Backless Robe Theory: A Lens for Successful Social Media Strategy

flickr: robtxgal

Okay, Backless Robe Theory isn’t an official theory … but maybe it should be.  I’ve been around long enough to know that practitioners don’t always embrace theory, but lately, I find myself re-visiting theory as a precursor to planning effective social media strategy.

One theory that is particularly interesting to consider when strategizing healthcare social media is Standpoint Theory. Standpoint Theory places importance on the place (standpoint) from which we view the world, and makes the following assumptions:

  • How we see the world depends on our social position and group affiliations.
  • Inequalities create differences in standpoints, and therefore, create differences in worldviews.
  • People with the least social power (often the most vulnerable) tend to provide a more objective view than those with the greatest power.

A common analogy often used to explain the theory is a concert. The front row seat brings you close to the performer, but the seat in the back gives you a broader view–you can see the performer and how the concert-goers respond to the performer.

Use Backless Robe Theory to develop social media strategy

What would happen if we used this theory as we developed our social media strategy in hospitals? We could change the name to Backless Robe Theory to remind us of who in our hospitals are feeling most vulnerable – and help us to focus on their needs from their perspective. Here’s what our assumptions might look like:

  • Listen first to those in backless robes and those closest to them (family members) – in person, online and through your hospital’s surveys. Listen for information, emotion, specified needs and possible solutions.
  • Focus on addressing the inequalities of those in the backless robes (lack of knowledge about treatments/pharmaceuticals/resources) through social media.
  • Limit all first phase social media adoptions to tools specifically designed to address the needs of those in the backless robes.
  • Before implementing any new social media initiative, ask if anyone wearing a backless robe would care? Would they think it was a good idea? Would they agree that the time and effort needed to implement the new initiative would be time/money well spent?

By adopting the standpoint of our patients–those in the backless robes–we challenge our hospitals to create more useful, relevant and interactive social media programs.


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Hive Strategies helps health systems create HIPAA-compliant online communities for better health, lower costs and greater loyalty.

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