How many times have you broached the topic of social media with your CEO and you could almost feel the block wall being built as you spoke the words? Many hospital CEOs are hesitant to undertake social media initiatives, and for some valid reasons.
Hospital CEOs voice many concerns: Can they engage in social media and still be in compliance with HIPAA? Will the new task take too much time away from an already busy staff? Will social networking sites, like Facebook, become distractions and whittle away productivity? Will an older population–which is a high percentage of patients–ever use social media? And we’ve all heard the stories about that maverick employee blogger who disclosed information that the hospital wasn’t ready to disclose. The concerns surrounding social media are many and, if you are working for a hesitant CEO, you’ve heard those and probably a few more.
To help foster acceptance of social media strategy, consider positioning social media as a tool within a broader public relations strategy and connect the outcomes to the PR program rather than the tools.
Pave the Way for the Unfamiliar with the Familiar
One way to help foster acceptance of social media at your hospital is to position it as an integral part of your public relations plan. This means you do not announce it as a new initiative, but simply as part of the PR effort.
I hope none of my public relations colleagues take offense to my describing PR as an “old dog” in the title, but I use the term with much affection. I’m a dog lover. I view dogs as loyal and dependable. An old dog (like mine) is proven; you know when you can trust her (to stay in the yard and not wander) and when you can’t (never leave your chicken dinner unattended).
Use an Old Dog to Introduce New Tricks
For years, public relations has been accepted and valued by CEOs. PR has its limitations, but most integrated marketers recognize that a strong public relations effort has many benefits. PR can enhance credibility, build awareness, help assess the needs of key audiences, and even change perceptions or behaviors.
CEOs are familiar with PR. Most CEOs embrace public relations activities as useful endeavors. In some cases, it is a CEO who requests that press releases be written to announce new facilities or announce the sponsorship of community events. As part of their PR efforts, many hospitals offer educational programs or support groups to foster education or understanding. Most hospitals have a speakers’ bureau to introduce key personnel or new services to key constituents.
Public relations is the “old dog” in hospital marketing. A loyal and dependable method for providing visible, and often measurable, results. CEOs are familiar with it, comfortable with it and appreciate it. If your CEO is hesitant about social media initiatives, public relations can serve as a catalyst to launch social media efforts.
Start Where You Already Are
Begin by introducing social media tools as part of an overall strategy to enhance something you’ve already been doing. Say, for example, like Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, you have a media page that chronicles the radio, television and print stories that have run about your hospital, along with the listing of news releases. By simply building in a “comment” feature, you would be better able to assess which stories spark the community’s interest and begin a community conversation.
If you notice, for example, that the radio spot by Dr. Marc Sampson featuring advice on sports medicine for “Weekend Warriors” elicits many comments and downloads, perhaps this is an area where you can seek enhancement. Your public relations plan could set a goal to enhance the credibility and awareness of your hospital’s orthopedic services. To fulfill this goal, you can include in your PR plan the creation of a “Weekend Warrior” program to enhance outreach to those over 30 who are involved in recreational sports.
Keep the Focus Local
Focus on local results. For example, with our Weekend Warrior program, we might kick-off the plan with a free preventive injury clinic held at the local gym. However, we would enhance and support that program with a Facebook page where tips and advice could be easily accessed 24/7.
Your plan could also include an extended web page that offers a free, downloadable speakers bureau to help groups, like adult basketball leagues, easily locate speakers on topics such as preventing knee injuries or recognizing concussions. The web page could offer an open bulletin board where teams and leagues could post registration information or recruit new players. A YouTube channel could also be part of the Weekend Warrior PR educational outreach plan offering access to videos of injury prevention exercises specifically designed for weekend warriors.
Focus on Program Outcomes, Not Tool-Based Outcomes
As the Weekend Warrior program progresses, we’ll collect data. (Remember, CEOs love measured results and these are easily available as part of social media tools.) Measurement fosters credibility with CEOs if it is focused on the program’s outcome.
For example, in the case of our Weekend Warrior program, the outcome should focus on enhancing the credibility and awareness of your hospital’s orthopedic services by an interested audience who will most likely need those services in the future. The outcome should not focus on creating the Facebook page or YouTube channel – those are simply tools to help you achieve your goal. You can guide the report so it reads, “XXX new people accessed orthopedic information through the Weekend Warrior Program,” and then break it down by attendees of the free clinic, Facebook members, downloads from websites, etc. By reporting on the audience as a whole, it clearly positions social media as a tool used to meet the PR objective – which is very different from the objective being the social media initiative itself.
Engagement is Imperative
In time, your role as the catalyst that helped to engage your hospital in social media will likely be rewarded. PR strategists agree that engagement in social media is crucial. Brian Solis, author of Engage, wrote some bold words for those who undertake public relations in his “Social Media Manifesto.”
“The evolution of social media is also forcing an incredible transformation in PR and corporate communications – its most dramatic to date; even more significant than the introduction of radio, television and motion pictures.
“With the injection of social tools into the mix, people now have the ability to impact and influence the decisions of their peers and also other newsmakers. Social media is not a game played from the sidelines. Those who participate will succeed – everyone else will either have to catch up or miss the game altogether. Engage or die.”
Although his language is a bit softer, Geoff Livingston, in his new Book, Now is Gone, also addresses social media’s impact on PR:
“PR will need to execute campaigns that mean something to communities of buyers and users instead of the short-sighted focus of getting media coverage … PR practitioners must be willing to reach out to their community and give them true, unfiltered participation or they will be doing their company a disservice in the social media realm. Adjustment in outreach tactics for PR professionals is imperative.”
If you are working for a social media skeptic or a CEO who has reservations about adopting new media, use public relations, and your CEO’s familiarity and comfort with it, to adjust your hospital’s course to social media. That “old dog,” public relations, can be effectively utilized to introduce new social media tools.