Breaking Bread Together: Core Values in Social Media

This last weekend, I was lucky enough to spend the whole day talking about one of my favorite subjects: food. The University of Portland very generously hosted a free day-long conference, Food for Thought, which featured four plenary sessions about food production, sustainability, and social justice. All sessions were open to the public. Discussion topics included everything from the foods eaten by native tribes to the poverty/obesity link to impacts of genetically modified seed. Best-selling author and journalism professor Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, Food Rules) ended the day with a keynote address.

The conference was fascinating, informative, and inspiring. And, it really got me thinking about Hive’s Core Values at the Heart of Successful Social Media. After all, those values are derived from ideas of sociality that are not unique to media. They’re found in successful gatherings of people everywhere—whether we’re breaking bread together digitally or physically. I’d like to revisit them today, in light of my experience on Saturday.

Listen to understand; and have a conversation. One of the great moments in the conference was during lunch. Public participants gathered with students and professors over boxed lunches to discuss how to implement solutions proposed in the conference. We offered our ideas, opinions, frustrations and hopes. Student mentors gathered each table’s responses (we also texted answers) and fed them to graduate students’ computers, who complied the data into charts that updated in front of our eyes. I was amazed at the variety of thought—a visual map of a multi-faceted communication.

Although your hospital may not have such formal gatherings of community members and staff regularly, you do have informal information at your fingertips through social media. Your patients and their friends and family offer constant opinions through Facebook, Twitter, and blog comments. Even your statistical traffic analyses can show patterns of use that provide valuable feedback. Be sure that you’re listening to needs, ideas, frustrations and compliments in order to improve and refine your levels of service.

And don’t just listen, ensure the communication goes both ways by responding promptly. I’m always amazed at what can be accomplished when two people are able to discuss a problem and brainstorm solutions together. Take advantage of this social energy.

Inform and educate. The main purpose of Food for Thought was to inform and educate, with the assumption that a public fed vital facts would make the changes necessary to create a healthy, sustainable food network.

This valuing of education certainly applies to healthcare social media. The more a hospital can do to plant information in easily-accessible places, the better. Educated patients make better decisions. Social media helps your hospital reach as many people as possible, either with the information itself, or with leads to venues where people are gathering to share what they know—in the form of birthing center classes, health fairs, public seminars, etc.

Simplify. Michael Pollan, if you’re unfamiliar with his work, has an overarching set of rules from In Defense of Food. They are these: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Pretty simple, right? One of the main points of his keynote address was that eating has become overcomplicated by focusing on nutritionism, rather than on creating a healthy food culture based on real food. It was a fascinating analysis that you can read more about in his books and in this article.

This idea of simplifying in order to move forward is crucial for social media, in part because of its structure. Websites, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter—these arenas have multi-tiered levels of information all competing for attention. I’ve found that the simplest message is the one that gets heard. Take the kernel of your truth and put it where people can find it.

This also has to do with how your frame your message. Hospitals deal with people of all educational backgrounds. Be sure that your social media messages are geared to the proper education level of your audience. It can sometimes be difficult for physicians and staff used to specialized clinical talk to communicate their expertise clearly—be sure that your social media teams focuses on delivering information that can be easily understood.

Be generous. I was amazed at the generosity of the Food for Thought organizers. I couldn’t believe I was able to spend a whole day discussing something I care about deeply for free. They even fed us lunch! This is a great example to follow. You don’t necessarily have to set up a whole conference, but be sure that your attitude is similarly giving. If your community can see that you’re passionate about communicating with them and sharing crucial information, they’ll respond positively. Audiences know how much time it takes to blog, create videos and podcasts, and tweet timely health news. They know that your free e-books and newsletters took some effort. They’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Be real. There are few values that resonate more with me than authenticity. At lunch, when the Food for Thought participants were in groups to discuss solutions, I had a minute to sit and look around the room. There were people of all ages, glowing with interest and passion for creating viable answers to the problems of our age. It was a pretty moving sight.

In your hospital social media, I hope you’ll take moments to acknowledge the humanity you encounter every day—people doing their best in spite of myriad limits. Sometimes that means acknowledging a hard-earned achievement. Sometimes that means admitting you’ve made a mistake. Either way, it means owning your authentic persona and being unafraid to interact with your community on a personal level.

Trust your community. Of all our core values, this seems to be the most necessary. After all, the whole Food for Thought conference was organized assuming that people would show up and care about what was presented. All of values above are predicated on the idea that you value the people around you enough to take their input into account. To me, this is the most social of ideas—that by breaking bread together, by doing the sometimes hard work of human interaction, we are all nourished.

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