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Musings on social media and the world as I see it


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More changes in Facebook and “Heartbleed” – what you should know

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Things always change in the world of social media and sometimes it’s hard to keep up. Recently, two things cropped up that deserve more attention than others.

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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.


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Social media and fundraising are a two-way street

In any given webinar or lecture on social media, you’ll hear that if used correctly, it can be an incredible tool for hospitals that want to build a conversation with our patients and the community, hearing what people want and how we can improve our services, offering health information for the general public, communicating timely information in a crisis, building loyalty for our brand and even supporting fundraising efforts.

For the past year, the hospitals of the Lifespan health system have maintained Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as a YouTube channel for the system as a whole. Along the way, we’ve found things that are successful and some things that don’t work so well.

On Twitter, we’ve learned to be less self-promotional, almost to the point of really not promoting ourselves. Instead, we are doing things that will engage more people, like asking questions to start a conversation, responding to conversations, finding people to follow who share common interests, retweeting good health information, and recommending people to follow the Twitter #FollowFriday tradition in which Twitter users on Fridays recommend people to follow for good information.

On Facebook, we are engaging our fans by being much more personal, asking questions, wishing them good weekends, and asking for personal stories. We have found that this really is working to increase engagement with our fans and followers because THAT is the social side of social media. And engagement is the true measure of success, not the number of fans or followers you might have.

As non-profit hospitals, we’ve had some fundraising events that we were promoting through these avenues. Of course it was slow going for a while, but a recent event for Hasbro Children’s Hospital taught us a lesson: not only can you gain more awareness of an event through social media, but in return you are more actively engaged with the community and you gain more fans/followers with whom you can engage. That’s a nice outcome that we didn’t see coming!

Each year, Hasbro Children’s Hospital holds a radiothon in partnership with the Children’s Miracle Network and a fantastic local radio group, Citadel Broadcasting. We of course tweeted the event in advance and posted updates and teasers on our Facebook page. During the event, we were live tweeting, posting photos, and doing regular updates with photos on our Facebook page. Of course we were also linking to the streaming broadcasts of the radiothon on the three radio station websites that were involved in the radiothon and sending those out via Twitter and Facebook.

So what were the results?

This year, the total raised increased by about $50,000 over last year’s total before we launched our Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Can we attribute the growth directly to social media? Well, no, but we can guess that it certainly helped. The more interesting results came with the impact to our social media accounts. While we suspected our social media efforts might help to increase awareness of the radiothon, we didn’t expect that the radiothon would impact our engagement within social media. During the month of the radiothon, the hospital’s Twitter account saw 60 new followers (an 8 percent increase) and had one of its highest months of engagement to date.

More surprising was the Facebook account for the hospital. That month, we increased our fans by 1,077, a 70 percent increase, with 80 percent of those new fans joining us during the radiothon or in the days immediately following it. The personal stories, “thank you’s” and other comments began flooding our fan page, and from that, we have already lined up media stories and potential patient stories for next year’s radiothon.

The biggest gain is the connection we are making with real people. People who have experienced what it is like to have a child who needs the care of a pediatric hospital are telling their own stories honestly and openly. It is no longer about a brand, it’s about people. And that, in a nutshell is what social media is all about–connecting with people.

It’s not always easy to dive into social media, especially for a relatively conservative industry like health care. More hospitals are joining the ranks, and there are some clear leaders out there, but we’re all learning together. And while we can use social media outlets to promote our fundraising events, the return on investment is exponential when you consider that you’re actually meeting the people you care for, and getting a better understanding of why you’re really here–to help people.

So now I’m curious. If you’re using social media, what has your experience connecting with your fans and followers been like? And, if you’re not using social media, what’s holding you back?

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


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Why is it so hard for hospital staff to follow HIPAA rules in social media?

HIPAA is a common term in hospitals. If your hospital or health system is like ours, you spend a lot of time training, reminding and testing all employees on what is covered by HIPAA laws. For the most part, I believe employees understand the law and what they need to do to protect our patients and their privacy. Hospital employees sign agreements and promise to uphold their end of the deal, realizing there will be consequences if there are violations.

But for some strange reason, when it comes to social networks, employees seem to forget they are bound by those same regulations.

There have been numerous reports of breaches of patient privacy through social media outlets lately. Just this week, the LA Times storyreported that staff members were fired from St. Mary Medical Center in California, and another three were disciplined after posting photos of a dying man on Facebook rather than treating him.

In June, Tri-City Medical Center, also in California, terminated five employees and disciplined another after discovering they used “social media to post their personal discussions concerning hospital patients.” The hospital issued a statement on their website apologizing for the breach and how they were addressing it. (Applause for the transparency!)

As disturbing as they are, stories like these and others are popping up in the national news and it’s unsettling for everyone. There is something to learn from this though, and it is not that we need to ban social media from our hospitals. Social media is a powerful, evolving medium that allows us to communicate vital information and to hear from, and engage with, members of our communities. It should not be ignored. In fact, I strongly believe it should be embraced by hospitals as another way to reach out to their communities.

The stories of these breaches simply underscore the vital need for having strong policies in place that address the use of social media within and outside of the hospital. Employees need to know and understand that they are accountable for upholding the HIPAA laws even when they leave the hospital. That includes when they enter chat rooms, social networking sites or even their own blogs. In addition, human resources departments must be on board in recognizing that HIPAA laws extend to the use of social networks and any breaches of patient confidentiality through these means will result in disciplinary action.

Ed Bennett is the director of Web strategy for the University of Maryland Medical System. He also manages a blog which provides a wealth of information on hospitals and social media. The site provides a nice list of publicly published policies. It’s a great resource for hospitals, and can help in developing a new policy or tweaking an existing one to address social media specifically.

I am still confused as to why hospital staff members would ever think it was okay to reveal privileged patient information through any means, especially one as public as social media. Perhaps these changes in the way we communicate call for not only new and revised policies but also for additional training and signed agreements for staff to further understand the ramifications of violating HIPAA through social networks. What are your thoughts?

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


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Allay fears and build loyalty in a crisis through social media

Hospitals are not exempt from the economic woes our country is facing. More and more, we hear of hospitals facing layoffsto address budget deficits. This can undoubtedly cause concerns among patients and members of the community. They may worry about whether they will be able to get the care they need if your hospital appears to be downsizing.

Hospitals that use social media for marketing are often inclined to NOT use these tools during difficult times. Take these two instances:

Let’s look at St. Francis Medical Center in CT. Earlier this year, the hospital laid off 200 of its 3,500 staff, according to this Hartford Courant story. Searching the hospital’s website, I could not find any information on this major news. The hospital also has a Facebook page, although there was nothing posted over the months when the layoffs took place. An article on the Hartford Guardian site indicated that there was a written statement, but I never found any comments directly from the hospital through a Google search.

Last week media reported that UMassMemorial Health Care in Mass. would lay off 350 of its staff. A tour of the system’s website and online newsroom turned up no information on the announcement. While they are not on Facebook, they are on Twitter. A quick glance of their timeline shows no response at all to the news of the layoff, although there were several tweets the day of the Boston Globe story, but not about the hospital’s situation.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, tough times are the perfect opportunity to use social media. Both Twitter and Facebook can serve as customer service tools, a vehicle to promote your quality of care, a way to be transparent with your staff and your community, and a way to allay fears and continue to build loyalty within your online community. It’s also a way to get your message out in your own words.

The use of social media needs to be based on openness and honesty. It’s important to recognize not only the good but the bad. Issuing a statement or press release to the media is fine, but in today’s social media savvy world, people are tweeting and posting on Facebook and leaving comments on news sites about your hospital and the news that was generated.

It’s important that you be part of the conversation and not appear invisible, or appear to be ignoring it. Let’s take the example of Beth Israel Deaconness in Boston earlier this year, when its CEO, Paul Levy, was in the news for a “lapse in judgment.”

Originally, the story played out in the media with written statements and interviews with hospital PR folks. This seemed out of character for Levy, who has been a strong advocate for transparency, on his well known blog, Running a Hospital. In his post called “Going Public,” he stayed true to form and was open and honest about the situation, and gained a lot of respect in return. I, for one, saluted him and was relieved to see that he had not cast his belief in open communication to the wind when confronting a crisis!

I believe that addressing both the good and the bad is vital when it comes to having a presence in social media. It’s critical to continue to have a presence during difficult situations, and respond to concerns. It’s an opportunity to show that you recognize those concerns.

It really is okay to show you’re troubled by the event or situation, just like it’s okay to apologize when mistakes are made. But it’s also a chance to show what you’re doing to address the situation and allay the fears that patients and their families may be having.

What can you do in tough times? Build a page on your website to show what you’re doing to address the situation, use Twitter and Facebook to post information that shows you’re recognizing and addressing the problem, and point people to the information on your website. It’s also an opportunity to encourage feedback. Knowing what people want to know can help you tailor your message and directly address what they are worried about.

It’s time to embrace social media, because that’s where the world is turning for information. Hospitals are no exception.

Have you seen good examples of a hospital using social media in an internal crisis? Share them!

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


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Social media’s evolving role in health care

The past few years have been quite a whirlwind in the communications and marketing field, and the hospital sector is right in the middle of it all. Despite patient privacy and some resistance, social media has taken hold as a vital part of our everyday lives in the world of healthcare and hospital communications.

Its humble beginnings may be traced back to something as simple as a Mayo Clinic video of an adorable couple who played piano in the atrium. I don’t think anyone, including Lee Aase, had any idea that this would grow into something as big as it is, with now over 7 million views.

Now, Aase and the folks at Mayo have become known as leaders in the use of social media in healthcare, and this year launched a first of its kind Center for Social Media, which I’m sure will lead the way in the future.

How hospitals use social media continues to evolve. We’ve come to realize that we can have fun in this technological world while still getting a message across. St. Vincent Medical Center’s Pink Glove Dance video gave the hospital an opportunity to spotlight staff from every area of the hospital while promoting breast cancer awareness. With more than 12 million views, it was so successful, they went ahead and made a sequel. But this one is a compilation from hospitals in the U.S. and Canada, with staff and survivors donning their pink gloves and dancing in the mission to raise awareness and show breast cancer patients they’re not alone. Brilliant!

While not quite as fun, hospitals are also using social media in incredibly practical ways. Scottsdale Healthcare was the first to post ED wait times on a website, and others like the Akron General Health System are also doing this on Twitter and Facebook. Some people have expressed concern about this practice and have written articles like the one in American Medical News(and on iHealthbeat at the previous hyperlink) arguing it could discourage patients from seeking care when there is an extended wait.

Social media and crisis situations seem to be a natural union. The quick, accessible media allow someone within a hospital to post quick updates as information breaks. Some hospitals are to be commended for their clear-thinking and rapid-fire approach to using social media during these times. Those that come to mind are Scott & White, during the Ft. Hood shootings , or Johns Hopkins tweeting and posting updates on their website during a hostage/shooting situation.

Hospitals are now hiring social media managers like Dana Lewis at Swedish. Dana is the perfect person for this position, and in a tweet said she can’t imagine being anywhere else. With the focus on engagement and conversations growing by the day, this is definitely a smart move. Promoting fundraising events is also a natural, because you’ve already got a captive audience of followers.

So what does the future hold? The possibilities are endless.

  • Tomorrow’s Facebook can be a storefront for a hospital complete with secure checkout for cause marketing related sales (think selling Christmas ornaments that benefit the hospital right from your Facebook page!).
  • Find and recruit patients who are willing to tell their stories in videos, or become advocates who can serve as defenders of your reputation when a crisis hits.
  • Use Twitter and Facebook to conduct focus groups on new ads, mission statements, etc.
  • Offer a formal complaint process through Facebook.
  • Use social media as THE internal communications process for staff.
  • Offer mobile apps that allow users to track their status for certain conditions and report directly to their physician (this may actually already be in use).

How else do you see social media evolving among hospitals?

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