Four Social Media Lessons from Intermountain Healthcare

Intermountain Healthcare is a nonprofit system of 23 hospitals and a full range of medical services with more than 32,000 employees that serves the medical needs of Utah and southeastern Idaho.

In November 2008 Intermountain began implementing social media. Today the system has a strong presence with a focus on Facebook (more than 50 Facebook pages), Twitter, YouTube and Foursquare.

I recently sat down with Jason Carlton (@JasonMCarlton), who manages social media for Primary Children’s Medical Center, along with other public relations, marketing and communication efforts, and Clark Jensen, a marketing director who helps manage Intermountain’s branding, social media, and marketing.

Carlton and I became acquainted through Twitter, and it was great to meet him in real life. From our conversation came four important lessons.

Be patient

“We got started in social media because we saw momentum and audience growing,” explains Jensen. “We wanted to protect the URLs for the hospital and our healthcare properties.” But it took time for human resources and IT to come on board. And even now, two-and-a-half-years later, no one in the organization manages social media full-time. Everyone has added social media to their already-heavy duties.

“The internal debate was about taking people away from doing their jobs,” recalls Jensen. “It took a while to overcome these concerns in the organization. But now HR directors and others realize it’s not as big a problem.”

For a long time IT (known at Intermountain as eBusiness) did not see the value of social media. But today they’re actively providing the tech support Jensen needs.

Stay connected

Social media at Intermountain is loosely organized. Carlton and others report directly to marketing directors at their hospitals. But they have a dotted line relationship to Jensen and Craig Kartchner, who also helps manage social media.

To stay connected, Jensen and Kartchner host a 30-45 minute phone call each week with an open agenda. Fifteen or 20 people throughout the system participate in discussions about current issues, best practices, case studies and more. When Carlton has a question, he can go to his hospital’s marketing director or connect with Jensen or Kartchner direct.

Don’t worry about ROI

“Hospital ROI is almost impossible to do in the first place,” says Jensen, so it is not the driving force behind Intermountain’s social media. The decision to do social media was needs based.  Says Carlton: “We believe it’s part of being in the community that we’re serving.”

Stay fresh

Jensen and Carlton are always looking for better ways to connect. And keeping up with the ever-changing nature of Facebook is a constant challenge. But they keep asking the important question,” How can we make social media more meaningful for our communities?”

Final thoughts

Talking with Jensen and Carlton I was reminded that social media is an odd beast — really unlike any other marketing effort. The constant stream of content takes a lot of time and effort, it’s tough to measure, and there is no huge payday. But as Jensen says, “We can see where social media is going. If you don’t start now, it’s going to be too late.”

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How we help

Hive Strategies helps hospitals engage patients through social media. We don’t manage social media. Instead, we help hospitals develop a social media strategy and mentor them through the implementation process.

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