An Intelligent Approach To Hospital Social Media: Inspirations from Gardner

Dr. Howard Gardner

One of my “great thinker” heroes is Howard Gardner who developed the theory of Multiple Intelligences. His theory countered the accepted viewpoint that there is a single human intelligence (assessed by the “IQ” test), and recognizes instead multiple intelligences (spatial, linguistic, musical, etc).

Since the development of his theory in 1983, others have used (and misused) Gardner’s ideas to explain everything from “emotional intelligence” to “financial intelligence” and there have been thousands of articles written in many languages based on his theory.

Why? In my humble opinion there are two reasons: Gardner was able to take complex subject matter and make it understandable (for those of us who aren’t neuropsychologists), and he articulated something we knew experientially was true, but was counter to the accepted “establishment.” We’ve all known people who didn’t do well in the traditional classroom, but wowed us in the recital hall; so when Gardner said there was “musical intelligence,” he affirmed what we “already knew.”

As I watched a video of Dr. Gardner reflecting on how he developed his theory 25 years ago, I began considering how early adopters of social media in healthcare might learn from his approach.

Advocating use of “time-wasting tools of the young” (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to engage patients is still not accepted by the healthcare establishment (just 21% of hospitals use social media). What can Gardner’s approach to introducing his controversial theory teach us about how we might introduce skeptics to social media as a valid way to engage patients?

Know history

(Gardner spent years studying cognitive development throughout history before he formulated his theory.) Before you adopt new communication tools, know what tools have been used in the past and be ready to speak to their strengths and weaknesses.

By being well versed in your own hospital’s communication strategies from the past, you can address the gaps and position social media as an effective way to bridge the gaps.

Seek knowledge beyond your specific area

(Gardner combined his interests in anthropology, art and neuropsychology and worked with experts in a variety of other disciplines to gain their insight). Talk to physicians, techs, pharmacists, social workers and anyone else at your hospital who has a current or potential outreach function.

What do they know about the ways patients seek out their services? What fears do patients express to them? What would be helpful for patients to know before they came in for their treatment? What seems to surprise patients the most about the service/treatment? What are patients saying in annual surveys? All these areas are ripe for introducing a social media solution.

Simplify and help people make meaning to affirm what they “already know”

If Gardner can define the complex criteria for intelligence in an 8-step explanation, we should be able to outline the complexities of social media and how it can benefit our hospital in eight steps or less.

If we focus on making connections that are meaningful for our skeptics, we help our cause. For example, using national data on social media adoption can be helpful, but it opens the doors for skeptics to say, “yes, well, that may be happening nationally, but I know our town and that’s not happening here.”

However, if you share the declining readership in your local paper with the increase in requests for local household DSL lines … that’s meaningful for skeptics and encourages people to say “yes, I knew that…I just read the local paper might have to lay off more writers.” In this way, we begin to confirm what they “already know” and help them make the connection to social media.

Clear writing with credible sources

(Gardner continually updates his appendices with new articles.) Make sure you prepare a clear and straightforward “leave-behind” plan for the C-Suite to review. Include outside, respected sources that give credibility to the plan (i.e. articles from the Wall Street Journal or the AMA).

Be open to change

(Gardner’s theory first recognized seven intelligences, then eight, and now he’s working on a possible ninth.) If a new tool or a new piece of data comes along, don’t feel like you have to ignore it or it will upset your proposed plan. Embrace it and change your plan. Social media is evolving, and plans should be responsive to that evolution.


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.

2 replies
  1. Jean Kelso Sandlin
    Jean Kelso Sandlin says:

    Mary: I appreciate the comment, but think you are referring to Lisa Gerber’s blog from June 15 on I agree with her that the experience is what keeps us coming back. It’s a good discipline to ask ourselves what will make our social media efforts a place where people feel so comfortable, like they are pulling up a stool next to Norm.


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