Rocks, Pebbles, Sand & Water: The Elemental Truth About Social Media

flickr: Straaf

When I started my doctoral program four years ago, the first semester was filled with a lot of forced reflection. We read books like Parker Palmer’s Hidden Wholeness, Tom Rath’s Strength’s Finder, and Jim Collins’ Good to Great.

From the start, the lesson reinforced was that the focus of an academic life is to always think critically, which includes being self-reflective. It was emphasized that this self-reflection must become second nature. In relationship to any content, you must always recognize and consider your personal biases, motives, strengths and influences. In short–always be able to answer the question: “Why are you doing what you are doing?”

A common story of great wisdom

There is one story I recall from that experience that offers great wisdom to staff members who are responsible for planning their organization’s social media strategy. The story shows up so often that I’m not even sure where I read it first or who the original story is about. (I welcome your comment if you know.)

If you’ve read any leadership books or taken a leadership course, you’ve probably come across it, too. It goes something like this:

A lecturer was addressing a class of new students and pulled out a large glass jar and a pile of rocks. He asked the class to guess how many rocks he could fit in the jar.  Once they made their guesses, he filled the jar with large rocks and asked the class if it was full. They said yes. Then he pulled out some small pebbles and poured them into the jar. The pebbles filled the small spaces in between the rocks. Again, he asked the class if it was full. Then he proceeded to pour sand in the jar, and the sand filled the spaces in between the pebbles. Again, he asked if the jar was full. Lastly, he proceeded to take out a pitcher of water and fill the jar with water.

Big rocks, sand and water

It’s a wonderfully illustrative story of priorities and perceptions, which is probably why it is repeated so often. The wisdom it provides staff currently trying to plan social media strategies is that you can’t fit the big rocks (high priority items) in the jar if you’ve already filled the jar with sand and water (low priority items).

Too often hospitals begin their social media strategy with what they think are obligatory social media tools–Facebook pages, Twitter accounts or email newsletters– without asking themselves: “Why are we doing what we are doing?”

Why are we doing what we are doing?

Maybe, for your hospital, password-protected online chat rooms for new parents or injured veteran’s support groups are among your “big rock” priorities.

Or maybe your hospital needs a YouTube channel sharing cancer survivor stories to foster understanding and highlight outcomes.

Or maybe your hospital’s “big rock” priorities are providing HIPAA-relevant social media training for your nurses and physicians.

Decide what your organization’s big rocks are, and start there. And always be able to answer the question: “Why are we doing what we are doing?” Don’t make the mistake of using your staff time to fill the jar with pebbles, sand and water before your big rocks are well positioned within the jar.


How we help

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

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