The Story Behind That Viral Video of Mayo Clinic’s Piano-Playing Octogenarians

Marlow and Fran Cowan at Wednesday's performance for the Social Media Health Network. Credit: Mayo Clinic


Ohio residents Fran and Marlow Cowan were visiting Mayo Clinic for care when they discovered a grand piano sitting alone in the center of the hospital’s mammoth Gondo Atrium.

An orchestra had performed in the atrium the day before, and a crew was scheduled to retrieve the piano later.

They couldn’t resist playing a tune, and it was so entertaining that a woman in the atrium, Jodi Hume, video-taped the number and uploaded it to YouTube. Mayo’s public affairs team found the video, put the word out, and it went viral, leading to an appearance for the Cowans on Good Morning America.

Today the video has been viewed by 7.8 million people. In every viewing, the caption below the video mentions Mayo Clinic.

That’s 7.8 million impressions at no cost to Mayo Clinic. In case you didn’t catch that: 7.8 million. No cost.

Some quick lessons here:

  • In spite of what some claim, it is impossible to predict a “viral” video. These things are serendipitous. But a video doesn’t have to be viral to make an impact.
  • YouTube is a powerful communication channel. If you’re not already using it for your hospital, it’s time to get started.
  • Good enough is good enough in video production. There is a place for professional production, but there are many opportunities for a hand held camera (Flipcam or iPhone).
  • Along with your educational and news opportunities, keep your eyes open for heart-warming images that can connect to your community.
  • Even a few thousand views of the right video can reap valuable benefits for your hospital’s image.

Cowans returned to the Gonda Atrium Wednesday night to perform an after-dinner concert for members of the Social Media Health Network. I expected a re-do of the video-taped duet, but it ended up being much, much more. They performed several numbers using bells, sprockets, chimes and other instruments. These folks are really funny!

The Cowans perform regularly for retirement homes, churches and the Salvation Army. “God gave us talents,” says Marlow, “and the purpose of these talents is we’re supposed to use them. We have a talent for music and humor, so whatever we can do that will make life more generous for others, we’ll do it. We’re praising the Lord. That’s what we’ve been doing all our life, one way or another.” Marlow turned 90 in February.

Hope you enjoy the video!


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. Read about our services. Start a conversation. Email us or call us at 503-472-5512.

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