Social Media Plasticity: It’s Not Brain Surgery

flickr: ky_olsen

On a recent visit to my campus, Dr. Robert Liberman, a distinguished professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, presented “The Social Brain.”

It was a lecture open to the public, and Dr. Liberman took care to explain how the brain worked in clear, everyday language. His presentation set the stage for demonstrating how therapy can help people become better athletes, recover from brain injuries, and help overcome alcoholism or other behaviors.

One concept that Dr. Liberman explained was “plasticity.” Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change and restructure itself, at times even compensating for damage or dysfunction. It’s an adaptive function and, in response to new information or stimulation, parts of the brain can deviate from their usual functions and develop entirely new functions.

Plasticity does not consist of just one single type of change, but can include many different processes.

After Dr. Liberman’s explanation of plasticity, I kept thinking about the change hospitals (and other organizations) are currently experiencing in this new social media landscape. I considered the potential for social media to be a driver for “organizational plasticity.”

For me, enabling large (and sometimes bureaucratic) organizations to be more nimble and responsive is a real positive.  Implementing social media can have far-reaching positive implications. Here are a few examples:

Plasticity of roles

With social media, each person, no matter how far down he or she is on the organizational chart, has the potential to morph her position into one with a slightly different function than that of her original role.

For example, the tech in the pharmacy can become a frontliner for customer service as he or she explains in a videoblog how the new medication check system protects patients from receiving the wrong medicine or drugs that might conflict with each other.

The lactation specialist who offers a video tutorial on breastfeeding may just become your best marketing spokesperson to expectant moms who are considering where to have their babies.

Do you see how social media can change roles (and elevate one’s value)? That’s plasticity.

Plasticity of goals

Goals no longer need to have a static beginning and end, but can be constantly monitored and modified through social media.

For example, a hospital may not have had the short-term goal  “to alleviate the fear of wrong side surgeries.” However, if a media story breaks about a mistake that happened at another hospital and interest in this topic was seen trending on Twitter, Mashable or other social media sites, then the hospital can quickly establish this as a new short-term goal and develop social media tools to address it.

Plasticity of leadership

Don’t worry, I’m not advocating that your hospital put the position of CEO in continual flux, but I am suggesting that leadership on key topics can now be easily addressed by the person who has direct responsibility for that area.

Having the information come from the person who is directly responsible adds credibility and, because the CEO is not acting as a “filter,” it strengthens the authenticity of the message.

Not having a layered approach to management may also lead to a faster response. Forging new “synapses” or avenues connecting the information to the target audience faster – that’s plasticity.

Plasticity of services

Because social media has a two-way dynamic unlike previous customer outreach tools, you can respond much faster in offering services and programs.

For example, if a frequent email question posed to your Sleep Center director is “What exactly is involved with a sleep study?” The director might consider making a fast motion video of an actual sleep study available on the site or offer a free information session.

These additional services were developed and offered as a direct response to inquiries via social media – that’s plasticity.

As I work to further develop this concept of “plasticity through social media,” I’d love to hear your responses to this idea. Does it resonate with any of you who have begun implementing social media at your hospital?  Where do you see the “plasticity” of social media?



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