The Violin in the Subway: Framing Your Hospital Through Social Media

I love reading about the human brain and how it influences our behavior. Some of my favorite books this year were Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John J. Ratey; Oliver Sack’s Musicophilia; and My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor. So, it probably comes as no surprise that one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter is @TheSocialBrain (Dr. SunWolf).

Dr. SunWolf tweeted an article yesterday that I read three times and couldn’t stop thinking about. An April 2007 story from The Washington Post titled, “Pearls Before Breakfast,” it chronicles an experiment in perception undertaken by The Post and world-famous violinist Joshua Bell.


flickr: wolfy1280

Bell, who plays a 1713 Stradivarius for august audiences worldwide, put on jeans and a t-shirt and played classical masterpieces in a D. C. subway station for almost 45 minutes. The questions reporters had were, “Who will stop? Will there be a crowd? How much money will he make?” If the commuting bureaucrats had no idea who Bell was, would they still be compelled to pause and listen?

The answer was a resounding “No.” 1,097 people walked by, but only seven people stopped to listen and only 27 people gave money (most as they hurried away), for a total of $32.17.

The final lesson here is actually multiple things, all begging for discussion. But what I would like to focus on is this: context. Sometimes, to recognize something for what it is, as the article discusses, there needs to be a frame, a set-apart space. “Here is something beautiful,” we say. Or peculiar, or thought-provoking, or just plain important. And because it has been framed for us, we pause, we stop, we listen, we confront.

The frame is one of the big challenges of social media. How do we convince busy passersby that our content is something they won’t want to miss? After all, most people cringe at the idea of ignorantly walking past Joshua Bell…

The New York Times published an article a few weeks ago about how our online consumption habits have changed. Many of us have moved from PCs to smartphones or even iPads. Most consumers simply scan their RSS readers. Twitter is used often for following breaking news. Facebook is ubiquitous.

The answer then, is two-fold.

First: Be there. Where the people are. You’re lucky to know where there is (see above!). If your hospital hasn’t yet made the leap…well…take it! Stop waiting for the perfect time and get ready to learn.

Second: Create compelling frames for expert content. Make people want to stop and listen. Ensure that your hospital’s branding is modern, fresh, and authentic. Focus on the unique abilities of your organization and the personal voices of your staff. One of the most fascinating parts of the Post article were the small glimpses into the lives of the people who passed by Bell, later interviewed by reporters. People and their lives and jobs are inherently interesting. Once framed, there are very few boring experiences. So, document. Share. Bring your work out of obscurity and put it where people can find it and recognize it for what it is.

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  1. […] that how we frame messages is important, and Megan captured that message by telling a compelling story and backing it up with research. Showing the parallel between framing and web context was […]

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