Will They Willingly Follow You Down the Path to Social Media?

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What characteristics do you admire most in leaders you willingly follow?

This is the question that business professors James Kouzes and Barry Posner have asked people since 1983 on more than six continents. And only four characteristics have, over time, consistently received more than 50% of the vote no matter the culture, age, profession or whether the economy was in a cycle of boom or bust.

According to their study, for people to follow willingly, leaders must be honest, forward-looking, competent and inspiring.

Although their studies were addressing leadership in general and not specifically social media leadership, the lessons are worth re-visiting as you start the process of leading your hospital’s social media efforts. (And if their names sound familiar to you, you’ve been in hospital administration for a long time … their first book, The Leadership Challenge, won the James A. Hamilton Hospital Administrators’ Book Award back in 1989).

If you have been charged to lead your hospital’s staff, physicians, affiliated clinics or centers to the social media waters, here are some ideas on how to adopt practices that demonstrate those key characteristics, help you earn credibility, gain cooperation and get those social media plans off your desk and online.


Let people at your hospital know early and often why social media is being considered. Develop a script to prepare yourself for the skeptics. Design a simple fact sheet with names of other hospitals that are using social media (Ed Bennett keeps a running list), and current studies about the integration of healthcare and social media (Pew has some great studies on this).

Taking the time to write a case statement, even if no one but you reads it, will help you better articulate why social media is important to your hospital.


Don’t get forward-looking and trendy confused! Don’t get sucked into one social media tool because it’s the new thing today…because today becomes tomorrow real fast!

Instead, concentrate on strategy — what do you want to accomplish with social media? Who do you want to reach? Where do they gather online? How can you be most helpful to your patients? Your physicians? Your nurses?

Think about your centers of excellence and your experts…the information already available “in the building” that you can put at people’s fingertip by creating a way to share it using social media.

And don’t confuse forward-thinking with having all the answers. Some of the best ideas may come from others. Be sure to give credit and implement those good ideas. Many forward-thinkers just know how to recognize a good idea when they hear it and they aren’t afraid to say, “yes,” to other people’s genius.


Social media is advancing at light speed, so don’t feel bad if you hesitate to call yourself “competent.” Even those of us who work with and research social media admit that there’s too much information. (See our blogpost about how to deal with information overload.)

Begin familiarizing yourself with the tools. Read blogs (check out our blogroll on our homepage for a list of bloggers we like to read and learn from), follow helpful Twitter hashtags like #hcsm and #hcmktg — there are a lot of helpful contributors. Also, look for free information. We offer free downloadable e-books on a variety of subjects related to social media and hospitals — from starting a hospital blog or Facebook page to ensuring your hospital’s social media practices are HIPAA compliant.

Also, don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something. People will appreciate your honesty (remember characteristic #1!).


I know. I know. Mother Theresa was inspiring, Ghandi was inspiring, Martin Luther King, Jr, was inspiring…but me?

Although this characteristic may seem most overwhelming to try and translate into action, one of Kouzes and Posner’s practices speaks to how to do this. They call it, “encourage the heart.”

Celebrate small wins, be positive, listen, pay attention, recognize individuals’ accomplishments and foster community spirit through gatherings to connect people to each other. Get out from behind your computer monitor for some face time. Your personal involvement will do a lot to replace fear and skepticism about social media with excitement and anticipation.

Implement these four characteristics in your social media launch and you’re likely to lead the way to a successful effort!


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