually leads to quite a few tweets too.

At night, I love to read novels. I always have a book going, and usually try to spend at least some time each night reading. I always thought I’d write a novel at some point in my life. Now that I’m approaching a milestone age, the chances of that actually happening are becoming slimmer by the year, but I have not given up just yet. I always have an idea brewing, and I feel like reading books in my favorite genres might help me become a better writer and inspire me to pursue that lofty (too lofty) goal of writing the next great American novel, or at least a suspense/mystery/thriller worthy of praise from Steven King or Dean Koontz or Gregg Hurwitz or John Grisham. (A girl can dream, right?)

What I really love about reading is that you get to transport yourself. You can be brought to other lands through a well-written book, or develop new skills or new ways of doing something from a blog post full of tips and tricks. The jackpot, to me, is when you are inspired by an author. When you are moved to do something, or pushed to an action because of something you’ve read. Like a piece of amazing sculpture or a fabulous painting that evokes an emotion or takes your breath away, beautiful writing can have the same effect. When you’re inspired, that’s a sign of a truly good writer.

Today I read a post by a gentleman named Danny Brown (@DannyBrown on Twitter). He is someone I’ve followed for years and with whom I’ve had a few interactions that are always appreciated. He has a wonderful way of writing, he has an incredible sense of humor, and he is also a truly giving person who strives to do for others. Today I read this post from Danny and I felt like he was speaking directly to me.

Have I made mistakes with my blog? Absolutely. Will I make more? Most likely, but that’s OK. I realized that my goal is not to build lots of readers, but to build a group of readers who are going to interact with me. Who will comment on my writing, whether it be the message in any given post, or whether it is my style of writing and what might make us all better writers and bloggers. Now I will be the first to admit that I don’t usually take criticism well, but constructive criticism is something that can make us all better, and strive to be better!

When you are kind enough to take the time to read my blog, I’d so appreciate a comment. I’d love to get conversations going. I know I’m not writing a thesis here that is meant to change the world, but I believe that we can all learn from each other, because we all have different experiences, tastes and points of view. And that is what makes the world of writing a beautiful place to be.

So with that, I throw it over to you, dear readers, to answer these questions… why do you read blogs, and what do you hope to do with your writing?


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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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What doctors need to remember in social media

laptop and stethoscopeBack in 2011, I wrote a post about why doctors should be careful when using social media. Not that I’m changing my stance on that, but I think social media, and clinicians’ use of it, has come a long way in just a short amount of time. If it was accepted before, it’s expected now!

So what prescription should a doctor write for himself when it comes to using social media? The answer is pretty simple. Use it, and remember what it’s for!

Recently, the Rhode Island Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline issued guidelines for doctors on how to use social media appropriately. I’m glad they did this for two reasons – it lets doctors know that it’s OK to post out there in the big social sphere, and they won’t lose their license by doing so. It also gives them the dos and don’ts of what to do. And that’s always a good thing.

There are a lot of doctors out there who figured out a long time ago that social media is a great tool. They are leaders in the field, and their use of social media has allowed them to voice their opinion on hot health topics, to serve as thought leaders on the healthcare industry and the use of social media, and to simply share information.

Two that immediately come to mind are Kevin Pho (@KevinMD on Twitter and on his blog) and Wendy Sue Swanson (@SeattleMamaDoc on Twitter and a blogger for Seattle Children’s Hospital). They learned early on the power of social media and have been touting the benefits of connecting with people through these channels for years. They’ve been tweeting, speaking at conferences, and becoming leaders in the industry through their openness, their acceptance of new technology to reach more people, help people, and perhaps just maybe, make people healthier.

Then there’s the other side of the coin. There have been some well publicized cases of physicians using social media inappropriately. In one such case, a R.I. physician posted protected patient information on Facebook. She was fined, and she removed her Facebook account.  In another, more recent case, a physician clearly stepped over the line talking about a patient’s chronic lateness and of a stillbirth.

That’s why having official guidelines is not only recommended, but is  a necessary part of hospital business these days, at least in my humble opinion. Well before the R.I. Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline developed its guidelines, we developed our own for our physicians. We felt that by arming our physicians with the information they needed, they would be less likely to get into trouble, and perhaps be less timid about using social  media  as a communication tool.

When the R.I. Board came out with its guidelines, we saw it as an opportunity to remind our own physicians of the guidelines we already had in place, and in case they missed them, we provided a link to the state-wide guidelines. From our own @RIHospital, I’m thrilled that one of our emergency medicine doctors, Megan Ranney, M.D. (@MeganRanney), has taken to Twitter like a pro. She was also interviewed by the Associated Press for a story on the release of the new guidelines.

In the article, Ranney is quoted as saying, ‘‘I do think you have to use your professional judgment.” She also gives good advice – think twice before posting something.

For hospitals in today’s social world, keeping your doctors abreast of the many uses of social media is an important part of the communications and marketing efforts for any hospital. Get them on board, let them comment, let them blog – being “social” can help position your hospital’s brand positively, if, of course, the tools are used appropriately.

Do you support doctors’ use of social media at your hospital? Would you want to connect with your doctor through social networks? I’d love to hear from you! 

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


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On being open and honest in social media

fictionEveryone has their own personality, their own unique self, and that is one of the beautiful things about social media — that the true self can shine through when people are open and honest.

Of course I’m willing to bet there are some people who aren’t completely honest. They may feel the need to put  their best self forward, slightly tweaking their own little personalities to be the best they can be in the social world. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I tend to do a bit of that, especially in my day job. Sometimes the things I think or would like to say might not be the most appropriate things to tweet while representing a brand. And that makes sense.

Then there may be other people who develop a persona just for social media. Like tweeting from their dog. They assume what they think is their dog’s personality and tweet out what they think their dog might be thinking. OK, I get it. Fun, quirky, and now sort of overdone.

Then there are those who are anonymous and like being that way, and feel free to say anything they want, because they are protected behind that veil of anonymity. And if their true identity were revealed, they would probably be mortified.

I tend to follow the rule of “would I want my mother to know I said that” when I’m in the social media or blogging worlds. If it’s something mom wouldn’t approve of, you probably won’t find me typing it out to the world.

I appreciate the relationships I have built through Twitter and Facebook and to some extent, LinkedIn. I feel like I’ve connected with and gotten to know some amazing people who I otherwise never would have. To me, the great thing about social media is being able to connect to people and feel like you know them. Some day you always hope to meet some of them IRL (in real life), but if that doesn’t happen, you can still stay connected.

Then there are others who love to start rumors, or lie outright and spread their lies through the social networks. And often times, the lies are believed to be true, because, after all, if it’s on the internet, it must be true, right?

Today, I came across this article: “Pheme: The social media lie detector being developed by EU Researchers.” And while it’s fascinating, it really kind of made me sad. I’m not so naive as to believe that everything said in social media is true, or everyone is representing themselves honestly. At the same time I like to think that for the most part, people are decent and good. Of course there are rumors that spread like wildfire through social networks, and sadly, many people believe them. When I read this article, I couldn’t help but think that if we need such “lie detectors” to determine fact from fiction, we’ve gone in the wrong direction.

While it may be a good tool, I’m going to rely on old-fashioned gut instinct and a little personal fact checking when I suspect something doesn’t really ring true. After all, that has worked well for many years, right? Or am I just old?


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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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An extended leave of absence, explained

half fullFor a long time, I struggled with doing regular blog posts. Then, just when I had gotten into a semi-regular blogging routine, wham. The proverbial you-know-what hit the fan.

First, a colleague at work resigned so I was doing double duty filling in for that role while still doing my own job. Then the holidays were upon us. Then we put our house up for sale after finding a house we loved. (Anyone ever heard that selling or buying a house is one of the five biggest stress-inducing events in life? Believe it.) Now, combine that with a personal health situation (nothing major, but still…) and there you have it — all the ingredients for the recipe that makes a blog post just about the last thing on a to-do list. In fact, the thought of writing a post just added to my stress. I felt like it was one more thing I couldn’t possibly add to my already filled days.

My hubby always reminds me that things could be worse and that we are very lucky. Sometimes he loses his patience with me because I lose focus on that. He’s right and I do appreciate all the blessings we have been given. Though, in the middle of times of stress and change, it’s not as easy  to remember that. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s easier to see the glass as half empty. So I’ve made a conscious effort to focus on the good things in life, to be more positive and see the glass as half full. Along with that is being grateful every day and not allowing “things” to overwhelm me. Going back to blogging is all part of it, because writing can be so cathartic (if it’s not viewed as a chore). I’ve also gone back to a regular exercise routine and some yoga thrown in a few times a week, and eating healthy and a few other things that contribute to a more serene, happy life.

I’m grateful for the life I have. I feel very lucky to be at a point in my life where I basically enjoy what I do for a living, and am able to pay my bills every month and have a husband who keeps me focused on what’s important, and two dogs who make me laugh every day and show me what unconditional love is. The other stuff is, well, just that — stuff that sometimes gets in the way of things. But we shouldn’t let that “stuff”  let us get sidetracked from what is really important in life.

So here I am, writing my first post in about four months. I’ve also decided that I don’t necessarily want to always write about social media. So you may see some more personal posts thrown in here and there, and I hope you don’t mind. A colleague and friend I’ll call “E” actually made this suggestion to me. She a wonderful writer who has a fantastic blog I really enjoy. All of her blog posts are personal ones. She writes as a way of getting her emotions out and on paper, a sort of therapy; it’s a release for her, a way of coping. “E” went through a recent family tragedy, and right now is dealing with a serious medical issue with a loved one too. She has a lot more to deal with and feel stressed about than me. It’s a definite reality check when you see how much others are facing. It can make you feel silly, really, to think that you’re overwhelmed by things that are trivial to so many people who are going through much bigger issues.

So that’s where I’m at right now, and for those of you who are reading this, thank you for still being here! I hope I don’t disappoint in this and future posts. Because anyone who takes time out of their own busy life to read anything I might have to say is just one more thing I’m grateful for in this life. And of course, thanks to “E” for the encouragement to write this post and get back to this. Sometimes all we need is a little push, and we should be thankful for those too!