Won't you be my neighbor?  (Part 1) Mr. Rogers got it. Here was a man that kicked off every show by asking the audience to be his neighbor. He was literally genuflect when asking us all to be his friends (he was also clearly a fan of comfortable footwear). Fred Rogers may have understood social media and the importance of relationships in brand building long before any of us. And he also clearly understood that being humble and earning the friendship he asked for paid much greater dividends than telling his audience what to think. So why are healthcare organizations and physicians not doing the same thing?

In Social Pulse, I suggested that healthcare organizations might actually ask their patients, staff and physicians to be their friend. It sounds easy and perhaps even a tad juvenile (medicine is far too serious work for such pedestrian language). But without that invitation healthcare organizations will never gain the traction with social media that thought leaders are touting today.

Jumping into the world of social media is often a splash of cold water to the corporate face. Just because you build it does not mean they will come. As Steven Barley, head of internet services for Riverside Health System in Norfolk Virginia, states frankly: The reality is not everyone in your market is on FaceBook and even fewer still are on Twitter. So how can healthcare organizations encourage the conversation to take place online when only a fraction of their markets are online? Borrow a page from Mr. Rogers - and ask very simply "will you be our friend?"

Imagine a campaign that asks that very question, "Will you be our friend?" on billboards around town, on flyers in staff break rooms and in an email to physicians. Maybe its nebulas, "join the discussion at GenericHospital.com/friends" which directs your new amis to the CEO's blog and the hospital's twitter account. It could also be more overt - "Generic Hospital is on FaceBook, look us up and tell us how we are doing". Does it mean taking off the jacket in favor of the cardigan (proverbially speaking)? Yeah, it does, it also means speaking to people they way conversations occur, not in the vernacular of a press release. It requires healthcare organizations to humble themselves; indeed the first step is admitting that you may not be as important in your constituents' lives as you think. But if your organization believes that you truly serve your community (including employees and physicians) then why not ask on bended knee - "will you be our friend?"

Fortunately it may not take getting your entire market online to be a success. A critical mass may be as little as 2-5% of a market (1,600-4,000 patients for an average 80,000 vist/year hospital). Malcom Gladwell, the author with a genius for making commonsense sound extraordinary, has written about the power of influencers in The Tipping Point. Gladwell tells us what marketers have known since the dawn of time: nothing beats word of mouth.  Most social media early adopters fit the mold for what Gladwell calls "connectors" and "mavens". The former are people who have a natural ability and pride in facilitating relationships. We all know them. They are the ones who answer anything with "oh, you should talk to my friend So-and-so about that, I'll arrange a lunch." The later, mavens, are our friends who always seem to know about the best meal in town, or which computer has the best bang for the buck. If you have spent any time 'crowd sourcing' on Twitter, then you have seen both personalities in action. If a healthcare organization reaches 2-5% of its market through social media, and that 2-5% are mostly connectors and mavens, then imagine the conversations they may have on your behalf. All of the sudden you have an army of powerful influencers in your community who are ready to help you own the perception.

Healthcare organizations (and I'm counting physician practices in that group), starting thinking "What would Mr. Rogers do?". Invite your communities and constituents to join you in a conversation. As patients, and we are all potential patients, see out ways to engage with your care providers. If your provider is not interested in a two way dialogue consider what that says about them as an organization. A neighborhood is, by definition, a community and a community cares about one another.

I hope you will be my neighbor - twitter.com/nickdawson