Just my two cents

Musings on social media and the world as I see it


Managing a hospital crisis in the new media world

A crisis. Most hospitals have one at some point. If your organization hasn’t faced one yet, it will. Whether a local disaster fills your ED to overflowing or a sentinel event occurs and makes the headlines, your staff and your board will need to know what happened, and the media will probably be camped outside your front door. For the communications team, it’s all hands on deck.

While every situation is unique, when it comes to communication surrounding a crisis, there are general rules that apply to all. I believe that being visible, honest and timely are the most important.

In a crisis, the last thing you should do is assume it will all blow over, or that word will not get out. Definitely not true, particularly in the age of Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media. Playing possum will not make the situation go away. To use an old advertising tagline, “inquiring minds want to know.”

When something happens in a hospital, you need to quickly assess the situation, develop your course of action and key messages, identify the best spokesperson and address the situation head on.

If you’re not visible and discussing the matter publicly, you’re leaving the facts open to interpretation. So many recent scandals provide the support for this argument. Consider Tiger Woods, who still hasn’t spoken publicly, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who disappeared for days and was less than candid about his whereabouts. This isn’t exactly the best approach when responding to a crisis.

Being honest
While there may be details that should not or cannot be made publicly known about the situation at hand, recognizing the situation, taking responsibility for the event and providing the overall facts are absolutely for any crisis response, regardless of your audience.

A crisis can damage a reputation quickly, but not recognizing the crisis or not responding can be even more damaging. An appropriate response can go a long way to maintaining or rebuilding trust.

Of course while some things are more easily forgiven than others, an “I’m sorry” can go a long way toward rebuilding trust with your community (consider the legislation now being proposed to make the “I’m sorry” clause for doctors a law). Public recognition of the situation and the apology must come from a trusted source, and determining the appropriate spokesperson can greatly impact the success of your crisis communication response.

Being timely
The concept of “timely” has changed quite a bit in recent years. Five years ago, your crisis response would be timed to a news cycle, with your internal audiences of staff and the hospital board notified in advance of the general public. But that news cycle no longer exists with the rise of social media. Information flows 24/7 and it is not from typical news sources. The emergency plan landing on New York’s Hudson River and news of Michael Jackson’s death, for example, were both reported first on Twitter.

When a crisis happens in your hospital, there are lots of people examining the situation from many angles – senior leaders, risk management, legal, medial directors, communications/media relations, etc. This will have an impact on just how timely you can be, but it is the communications professional’s responsibility to produce the right communications at the right time.

Given today’s myriad of communication tools, you should make use of all of them to get your response out there. If you provide a statement to the media, post it on your web site. If you have a recorded message from your president, post that on your web site and link to it through Twitter. If you have a Facebook account, post your video there and post your official statement on your Facebook fan page.

Remember — it’s about being visible, honest and timely. And because of the way news is now communicated, you must assume that your audience is not just local anymore. Sending a statement to your local television station or doing an interview with your hometown paper is not an adequate response. In a true crisis, you can expect e-mails and web postings from people internationally who may have never heard your brand name before, but they will now. That is the world we live in today.

So those are the basic rules. Are they always followed in every situation? Unfortunately, no, but they should be!

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

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Recent headlines provide a lesson for hospitals

I’m a big proponent of taking responsibility for your actions. It is a practice I try to live by, and I expect the same from friends and colleagues, as well as companies. I think this is especially important in a crisis, and I truly believe it can make or break a company’s brand management.

Social media provides us with incredibly useful tools for doing just that. While some hospitals are still reluctant to break into this medium for a host of reasons, recent headlines are providing lessons in how these tools can help you through a crisis, and are providing some important lessons for us all.

For example, right now there’s a brand in big trouble–BP.

We all know about the oil spill in the Gulf. The news is everywhere. This week, Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, was talking up the media circuit, appearing on national shows like “Today” and “The Early Show”. Not only did he not take responsibility for the spill, he even went so far as to say that it wasn’t his company’s fault.

Even though the company is doing the right thing by addressing the crisis, from a public relations perspective, Hayward ruined any message that might have come after that. Although BP’s social media team is attempting to do their part by tweeting stories about the company’s efforts under the sea and about the hotline it has set up, it all falls short in trying to save the brand because there’s no responsibility assumed or stated.

An apology and accepting responsibility for an error goes a long way, whether it be because of an oil spill or a medical error. By starting there, you have much more of a chance to redeem your reputation.

In a previous post, I noted that recognizing a lingering issue publicly is the right thing to do in a crisis situation; doing so through public channels like social media can go a long way toward repairing a brand. However, while BP’s faux pas is pretty clear here, there’s another situation that is not so clear cut. It’s that of blogger and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CEO Paul Levy, who has built quite a reputation around being transparent.

Initially, he seemed to be practicing anything but transparency with regards to an incident involving a personal relationship with a fellow employee. I’m a big fan of Levy’s, and could understand his reluctance to air his dirty laundry in the social media realm, but it seemed to be out-of-character for him to avoid talking about a problem, regardless of how personal it was. That, in itself, was a bit jarring.

Earlier this week, however, Levy issued two apologies: one through a statement distributed to the media, and another, a more personal apology to the readers of his blog. While Levy, no doubt, will still face much scrutiny for his actions (and especially for waiting so long to comment on them), his personal apology to blog readers already has produced a fair amount of support via comments to the post.

Personally, I’ve been part of quite a number of crisis situations in the hospital setting, as well. I understand how hard it is to publicly admit a mistake. That usually comes in the form of a well-written, carefully planned media statement. The world of social media is part of the follow-up, and in most cases, the social media component includes what is being done as a result, like a video message from the president, or correcting blatantly inaccurate comments in social channels. I think there are several reasons for this. Social media is still fairly new and represents a bit of the unknown. For most, there’s no comfort level with social media. And of course, “We’re sorry,” isn’t often part of a brand’s standard media statement language!

What we have to remember, howeer, is that through social media, word now spreads like wildfire, and you must be prepared to respond if you’re brand is threatened. Rumors abounded last month after a faulty virus update from McAfee disabled our entire system’s computers. The following tweets show not only how rumors can easily–and quickly–distort the truth, but also how they can be quickly addressed if you’re monitoring for this information.

* @GetWired retweeted this from @vmyths: McAfee rules out cyber-terror re: yesterday’s antivirus attack. Death @ RI hospital a coincidence until proven otherwise.

* We responded with: @vmyths Good morning. I can assure u that no deaths occurred as result of yesterday’s McAfee issue. Patients were safe throughout.

* He then posted the following: @RIHospital asserts “patients were safe throughout” the McAfee antivirus attack last week. Don’t get duped by urban legends!

With what we know about brand management and the power of social media, when an opportunity arises to take responsibility for a situation, I’d suggest the best practice might be to whittle down those media statements to a simple message: an apology that will fit into 140 characters. That tweet might be the one that’s heard around the world.

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


Things my mom taught me and how they apply to social media

As I was growing up, my mom had lots of sayings. It took me quite a while to figure out their relevance, of course, but wisdom does come with age. I was thinking today how much they also apply to social media.

“The walls have ears” Being the youngest in my family, many conversations took place around me. Some I paid attention to, others I ignored, of course. But it always seemed that when a conversation got interesting, my mom would say, “The walls have ears.” Suddenly, the conversation would take a drastic turn. And being very young, I literally thought the walls had ears. Bizarre! Of course what she really meant was that I was listening. I was the wall. Nice, mom. 🙂 But the point of this is that we do need to be those walls. We need to be listening to what is a hot topic, how our brand is mentioned and the sentiments surrounding it. Being that wall with ears is the only way to really know how other people think and feel.

“Don’t leave home without wearing clean underwear.” I always thought this was a strange statement. Why would anyone wear underwear that weren’t clean? But mom always had a fear of being in an accident, and wouldn’t it be terrible if you went to the emergency room and your underwear weren’t just that? (Well this certainly sheds a bit of light on the source of my anxiety, doesn’t it?) But her point was that you always have to be prepared because you never know what is going to happen. We never know what the next big thing is, or what the next viral video might be, or what the topic of the day is. And if we’re not prepared, and not using the right tools (hence the clean underwear!) we’ll easily be left behind. Social media gives us the tools, the conversations, and the connections to people to stay up to date, and then we can follow my mom’s rule.

“Because I said so. That’s why” I can’t even begin to count how many times I got this response to the question, “Why?” And I’m willing to be that every mom has said this at one point or another. But in the world of social media, this one just doesn’t work. Just because you say something and believe it to be true, you can be sure that someone will disagree, and who can now be heard. Loudly. Everywhere. So just because you say something, don’t expect that people are going to buy it and accept it to be the truth. And that’s why we have conversations with people in social media. When it comes to social media for brands, this is a golden rule. We can’t just feed our own agenda to the masses, we need to talk WITH them. Without it, there’s no trust.

So this one is for mom, and I thank her for these lessons and the many others she taught me, even if it did take me years to figure out what they meant! So what did your mom teach you and how does it apply to this social world we’re living in?


Barely a whisper…

We all know the key to social media is engagement and interaction. The corporate speak doesn’t work in this realm, and it’s a great tool for customer service and building brand loyalty. But what happens when there is little to no engagement? Tweeting for five hospitals, I try to tweet interesting, helpful tidbits and post the same kinds of things on Facebook, but in a way that is unique to each hospital. I’ve found that the engagement level is varying greatly though from one hospital to another, and what works for one is clearly not working for another. 

I’ve always said I’m no social media expert, and at this point, I’m feeling like a newbie, trying to wade through the waters to find new things that will work in helping to increase engagement.  I also find myself facing another, more critical decision: if the engagement does not increase, then do we simply call it a day? There’s a part of me that knows that we need to be visible here, and connect with people through these social channels. Yet there’s another part of me that can’t help but feel that we, that I, have failed in this endeavor, and the leaders of the company, of course, want results. HELP!

The best part of social? The ability to connect with others who ARE experts. So I’m calling on my friends in the social media world for some advice and guidance. How do YOU increase your engagement levels when they seem to have reduced to barely a whisper?

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How quickly we adapt

It always amazes me how quickly we adapt to new technologies, and how fast we forget how to do things without it. When I see “there’s a problem, don’t panic” showing up in the lower corner of my TweetDeck dashboard, of course I panic. What else am I going to do? How am I going to find out what is going on? How am I going to tweet out those 140 characters that must be tweeted RIGHT NOW!?! The same is true when our intranet goes down at work. I need to call someone, but I can’t look up their number on the intranet… what do I do? I PANIC!

Technology has made our lives so much easier. I remember the first time I sat down at a PC to do word processing and thought, “This is amazing! No typos that require white out?!?” (Wow, I’m really giving away my age on this post.) And then there was that amazing invention of the fax machine. How cool was that? Of course the Internet was too big to even comprehend, and let’s not forget the predictions of it being a fad!

Yet we’ve quickly adapted to the leaps and bounds that technology has taken and we’ve gobbled up every bit of it and made it a vital part of our lives. So much so, that we’re at a complete loss when something happens to that technology. We’ve become completely dependent on the technologies available to us today.

A few weeks ago, we had a major issue with our network at work, that resulted in many hours of incredible work by our IS department to get the entire network up and running again. But in the midst of that, I found myself in a media crisis needing to write a media statement with no PC available. I reached back into the recesses of my mind and remembered that bizarre machine that was sitting in a lunchroom, virtually unnoticed every day. So here I was, sitting in front of a dinosaur IBM Selectric, with no functioning correction tape, of course, trying to write a media statement about our technology going on the fritz. Ironic, no?

My point? Technology is a wonderful thing, but I think we need to remember that technology fails, and we’d better have a back-up plan. So my question to you… what would you do if the Internet suddenly crashed, just for a day. Would you be able to function and do your normal day’s routine? Can’t wait to hear what you’d do. Comments please!