Rob Curley, all-around geek and President and Executive Editor of Greenspun Interactive, the new-media division of the Las Vegas Sun had his now obligatory keynote speech at the Healthcare Internet Conference (this is his third or fourth time, I believe). As always, it was a treat: great ideas, tremendous passion for his work, and fabulous insights. And not everyone can use pornography as a punch line repeatedly in a presentation and get away with it, though maybe you can if you’re from Vegas!
But I felt like it might be worthwhile to translate some of the ideas into actionable thoughts for healthcare experts, because, well, hospitals are not newspapers. And it might be easy to draw the wrong lessons from his great presentation.
For example, you almost certainly do not need his “real time balls” visualization of site traffic (though it would impress your IT people!).
Here’s what I came away with from Rob’s presentation:
1. You need to have balls. Fight good fights and take on tough targets.
Can you imagine the pressure on the Las Vegas Sun from some of their key advertisers – the major hospitals in that area – to keep from pointing out that those same hospitals are covering up the fact that they’re killing people? Or the sensitivity of taking on the local school system when you’re writing critical stories about where your kids go to school? You can’t accuse Rob and the LVS of shying away from a fight!
Look, nobody makes a splash (or wins the industry’s most coveted awards) by being timid. You need to get things done, things that matter. Right. Now. If there’s someone in your way, it’s likely worth the risk to you to take them on.
Perhaps it’s your boss that’s in the way. Perhaps it’s a physician who doesn’t like computers (or one who thinks you need some Foursquares with your Twitters). Perhaps it’s your IT department that won’t let you have access to Facebook and you have to sneak over to the coffee shop across the street to do your social media campaign. It doesn’t matter who the obstacle is, you have to fight this, and not acquiesce or just let it flounder. Be the squeaky wheel. You should be leaving this conference with all the ammunition you need to make the case that you know what you’re doing. If you’re not, you’re not asking the right questions in the sessions. It’s there for the taking.
Marketing teams in most hospitals aren’t usually in a place to push others around. Often it’s marketing on the receiving end of everyone else’s wish lists. But why not turn the tables a bit? Take the steering wheel for a while and drive the organization forward! There are probably no other departments at your hospital at a conference talking about engaging with patients on social media or effective mobile strategies for healthcare. You are the expert at your organization. Act like it, and take the fight to the naysayers.
2. Data is not insight.
You (probably) don’t have a team of analysts to look at Google Analytics data weekly, much less with cute real-time ball diagrams. There is no lack of data out there, or analytics tools that can crunch the numbers for you. I really liked the way Rob’s team made decisions based on real data and real insights into what the data means:
||Action to Exploit the Insight
|We get very different traffic patterns in the evening than we do during our peak period from 8-1, the types of articles that rank highly are very different.
||In the evenings, our visitors are often multitasking while doing something comparatively pleasant, like watching TV, and don’t want to be reading the usual bad news.
||Develop a time-of-day filtered version of the site, “Las Vegas After Dark” that focuses content on the types of content most appropriate for those visitors.
|Users on different platforms look at different content.
||Users on iPads and tablets are “lean backward” users and tend to be more leisurely oriented than those visiting from a standard PC/Mac.
||Create appropriate form factors for mobile devices that lets users see the stories most appropriate for them.
|Our articles about food get great traffic.
||Eating: Everyone does it. Everyone needs to find it somewhere. Everyone has opinions it. Everyone has favorite places to do it. Or as Rob says, “Food is the new porn.”
||We can feature food related content every day and guide readers to new eateries in Las Vegas.
Most hospital Web teams, though, are focused on the data side of the equation, and too often the meaning of the data gets lost in the glee of presenting numbers that “look good”. The insight part – the stuff you have to work hard to get – is the component that is necessary for you to exploit to accomplish your organization’s goals.
Your focus is not visits or traffic or eyeballs or stickiness – and neither is Rob’s. Ultimately the Las Vegas Sun wanted to make a difference with journalism in peoples’ lives – to “serve and save” their readers. It is the same for you: traffic and visits are not real measures of value, they’re just a means to an end. In your case it is likely a combination of volume growth and ultimately making people healthier. It is too easy to stray from these goals and to get focused on the data that’s easy to measure.
What’s the last true blinding flash of insight you remember from looking at your analytics software? How did it drive your strategy? You have to dig deeper, take some leaps, make some guesses, and test whether they’re right or not, in order to make big things happen.
3. Tell stories in new ways.
Even with explosive, controversial stories, Rob’s team didn’t tell them in traditional ways. For the Do No Harm series, they posted all of their source materials, generated photo and video essays, constructed elaborate visualization animations to make sense of complex data, and told patient stories in written, audio and video form.
Hospitals happen to be fountains of amazing stories – life saving heroism happens every day in every hospital! But you wouldn’t know it by looking at most hospital websites.
Certainly not every story has a dashing hero-doctor leaping onto a patient being carted down a hallway. Some stories are more mundane, like healthcare quality data. Boring stuff like MRSA infection rates. That’s not sexy, is it? It’s hard to dress that up and make it interesting.
Except that’s what the Do No Harm series is about: hospital quality! And it’s shown in a compelling way, with a point of view, that tells a great story:
There’s no reason your quality data has to be presented in a boring way, either. Show it visually, be creative. Think about the point of view you’re trying to convey and tell an exciting story!
4. Focus your time on the big stories that matter.
Unlike most newspapers, the Las Vegas Sun has been focused on committing outrageous acts of journalism. The drivel you likely see in your hometown newspaper is quite different from the exposés from Rob’s team: they’re focusing lots of energy on the really big ideas.
You have only so much time to devote to this stuff. There are shiny objects everywhere from all over the place, so you need to stay focused like a laser on the stuff that matters. You do not want to be spending your time on stupid content management system issues or fixing servers. You need to be building great things for your patients and visitors, period. Stuff that’s amazing and different. This implies you have a strong infrastructure to start from that enables you to shift your focus to higher level initiatives*.
Look, you’re going to leave this conference with a hundred ideas. But you should focus your energy on one kickass idea. When you get back to the office, put your notes about the other 99 ideas in a folder, and focus on your one priority to finish by the end of 2011. What will it be?
You’ve probably heard the Steve Jobs quote: “Look in the mirror every day and ask, ‘If today were the last day of my life would I want to be doing what I am doing today’?” – Exactly. Don’t waste time on the stupid stuff – focus on the big stories and the big ideas that matter.
* If you don’t – if you’re spending your time fighting with the basics – you should call me. As an example, you should be able to do Rob’s concept of splitting out sites specifically to improve cross-domain linking to improve Google’s rankings today, with the right partner. We’ve been doing that for several years now. You could be focused on big picture issues but perhaps you’re spending time tweaking your calendar so it works right or installing the latest patch for your CMS?