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Healthcare Social Media: Healing or Hurting?

April 20, 2012 11 comments

The Social Health Web

Social web sites are growing as a health care medium. They connect patients with each other and with care givers. Social media are a conduit for patients to share their health concerns and gain knowledge. But they may also be a rumor mill of misinformation.

So far the US healthcare system has been slow to adopt social media for the exchange of health information, leaving patients to find other sources.  Two recent studies show a growing gap between patients’ needs and hospitals’ delivery of a quality social health experience.

Hospitals Not Delivering

A new report by CSC shows US hospitals lag far behind hospitals in countries such as the Netherlands and the UK in the use of social media to deliver health information. According to the study, only 27% of urban hospitals and 10% of rural hospitals in the US deploy social media sites.

Yet according to a report by consulting firm PWC, patients use social sites like Facebook as an important source for health information. Of 1,024 consumers studied, 24% say they post health information on social media sites and 45% said they would use information from social media sites as justification for seeking a second opinion.

Health professionals should be alarmed by these findings. Facebook and Twitter take second guessing physicians’ medical recommendations to a new dimension.

Why anyone would use hundreds of Facebook friends as a sounding board for whether to have surgery is beyond me, but the evidence suggests that it’s happening with more frequency.  And with the ease and anonymity of internet publishing, anyone can present themselves as a medical expert.

Privacy Concerns Versus Information Sharing

Why don’t more hospitals use social media? Concerns about liability and patient privacy are the primary reason. Clearly, the freewheeling give and take of social media commentary interferes with the doctor-patient relationship.

But here’s the problem, patients will seek the information wherever they can find it. We humans are a curious sort. We pay no attention to our health until we get sick. Then we plumb the internet for any source we can find for as much information we can get.

Physicians often spend more time wading through patients’ questions about alternative treatments and self diagnoses than they do in actual treatment. The physician’s role as the sole source of medical information went out of fashion with Marcus Welby, M.D.

It’s a classic case of if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. Why not be seen as the best source of medical information and clinical sharing? It’s unfortunate that aversion to risk prevents hospitals from using social media’s potential for healing by placing the patient at the center a continuum of care through social communities of physicians, case managers, family and friends.

What do you think? Are hospitals obligated to create social media sites and share health-related information with patient communities? Share your comments by clicking on “comments” at the top of the page.

Photo credit: Health in 30

Three Reasons for a Hospital to Advertise

March 20, 2012 7 comments
Is Hospital Advertising Effective?

Why do hospitals advertise? As someone who spent a career making and watching advertising, it seems like a waste of money.

Take a look at hospital ads on YouTube. If you edited the name of the hospital from the commercial, it would be impossible to tell the difference between them. All deliver top-notch healthcare, with world-class doctors and an attentive staff of happy people.

This should be no surprise; all hospitals share the same mission.Their physicians train to the same standards. There is little tangible differentiation at level of the institution in the hospital world.  If there was, you would be hearing about it on the evening news and soon they would close their doors.

Yes, there are teaching hospitals and community hospitals and regional hospitals, but they compete with others of the same ilk on the same dimensions.

When to Advertise

In my view, there are only three legitimate reasons for hospitals to advertise:

  • Change of ownership.  The hospital is obligated to tell the communities it serves of any change in ownership. With it may come enhancements to facilities which improve the patient experience or a renewed commitment to serve the community. Corporate ads like this are often full of  platitudes. During my agency career we used to say corporate advertising is where the rubber meets the sky. Try to stick with the facts.
  • Marketing a center of excellence.  These ads work because there is a tangible, differentiated benefit to the patient. Centers of excellence usually are excellent.  And the halo they create enhances the overall image of the hospital.
  • Improve the patient mix.  Hospitals in blighted neighborhoods are often burdened with high costs of treating the uninsured, and shrinking subsidies for paying for that care. Often, these hospitals deliver superior outcomes treating chronic disease states because of the problems of their populations. Targeted, program specific spending in adjacent neighborhoods can revitalize a hospital’s profitability.

My advice to hospitals considering an ad campaign outside those purposes…scrap it and put your money to work engaging with the communities you serve. It’s more work, but it actually demonstrates the “commitment” that is too often spoken of in those commercials.

The Act of Becoming: Branding on Social Media

March 15, 2012 7 comments
Social Influencers

Malcolm Gladwell wrote The Tipping Factor. He showed that trends are not spread by the many, but by a few influential connectors.  Marketers identify and leverage these connectors or social influencers to build their brands in the social marketplace.  As  brands engage with these key customers and taste makers, what are they hearing? The social marketplace is no place for brands who don’t have a firm grasp of their identity. Social media marketing is an exacting science and but it can also be a rude awakening.

The Exacting Science Part

Like the ripples of water from a rock thrown in a pond, marketers identify each degree of separation and influence. There are  power influencers, idea starters, amplifiers, etc.

Marketing agencies and research firms have developed innumerable measurement and analysis tools. From buzz analysis to tweet and blog level,  Klout to PeerIndex we know who to court and woo. We seek favor for the brand with a blog or podcast mention. We know the demography and social media profile of  second level influencers, the “brand ambassadors” and on to the next. Let the word of mouth begin.

The beauty of social media marketing is that you can learn which programs, messages and offers work and which don’t.  ROI is a snap.  For new brands and small marketing budgets, it’s the only way to go. For many big brands, it’s an effective way to keep their customer base. Ford Motor Company is revitalizing their brand with an improved product line and great social marketing.

The Rude Awakening Part

The world of social media has no tolerance for executive, top down brands.  Traditional brand messaging does not resonate in this world. Today’s consumers are on information overload. They want to make brand decisions on their own terms, filtered through their network.

Consumers use social media to create a cultural context that has meaning for them, a “collective I”, as Alex Wipperfurth describes it.  The brand must become something with meaning and authenticity to take part in that world. Who are you and what do you stand for?  It’s surprising, but many companies don’t really know.

Luxury brands that rely on cache have not done well in the democratic arena of social. Campaigns with even a hint of controversy can go viral negative in days. The California Milk Board’s “PMS” campaign polled positive, but stirred a firestorm of negative social media backlash. Relevance and resonance displace reach as the prescription for success in social media marketplace.

To quote Mr. Wipperfurth again, “It’s no longer about positioning…it’s about taking a position.”

Please let me know your thoughts by clicking on the “Leave a Comment” link at the top of the post.

Story Time on Facebook

March 1, 2012 1 comment
Facebook’s New Marketing Platform: Big Changes for Users

Today, Facebook introduced its new offering called Facebook Premium to advertisers at its Facebook Marketing Conference. They added Sponsored Stories to Brand Pages. Facebook wants advertisers to engage with fans, to tell their brand story.

Up to now, we had to “like” a brand to get exposure to each promotion.  Not very engaging, except to promotion enthusiasts. This feature has kept my Facebook News Feed remarkably free of ads.

Facebook Premium inserts brand stories on the News Feeds of fans of a brand, next to news from their family and friends. You say you are a fan of Target stores? You get Target stories between news tidbits from your college buddies.

Bedtime Stories from Mountain Dew

Storytelling was a hot topic in social marketing circles this past year, but we didn’t see much of it. Now, I fear a festival of brand storytelling is about the begin. I wonder to what depths brand marketers will sink to engage me with their story.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good story. Moby Dick knocked me out. But what kind of stories will I hear from Mountain Dew?

My last post, “Mission-Driven Social Media” praised the Mayo Clinic for using its founding mission as inspiration for its social media strategy.  The CEO told a great story about how the Mayo brothers reinvented medicine in a way to build a network of care around the patient.  This became group medical practice.  They shared this new idea by travelling the world to tell how it worked. You can’t tell a more authentic brand story.

The question is, how many authentic-feeling brand stories can marketers conjure up? According to one report on The Next Web, “Facebook’s vision for marketers is that brands will be able to interact with customers in ways just as rich and dynamic as family and friends.” Maybe some fans will come to like their brands more than family and friends.

Agency response

I read a post in Forbes today from Jamie Tedford.  He’s CEO and founder of social media agency Brand Networks. He says, “All brands have a story.” His agency banished the word “posts” from their lexicon and replaced it with “stories”.  They reorganized account teams around Story Planners. They use analytics to figure out which stories resonate.

Sounds like a plan. I’m sure it will work…for a while and for some brands. If things go as usual in agency-land, this will get overdone. Like tourists on a whale watch, everyone will rush to one side of the boat. Brand managers – don’t trial and error this to death. Your fans are your best customers. This has the potential to wear on the user and create blow back.

Oh and one more thing. Facebook also announced that once users log off the site, ads and promos will flood the page before it closes – on desktop, mobile and tablet. Wake me when it’s over.

Mission-Driven Social Media

February 28, 2012 7 comments

A few years ago I took a consulting assignment for an incoming college dean.  My job – write the school’s new communications plan.  In my first meeting I asked what the school’s mission was.  “Every college and university has basically the same mission,” she said.  I explained that a unique mission is key to a high quality communications program.

There was an effort among the senior faculty to write a mission statement but it became the product of consensus.  I’ve learned it takes a lot of hard work to create a mission statement, particularly if you’re not a founding father.

It was a missed opportunity to create something powerful.  Mission-driven communications integrate naturally; stories gain context.  They are the basis of great brands like IBM and Apple.

I remembered that time when I learned about a unique and powerful social media strategy at the Mayo Clinic, The Center for Social Media.  A video presentation by CEO John Noseworthy, M.D.  introduces the center as extending their founders’ mission, now over 100 years old.  Drs. William and Charles Mayo wrote, “The best interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered and in order that the sick have the benefit of advancing knowledge, union of forces is necessary.”

Dr. Noseworthy explains how that mission came to life in the early years of the Mayo clinic, “It drove the Mayo brothers to invent the concept of group medical practice at a time when the notion was considered a breach of physicians’ individual responsibility.” They used that concept to create other best practices and shared them with physicians around the world.

How does this tie in with social media? Social media are a great way to assure that the patient receives a continuum of coordinated care.

One early Mayo innovation was the unified patient medical record. “It’s goal is to build a network around the patient.” says Dr. Noseworthy. That is the opportunity for social media. Networks of physicians, support staff and other patients may improve outcomes when coordinated through the clinic.

Lee Aase is the director of the center.  In a “Conversations on Health Care” podcast, Mr. Aase details the many ways in which the center’s programs define excellence in patient centered care through social media.  In each case, the linkage to the Mayo Clinic mission is clear to see.

Visit the center’s website, see the video blogs from physicians, read the patient stories. There is nothing slick or artificial. An aura of authenticity surrounds this program.  This its true in part because of its connection to the clinic’s mission.  Other academic medical centers have similar programs and they are well executed.  But the visceral connection to the institution is often missing.  The whole is lesser than the sum.

Well done Mayo Clinic.

Photo credit: Salvatore Vuono
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