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Social Media Ambassadors - the rebel rock stars of the online world

Remember when rock bands would storm the radio station, taking over the morning zoo? They had totally free run of the place. "Dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria." Well, at least that's how it seemed to me circa 1993. In the end, it was just one of many marketing and promotional tools used by bands to tout new records. However, there is a kernel of validity in handing over the controls from time to time. When the same idea is applied to healthcare social media programs, the result are fresh voices and perspectives, deeper explorations of topics and a group of employees who are more capable of representing the organization online. Lately, I have been inspired by the Ritz Carlton's use of "guest tweeters;" ladies and gentleman outside of their core communications team who take over the reigns on behalf of the organization. Having different members of the organization represent the company gives a chance to highlight regions and specific properties. Hospitals, even single facility systems, are not much different. Using guest tweeters, or "social media ambassadors" is a great way to add some dynamic range to what you are sharing online. Recently we tried something similar in our Richmond market. If success can be measured in sentiment, we felt energized by the pilot.

There are many reasons to consider cultivating social media ambassadors. For starters, no [person] is an island. Even with best efforts, it is difficult for any one person to represent an entire healthcare organization. The most seasoned healthcare communicators may still be clinically novice; having a nurse tweet for a day could be a detailed look at a clinical topic. Interviews and quotes from various departments or experts give a sense of a topic. Allowing those same groups to run the show for a few hours or days lets them to take a much deeper dive. Showcasing someone else's voice in the mix also keeps things fresh and interesting. The way someone talks passionately about their own work is always more stimulating that listening to someone else try and represent it for them. Finally, cultivating a group of ambassadors helps organizations develop a base of pitch hitters and trusted spokes people. (I've written before about empowering employees to speak for the organization.)

The logistics and mechanics of a social media ambassador program is fairly straight forward. Just like any successful project, coaching and a partnership will go a long way. Start with a simple, one page document. It should include an overview of the tools (twitter, Facebook, etc) and terms (retweets, direct messages, likes, etc). It should also spell out, in lay terms, the organizations communications guidelines. For example, thank everyone, even those with negative feedback, or don't engage in political banter. Finally, it should define expectations of what is on and what is off limits. For instance, you may want your ambassadors responding to general comments and you may ask them to avoid replying to anything negative. Perhaps you stay "on call" and formulate any replies together, ensuring that the organization is well represented along with the guest's voice. Regardless of the plan, spell out out.

In addition to coaching the experience for online ambassadors, it is important to make sure they understand the tools they are using. Many will already be familiar with Facebook, making it easy to turn "Wellness Wednesday" over to your wellness team. They may not have administrated a page, something that is easy to walk through in a 30 minute coaching session. The same goes for Twitter. Tools like Hootsuite can help and give some control. They can also be tedious for new users to pick up quickly.

A good policy and agreement of expectations will help the governance process. That said, turning over the controls should not mean abdicating responsibility. It is important for those responsible for social media to watch the flow of the posts and conversation. Maintain close contact with your guest posters and make yourself available to answer any questions they have along the way.

Take a page from the Ritz Carlton's play book and find some social media ambassadors. Hold their hands through the process and you'll be well rewarded. Your social media stream will get a fresh voice, some deeper perspectives and you'll be training a whole team of spokespeople in the process.