Authenticity Anxiety—Keeping Social Media Real

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about one of our Hive Core Values: Be Real. During my forays into social media, I sometimes feel like I encounter posturing moments—people trying to be clever or cutting-edge or convincing (usually in attempting to sell me on something), in a way that rings inauthentic or hollow.

Since I’m experienced in life enough to know that what bothers me about other people is ultimately a reflection of my own character flaws, I realized that I worry about how I come across on the myriad forms of communication that surround us. Sometimes, I post on Facebook or Twitter or a blog and then think, “Did I just make myself look uninformed (or ‘market-y’ or ‘pretentious,’ or a number of other unflattering adjectives)?”

Ultimately, I’ve discovered that I feel comfortable with what I post when it’s authentic, and only then. As with all human interactions, the most I can do is to be open and forgiving and try to reflect my own ideas, aspirations, and limits as honestly as possible. I think we all have our own intrinsic authenticity meters—we recognize when we’re being approached person-to-person or when we’re objectified as simply the nameless audience for the showman.

This principle of authenticity, or acting out of a desire for true communication, applies to two areas of hospital social media worth talking about today: content and design.

Content: Even as a designer, I’m going to argue that content is ultimately the most important part of your social media endeavors, not appearance. And, here’s the rub, not just content for content’s sake, but authentic content.

I’m not going to lie—authentic content means more work for you. It means digging into the core of everyday routine to find critical meaning. It means finding writers for your blog who will share wisdom and failings in their own voices, week after week. It means finding kernels of important new research and distilling it into laymen’s terms so even patients with little education can take charge of their health. It means taking the time to capture real moments on video or audio in order to reach a larger audience. It means having to work with people posting negative comments as human beings with potentially valid grievances instead of dismissing the authors as grumpy head-cases.

If anyone offers to do this work for you who does not have an intimate knowledge of your hospital and its needs, run the other way. Just like stock photography of perfect, starched families does not represent the rough-and-tumble reality of true relationships and airbrushed models do not reflect the wrinkles-and-all appearance of everyday women and men, content created by someone outside of your sphere of reality is inauthentic. And people will know it.

I can think of a few exceptions to this rule. For example, re-tweeting someone else’s information is not trying to claim their ideas as your own, it’s just sharing valuable content. Building a smartphone app that includes a library of pre-written health knowledge from the developer is not inauthentic (but someone from your hospital should read as much of it as possible to make sure it reflects your medical practices and principles).

Okay, point two: design. As a designer, I am often dismayed by how poor design is really a form of inauthenticity. If your staff runs a modern, compassionate hospital and your website or newsletter is just a conglomeration of impersonal stock photography and template design that hasn’t been updated in five years, you’re not reflecting the reality of your strengths. Here are a few tips for resolving that problem:

Identify yourself through strong branding. “Branding” is one of those words that has accrued a decidedly “market-y” feel. However, a unique graphic identity that was built by a designer who understands your values and goals is not just marketing—it’s vital visual communication that creates coherence, clarity, and professionalism. You have to publish information both physically and virtually—make sure it reflects the truth of who you are.

Don’t use generic templates. I know templates are easy and affordable, but your branding should have its own unique voice based on the tone and tenor of your hospital (see number 1). Any self-respecting designer will tell you that working with a template usually takes as much time as building from scratch.

Take photos of real patients. (And hire a professional photographer to do it.) Not all marketing budgets will allow this for every project, but meet this goal whenever possible. Your community needs to know that your staff recognizes patients as local citizens with families, friends, and outside commitments. After all, as I mentioned in last week’s blog, saving and improving human lives is the underlying reason for all this work.

All of these pointers are meant to help your hospital communicate with patients openly—in order to convey the authenticity of your efforts, your empathy, and your expertise. Create content and design that reflect your high levels of service.

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