Just my two cents

Musings on social media and the world as I see it


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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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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. ūüôā 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?


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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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Connectivity

I was talking to my mother this morning. My parents recently switched their cable/phone/internet provider and were having all kinds of trouble, including billing issues. They were also billed by their insurer for shots that should have been covered. In both cases, when they tried to get help from the company, they were greeted by the ever-so-popular “press 1 for…” And of course, in both cases, many minutes were spent attempting to actually speak to a live person.

That got me thinking about our “connected” world. Technology has created a lifestyle that generations before us never thought possible. We may not have the hover cars of the Jetsons (yet, though I’m still waiting for them!), but our techie lives have created a generation that is always accessible, available, and in contact. We’re connecting through posts on Facebook with friends, family and, in some cases, customers and clients. We’re constantly checking and responding to e-mails. Tweets can inform millions what we think, how we feel, or what we ate for breakfast. FourSquare is telling everyone where we are. We can be reached by phone wherever we go because they’ve taken on the American Express tag line–we¬†don’t leave home without them. We are connected like no generation before us.

This same technology is allowing companies to reach out to customers and connect with them, frankly, honestly, openly, without the corporate messaging. It’s a whole new playing field in which everyone with a keyboard has a voice, and will be heard. And it also gives us an excuse to forget how things were done in the past, because we are so focused on using all those tools that are available to us today. We can e-mail a thought to a client at 2 a.m knowing they’ll receive it first thing in the morning. We can respond to a customer who didn’t like our services through a tweet while we’re running to a meeting. We can hold meetings through web cams from across the country. We can watch the video of a family reunion that we were unable to attend.¬†This connectivity has freed us and given us more ways of interacting with so many people in our lives.

But it’s important to remember that a post on Facebook is no replacement for a hug from a parent, laughs shared over a glass of wine with a dear friend, or a handshake with a client. The connectivity has given us a virtual world, but it’s not a replacement for in-person experiences. Those can never be replaced.


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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:¬†Meeting 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.