Authentically Stupid: A Twitter Lesson for Healthcare from the Celebrity Sector

Where I live, in Southern California, it is hard to avoid celebrity news (a term I use loosely). It’s partly because the entertainment industry fuels it, and partly because the media is always near-by to photograph it.

So it’s no wonder that even though I have negligible interest in celebrity media, I heard about Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter gaffe. Kutcher tweeted a defense of Penn State Coach Joe Paterno (although he said it was before he knew the whole story regarding the child abuse scandal).

A lesson in what NOT to do

After learning about the scandal, Kutcher removed his offending Tweet, apologized, admitted his mistake, published a photo of himself next to a sign that says, “I’m with Stupid” and blogged a longer apology and explanation  – all admirable steps when you make a Twitter error. However, it was his next move that we can all learn from – it’s a lesson in what NOT to do.

Kutcher then announced he was turning over the reins of his Twitter account to his management company as a “secondary editorial measure, to ensure the quality of its content.”  Basically, Kutcher’s actions are like him admitting that he might say something stupid, so he’s running his messaging through his people before we can read it and catch him being stupid.

Lance Ulanoff, editor in chief of Mashable, wrote a spot-on editorial titled Ashton Kutcher is Making a Big Twitter Mistake, in which he wrote, “By handing any part of his Twitter feed over to handlers he is destroying it.”

After reading Ulanoff’s post, I was reminded of a statement Richard Edelman made on a Forbes-sponsored YouTube series on consumer empowerment.  In the series, Edelman discussed social media and consumers’ expectations. He said, “There’s a real dialectic between credibility and control.” He criticized programs that “look as if everything has been written by your lawyers,” and encouraged spontaneity. He added, “It’s supposed to be genuine.”

Don’t place obstacles and barriers

Making a mistake on a social media platform is human and forgivable, and may likely happen to you or someone in your healthcare organization given the fast-paced nature of social media. But pulling down the curtain and placing obstacles and barriers in between your organization and patients (like Kutcher’s management firm is doing with his fans) is like the Wizard denying to Dorothy that the little man in the booth has anything to do with the illusion.

Consumers look to social media not to create illusions, but for transparency. Patients want to talk to the person behind the curtain and at the controls (physician specialists, dieticians, nurses, lactation consultants, pharmacists, etc.).

In healthcare, it is especially important (and in the best interest of public health) that we take responsibility and the initiative to help lower the barriers to access, not raise them. Tweeting your own Tweets, and encouraging others in your hospital or clinic to do the same, is a good place to start.


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