Just my two cents

Musings on social media and the world as I see it


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Healthcare checks into Foursquare

I have to admit I am NOT a Foursquare user–that is, until today, when I signed up to do some research for this post. For those who don’t know about Foursquare, it’s a location-based application that allows you to build a network of friends through your email, Facebook and Twitter accounts to see where your friends are, and also “check in” at venues, restaurants, airports, malls, etc. (Here’s a great overview.)

Either I’m in the minority–I’m not as tied to my phone as I could be–or I’m just too old, but I never understood the need to continually proclaim my whereabouts or why anyone would care (unless they wanted to rob my house when I announced I was at the airport waiting for a flight). I guess for people who have active social lives or travel a lot it can be fun and helpful, but I don’t fit into that category. I also have to admit I get a bit annoyed when Twitter feeds or Facebook walls are crowded with “I’m at Joe Schmo’s Bar and Grill with 4 friends.”

But when I saw Foursquare posts in Twitter searches that showed people checking in at our hospitals, I became a bit more interested. Now, I’m glad these posts show up in Twitter and Facebook feeds, because I can respond to anyone who’s checking in to make sure things are OK, or just send best wishes. It’s actually resulted in some nice conversations.

I’ve also come to understand why businesses care about this particular social network. It’s a virtual gold mine when it comes to finding out who your customers are and building loyalty/rewards programs for them. Things like “get a free sandwich after your fifth check-in with us” at your local deli or “get an upgrade to first class after 100 check-ins on our airline” (ha!) can easily build customer loyalty. It can also generate testimonials from devoted customers who are tweeting, Facebooking and Foursquaring the brand name to their network of friends–and we all know the most trusted form of advertising is recommendations from family or friends. From this standpoint, I completely understand the benefit of this unique social network as a marketing tool.

Yet, it still eluded me how Foursquare could benefit the hospital sector. Sure, Facebook and Twitter make sense, but how could a hospital possibly use this tool? Then I saw a post by Ed Bennett on his Found in Cache blog, where he notes that while not all hospitals have claimed their venue on Foursquare, “almost every U.S. hospital has a Foursquare venue.” In Ed’s ever-expanding look at hospitals using social media, he has added a list for Foursquare, noting the number of unique individuals who have checked in at a hospital, the total number of check-ins, and whether or not the hospital has claimed its venue.

According to Ed’s list, as of January, around 60 hospitals had claimed their venue. That’s a very small percentage. But here’s what important to note: if you’re a hospital and your venue hasn’t been claimed, that doesn’t stop people from checking in. More importantly, they can leave comments.

I have not yet claimed the venues for the five hospitals for which I manage social media. But when I looked at the venues, to my horror, people had commented–both good and bad–after checking in at some of them. This is something I’ve totally missed until now, and since I’m committed to responding to all mentions of the hospitals, I’m breaking my own rules by not being involved in this network.

The problem with Foursquare is that unless you check into a venue, you don’t know what that particular venue is doing in terms of customer awards; so I still remain stumped as to how this can benefit hospitals. But as I mulled this last week, I saw this tweet from Shawn Wells at Sarasota Memorial in Florida (@SMHCS on Twitter):
“Next time you visit #Sarasota Memorial Hospital, check in on #foursquare and have a #Starbucks on us. http://4sq.com/igFS84 #bradenton.”

Brilliant, I thought. Getting people to check in helps you identify people who are coming to your hospital, who may be commenting on your service or treatment, and who may be recommending your hospital to friends and family–or maybe not. It’s a way to build yet another relationship with someone in your community. The light bulb over my head finally went on. Thanks, Shawn!

A further search on Twitter for “Foursquare and hospital” found a few tweets, but that was the only one I found coming from a hospital asking users to check in with them. So, that leaves me still wondering how other hospitals are using Foursquare as part of their overall social media strategy.

If you’re using Foursquare at your hospital, please let us know what you’re doing and how it’s working out. Either leave a comment, or feel free to email me at njean@lifespan.org . I’m sure I’m not in the minority of being very inquisitive about this network and how it can help hospitals as we continue to expand our reach into social media.

In the meantime, I will start checking into places I visit to see what happens. And I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I’m not checking into a hospital as a patient and no one is robbing my house.

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


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The art of hospital blogging

We are behind the curve. I hate to admit that, but since we have not yet launched blogs for our hospitals, I have to face that fact. Many would say that launching a blog should be the first step in a social media plan. There’s good reasoning behind that…

Blogs are important for hospitals for a myriad of reasons. First, with a dwindling media market and very few reporters who are dedicated to covering the health beat, a blog is a perfect way to tell your story the way you want it told. Want to highlight a patient success story? Put it on your blog. Want to help with recruitment for a hard-to-fill position in the hospital? Have a guest blogger explain a day in the life of working in that job. Want to talk about a hot news topic? Include a column by one of your doctors or nurses, thereby getting the word out to the public on what they need to know while positioning your doctor or nurse as the go-to expert on the subject. Want comments, feedback and engagement? Just ask for it. Photos, videos, podcasts? The more, the merrier!

It makes so much sense for a hospital to have a blog as an important part of its marketing efforts and brand loyalty. And it should definitely be considered a key tactic within an overall strategic marketing plan. As I began to develop plan to launch our own blogs, I of course had to do some research to see what other hospitals are doing. As always, I started at my go-to place, the blog of Ed Bennett, Found in Cache. (Seriously, I don’t know what I would do without Ed!) He reports that as of January, 106 hospitals had a blog.

So what are they doing?

They’re getting media placements from good blog posts.
In a recent webinar, Lee Aase of Mayo Clinic reported that sometimes blogs are incredibly helpful in getting a story into mainstream media, and he cited a video they shot with a professional baseball player who had a procedure done at Mayo. While traditional media were reluctant to do the story based on a pitch (pardon the pun), they later landed several placements in major media outlets. First, they had the baseball player’s story, then they had a follow-up story of a woman who learned about the procedure through Twitter and Facebook, had the procedure, and met the player! The result was great stories featured in major media outlets. By the way, Mayo Clinic has a total of eight (yes, eight!) blogs, all designed for different audiences. That’s more than I could even begin to manage, but nevertheless, amazing.

They’re telling their patients’ stories, and more.
The Children’s Hospital Boston’s Thrive blog is a wonderful mix of patient stories, a variety of medical topics and safety issues for kids. It has posts from the “blogger in residence,” a former Boston Globe reporter, as well as three physicians who blog regularly (one is the medical communications editor), and the hospital’s director of family and patient communications. The blog features timely posts calling attention to major news stories featuring Children’s Hospital Boston. The Thrive blog also includes a great section called One Patient’s Story, devoted exclusively to patient stories told from the viewpoint of the bloggers, clinicians, or parents, and includes many photos.

Life in a Medical Center is the University of Maryland Medical Center’s blog. It is designed for “patients, employees and friends of UMMC” and contains a nice mix of patient stories, health advice and feature articles on different programs. The bloggers are a diverse group of web writers from UMMC–clinicians, experts and patients themselves. At UMMC, they also use their blog to share great stories, and many are from the perspective of the patient or the parent of a young patient. Who wouldn’t want to read a story about a 14-month old with a MRSA infection, told from the point of view of the terrified parent?

They’re keeping it fresh.
In order for a blog to be successful, new content must be created regularly, at least once a week, as recommended by Lee Aase in his social media pyramid. Unlike a hospital website, which tends to be more static, a blog needs to be regularly updated to keep people coming back to read it, and of course to leave comments. This can be daunting for small hospitals or small communications departments that already handle many other duties. Given this, it’s understandable why blogs are the least used social medium for hospitals.

What are some other benefits of blogs? You can include your Twitter feeds right on your blog page, link to your hospital website for more info, and, of course, create your editorial calendar well in advance to align with your overall communications/marketing strategy and meet the community’s needs.

So why aren’t more hospitals (like us!) using a blog? Is it the resources and time, or is it something else? Interested to hear your feedback.

(The post was written for and originally appeared on www.hospitalimpact.org)


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Patient complaints: To delete or not to delete, that is the question

When we decided to add social media to our arsenal of healthcare marketing tools, we knew there was an inherent risk in doing so. We understood the potential of negative comments appearing on a Facebook wall, or a disgruntled patient tweeting about how many hours they’ve spent in our busy emergency department. But when it actually happens, it’s unsettling nonetheless.

In my own experience, we sailed along happily on our hospital Facebook pages for quite a while until one day we found a post that identified a doctor by name, and not in a flattering way. Thus began a series of many meetings and discussions and ultimately, the development of a protocol to address such negative postings.

As the hospital’s representative in the social media world, I understand that we need to expect these posts, and part of me feels that deleting a post is simply censorship. Deleting a post goes against the grain of social media, where people expect to have their say and be heard. Another part of me, however, understands that a doctor’s reputation is being called into question by one unhappy patient. And that is exactly why you need a policy for what is acceptable and what is not. But just having a policy isn’t everything. Let me explain.

Our policy contains some very straightforward information that nearly anyone can understand, followed by the more formal, legal jargon. Included is a section that indicates a user should not post anything that is “abusive, harassing, embarrassing, tortuous, defamatory, obscene, libelous,” etc. Seems clear, right? Well, we learned those words are very subjective. In my opinion, the post was none of those. In the doctor’s opinion, however, it was, and the doctor also questioned whether there was a legal avenue to investigate if the comment remained online.

So, what did I do? I listened to our department’s leader, of course, but I also listened to the doctor. Was it right that her name was being smeared on a public social site? Of course not, but the same could be done by a patient writing on a personal blog, writing on his or her own Facebook page, or going to the news with a sexy story about how he or she did not get the care that she felt was required.

In any case, it opened our eyes to the subjective nature of the policy, and it also led to a protocol being developed so that in the future, if a member of the hospital staff is identified by name in a way that COULD be considered as “abusive, defamatory, embarrassing…”, then the post would be removed and the user would be notified that the post was deleted because it went against the policy. The protocol, however, does allow for negative posts about the hospital in general or a particular department to remain online.

It was an interesting experience, and one that happened again just a few weeks later on another of our Facebook pages. This time it was a lot easier to recognize that it wasn’t censorship, but protecting the reputation of an individual physician. And I am quite happy that if I were on vacation, any member of the team who was covering for me would know exactly how to handle negative postings because of the protocol we developed.

But I’d be very interested to hear what other hospitals are doing. So what say you: To delete or not to delete? Do you agree with our approach?

(Written for and originally posted on www.hospitalimpact.org)


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So I lied…so much for not talking about social media!

In my first post, I said I didn’t feel like I had enough expertise to focus on social media. But tonight’s post is about just that!

I’ve been working in the social media arena for over a year now, and I’ve seen the power it has… from building brand awareness to getting information out, to taking the pulse of a brand’s reputation. But the REAL power of social media is in the connections — meeting people and sharing a meaningful interaction. Coming from the PR and communications side of healthcare for many years, this is pretty new to me, and is really my favorite part. I just want to share something that happened today, because it’s the inspiration for this post.

Today, I posted a status update on the children’s hospital Facebook fan page, asking for fans to contact me if they would like to help us spread the word about the hospital through media or fundraising by telling their story. I was contacted very soon afterward by a woman who told me a heart-wrenching story about the extensive medical care her twins have received. I was so amazed at the conviction of this woman to go out of her way to help the hospital. She is dealing with some very serious medical issues with her kids, yet she is organizing a fundraiser for the hospital and is more than happy to tell the story of what the hospital has done to help her beautiful twins. She even shared a picture of these adorable kids with me.

Therein lies the TRUE power of social media:┬áMeeting people you otherwise wouldn’t have and sharing a conversation, learning something new, and getting a good feeling from what you are doing, knowing that in a small way, it’s making a difference.