Last week I had the great pleasure to attend the Mayo-Ragan Healthcare Social Media Conference in Rochester, MN and I found myself amazed at how far some healthcare organizations have come in their use of social media. However, while there are trailblazers, many more healthcare organizations are still trying to figure out how the proliferation of channels fits into their communications strategy, and how to be effective given their limited resources and ownership of social.
The conference format was heavy on case studies, but often light on models and theory, so what follows are my personal insights from the sessions:
- Distribution is easy but content is where the value’s at. Today, every company is a media company. We’ve heard this for a few years now, but how many of our organizations are living that statement? The conference’s strong focus on brand journalism seemed odd to me given the group’s social media orientation. After attending the meeting, the reason for this is now clear. No consumer shares information written as highly sanitized corporate-speak. In a permission-based communications world, we need to rethink tone, voice and approach to the content we develop. Benchmark your stories against organizations that do consumer communications fantastically well. Produce videos like Dateline, write articles like WebMD (or Huffington Post) and push that content out through your channels. Consumers will react very differently.
- You don’t need to be everywhere. The rush of new channels emerging is overwhelming. On the one hand, you don’t need to be present and engaged everywhere – pick a few channels and do them well. On the other hand, there’s a great opportunity to leverage new channels on your own terms – use them the way that you want. I moderated a roundtable presentation that I thought of as the “shiny objects” session. While Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even Pinterest have become fairly mainstream, we talked about the up-and-comers in the form of Instagram, Vine and infographics. It was great to see healthcare organizations experimenting with these, but they didn’t need to make a tremendous commitment to the platform for it to be useful. Sure Instagram has its own social network baked in, but that need not be part of your strategy. Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital used Instagram as a way to share live photos from a surgery because it was an easy way to share to Facebook and Twitter, not because people might find the images on Instagram itself.
- Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it doesn’t require investment. The tools of social media are cheap or free. The costs of distributing content are approaching zero but these platforms require a commitment of time and resources nonetheless. Organizations are talking about paying big bucks to develop high-quality content (as much as $10-15k for great video spots) so they can share it over these free networks. Building networks of followers requires staff or partners to produce a sustained effort sharing valuable information and insights as well as engaging with followers and influencers.
- Just ‘cause it’s social doesn’t mean you don’t need to hussle. Social media can be rather a lot like PR. Sure you can blindly fire off press release after press release hoping that someone will pick up the story, but your success rate is better when you know the reporters, build relationships and pitch them angles that fit their beat and style. Dropping content on Twitter is no different – sure it might get picked up, but it works better if you’re pitching news outlets and social media influencers. Using social as a path to coverage in traditional media requires good application of traditional media relations.
- Authenticity requires authenticity. Social media is about people connecting with people. Consumers follow brands, but they typically engage with the individuals and personalities behind and around those brands. The result is more organizations working to empower their people to use social media to be part of the conversation from administrators to front-line staff and all manner of clinical specialists. In the past, status amongst clinicians came from their peers and from publishing in highly regarded but consumer-unfriendly journals. In the future, status will increasingly come from sharing insights publicly and engaging directly with patients and consumers around healthcare topics. We’ve seen up to this point that not engaging in the consumer discussion cedes the conversation to the Jenny McCarthy’s of the world to spread disinformation!
We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go. The successful organizations in the social space are past the social media hype and have started using them as tools in the overall media mix. As communications professionals, much of our job now shifts from direct communication to one of education and empowerment – encouragement over control. In the end, social media becomes part of everyone’s job!