Look Toward the Light: Let Bright Spots Direct Your Hospital Social Media Efforts

flickr: .reid.

Lately, I’ve been reading Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. My favorite chapter so far has been “Find the Bright Spots.” The Heath brothers (who have a column in Fast Company magazine), discuss how, often, when trying to solve a problem, we focus on what isn’t working and try to change it. A different approach, which frees the rational mind from spinning its wheels and gives the emotional mind its much-needed motivation, is to focus on what is working. “We need to switch from archaeological problem solving to bright-spot evangelizing,” say the Heaths.

They give the example of a Jerry Sternin, who worked for Save the Children in Vietnam in 1990. Tasked with addressing childhood malnutrition, Sternin knew his obstacles were immense. Sanitation problems, widespread poverty, unclean water, and lack of knowledge created a situation in which Sternin could very well have thrown up his hands in despair. Instead, he focused on children from poor families who seemed better nourished than their counterparts. He scrutinized those children’s mothers’ habits and soon developed a system based on what he observed (adding small shrimp and greens to rice, serving smaller portions more frequently, etc.). He then recruited those mothers to teach other mothers, with very specific instructions.

Six months after Sternin arrived, 65% of kids in his test village were better nourished and stayed that way. And the change spread and stuck. Sternin’s focus on what worked, instead of on the numerous obstacles in his way, helped small adjustments lead to big change.

This idea was reinforced in my mind lately as I read another book, Half the Sky, by Pulitzer-Prize winning authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. In their book, Kristof and WuDunn address the immense challenges of women and girls in a world where many of them are underprivileged and undervalued. The same questions face the people trying to create change in this book as faced Jerry Sternin in Vietnam. How even to begin?

Many of the inspiring workers in Half the Sky do exactly what Sternin did: instead of trying to tackle the whole of a huge issue (sex trafficking, lack of education, poor maternal health, AIDS) they focus on small steps they can take right away, like offering sanitary supplies in order to keep menstruating girls in school or lending women small amounts to start businesses. Big problems are broken down into smaller problems that are immediately more manageable.

These inspiring, transformative actions are all rooted in the idea that we can know where to begin by focusing on the good news, even in bleak situations. Thankfully, forming a hospital social media strategy is nowhere near as complex an undertaking as the previous examples. However, the Heath brothers’ lesson of finding bright spots can still be applied.

When you begin social media, focus on what has been working for you already. You may have a center of excellence that does groundbreaking work in a specialized field with expert physicians. You may have nurses who are extra-attentive with their care. You may have an administrator who remembers everyone’s names and stories and who continually inspires her staff. Whatever your hospital does particularly well is your bright spot and your bright spot is where you should begin. Recruit the positive influences in your hospital to be the positive influencers in your social media.

These bright spots do more than lead you to the right blogger or tweeter—they also give you subjects and stories to share. If you have a mother visiting your hospital who manages her child particularly well in the ER, share her techniques with your readers. If your hospital cafeteria has transitioned to healthier fare in a successful way, share your tips with readers working on meal-planning at home. If your joint replacement patients are faring better in a group setting, your prospective patients can benefit from that news.

Our social media mentor, Kelly, wrote a blog last week about an anonymous doctor blogger. As I pondered later what bothered me about this particular blog, I realized that it brought up a lot of problems that were really worth addressing, but with hardly any bright spots. Surely, there were patients and residents that this doctor encountered who did their best, who thrived despite odds, who took care of themselves. If those bright spots became the focus, then the blog would transition from being simply a log of depressive encounters to a genuinely helpful resource. At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, I’m going on record as being a strong advocate of finding bright spots and using them as the fuel for hospital social media efforts.


How we help

Hive Strategies helps hospitals engage patients through social media. We don’t manage social media. Instead, we help hospitals develop an effective social media strategy and mentor them through the implementation process. Start a conversation. Email us or call us at 503-472-5512.


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