Authenticity and Social Networking’s New Social Contract

Authenticity and Social Networking’s New Social ContractHealthcare has used the voice of its patients for a long time in marketing, generally in the form of testimonials.  Social media has put this practice on steroids by providing patients, physicians, administrators and other employees with a bullhorn with which they can shout to the world.

The authenticity and transparency that comes through in social media is very powerful.  Consumers like hearing directly from the source and provide such sources with great credibility.  I often joke in presentations that a statement from your PR department can never win against a comment from It may be unfair, but that’s the world we live in.

As marketers begin wrestling with how to use social media, they sometimes forget it’s the authenticity of the channel that matters, and not merely its potential reach.

Last year we saw this when T.G.I. Friday’s ran its “Fan Woody” campaign.  Rather than finding real enthusiasts to evangelize for the brand, they created a fake person, Woody, and put him on Facebook with free hamburgers to those who friended him.  The campaign was quite successful (who doesn’t want a free burger, after all), but it generated more than its share of angry wall comments and negative press.

There’s an expectation within social media that you’re connecting directly with the individual in the profile.  There’s an implicit social contract in the social networking realm that’s different from what’s expected when you throw a quote in an article or include patient testimonials in your glossy community benefit report.

Sure, some celebrities have ghost twitterers, but it’s usually discovered quickly and can generate genuine anger from followers.

It should go without saying – authenticity can’t be faked.  But it apparently requires saying – so here are a few things you shouldn’t do with your healthcare social media efforts:

  • Don’t invent fake patient personas and have them tweet, write a blog or give them a Facebook page
  • Don’t make up your CEO’s blog/twitter posts.  (I’m ok with ghostwriters to flesh out his/her ideas, but it should be the CEO’s ideas and they should know what they’ve “said” online)
  • Don’t fake-tweet a surgery
  • Don’t have employees provide reviews or comments of your facility or physicians without disclosing their relationship to the organization
  • Don’t allow any social media account to have a “semi-official” status.  It should be clear if this is an official outlet of the organization or an officially personal set of opinions.

(The only exception I see here are accounts set up as clear parody personas.  Have a look at the Weekly Probe or FakeAPStylebook for examples.)

What examples have you seen of “social media gone wrong” that present a lesson we should all learn from?

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This entry was posted in Consumer Expectations, Social Media by Ben Dillon. Bookmark the permalink.
Ben Dillon

About Ben Dillon

Ben’s a big picture type of guy. He loves sharing new ideas in digital marketing, keeping a watchful eye on healthcare industry trends and seeing how it all intersects. A sought-after speaker, writer, blogger and current SHSMD board member, Ben’s an influential voice in healthcare marketing, helping organizations across the country embrace online strategies to engage health consumers. Combine his industry savvy with his background in software development and you can see why he’s also an important member of Geonetric’s software team, ensuring our content management system stays a step ahead of market needs. Ben holds a master’s degree in eBusiness and strategic management from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Michigan. When he’s not traveling and evangelizing, Ben enjoys cooking with his family and playing the Big House with the University of Michigan Alumni marching band.

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