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Retail vs Healthcare - its not exactly the same

I hear a lot of heathcare organizations asking the hows and whys of using social media. This week, Ed Bennet released the latest round of hospital social media stats - 890 hospitals are now engaged in some form of two-way, modern communication. And while that figure is impressive, validating and promising, there are still some 4,200 odd hospitals and countless physician practices, vendors, professional groups, patient groups, etc which are still struggling to understand the value of how people are communicating today. That's ok. They are asking themselves important questions which those organizations need to sort out for themselves. I will offer one cautionary bit of advice:

heathcare is not like retail

Sure, there's lots of talk about consumer driven healthcare. And maybe I've gone on on and on about what healthcare can learn from consumer companies. I'm not trying to contradict those points. What I am suggesting is that looking at retail as a model for using social platforms is flawed for a few reasons.

Retail can get away with...

Selling, for starters. When you interact with a retail brand online, you expect their goal is to sell you stuff. Indeed, the savvy ones understand the importance of experience and customer service in making the sale, but it's still about the sale.

So when a company asks you to fan them on facebook for deals or retweet for a chance to win, you enter into a pact which both the consumer and the retailer understand.

In the infographic above, the idea of giving away kidneys may be a crass example. It is however not any different from a retail approach.

What healthcare organizations can do...

Is what retail has a hard time with; actually caring about (and for) individuals. Healthcare organizations have an inherent trust based on the services they provide. When a healthcare provider ventures into modern communications, there is a pulpit awaiting them with the words "first do no harm" emblazoned on the front. That credo is also a pact which patients and providers understand. Providers can further build trust by using social platforms to extend the reach of their care.

Again, in the example above, actively listening for and responding to patient needs is something retail simply can't do with any cache. Here are some other things providers can do which retail cannot:

  • Give away trusted, curated medical news and tips
  • Help people find care
  • Participate in the medical decision making process
  • Be genuinely compassionate
  • Support community efforts without bias

Rather than taking the retail approach to interacting with the digitally connected, try taking the nursing approach. Let's ask ourselves what a nurse can do that a shopkeeper cannot (are there still shopkeepers? well, you get the idea).

Get your HCSM nerd on with ThinkUp

Ever go shopping and see something and think "I have no idea what I'd do with that, but I have to have it?" It happens to me all the time, and almost always in one of two areas: food and tech. Take for instance this Star Trek USS Enterprise pizza cutter- I have to have it! I'm nothing if not predictable. This week, I was blown away when I learned about what the folks at Expert Labs have come up with. They are calling it ThinkUp. In their words:

ThinkUp is a free installable web application that captures the insights and expertise of your social network by collecting and organizing replies to your conversations on Twitter, Facebook and (soon!) other networks.

I grabbed a copy of the code and installed ThinkUp on my hosted webserver - in fact, you can see it here. Like a left handed garlic peeler that doubles as a beer opener you pick up in the check out line, ThinkUp is one of those things that is both immediately full of possibility and confusion at the same time. ThinkUp connects to your twitter account(s), and Facebook account and begins backing up your conversations. Via a sleek web interface, it presents all kinds of data and analtics back to you. ThinkUp shows:

  • Your most replied-to posts
  • a breakdown of clients
  • your most re-tweeted posts
  • Threaded conversations that you have had
  • Links the people you are following have tweeted
  • photos from the people you are following

And much more. Like I said, I've just begun to scratch the surface.

What makes this Healthcare and HCSM related? Nothing special other than it is a great tool to have in your arsenal. Providers should consider installing ThinkUp for two reasons: Firstly it backs up your twitter stream. There are plenty of other great ways to do that, including Backupify, although TweetUp lets you own that data on your own server. Secondly, it helps you produce some dynamite metrics easily - replies, retweets, popular tweets, etc. It makes showing the effectiveness of your posts quite easy.

There are some not so obvious examples as well. For instance, ThinkUp shows your percentage of "conversationalist" vs "broadcaster". Maybe it is time to stop telling and start listening...and responding.

ThinkUp helps you track your conversations and replies. When you ask a question, particularly if you have an engaged set of followers, you often get answers in an asynchronous timeline. That is to say, replies may trickle in over time. ThinkUp remembers your query and presents all the replies in an easy to digest view.

Your experience with the setup process will depend on your comfort level of installing web applications. If you have ever set up a WordPress site on a hosting account, you'll have no problem. If the idea of installing software on a web server sounds daunting, then you may want to wait for hosted ThinkUp providers to pop-up - and that is sure to happen.

If you want to see the user's public dashboard, feel free to check out my install. Or, grab the code and get your HCSM nerd on!, its close enough. Using for custom short links is becoming more liberal with invites into their Pro service. One of the things Bitly.Pro provides is the use of a custom domain for shortening links. Most hospitals refer to themselves, internally, with initials. Some State Regional Hospital is probably SSRH internally. There's a good chance you can register those initials or a close variant. It makes a nice way to keep your tweeted links aligned with your brand., and also allow you to create custom short names. When you combine a custom domain and short name, some even neater things happen. Rather than saying "find us on facebook" you can use a link like . It makes a nice way to send links internally as well.

The waiting time for a invite seems to be less than a week. In addition to the custom domain, they also provide some enhanced, detailed reporting tools. Check it out at the Bitly.Pro site.

As for me, I'll be posting links via (because .on isn't a valid suffix and I was all out clever).

10 tips for taking the time argument of out social media

What takes longer, teaching a doctor to tweet or sticking a microphone in their face and asking a question? I have been thinking a lot about efficiency in the way we interact with media. Techy types often have the same thoughts about data storage - compression and decompression. What is the most efficient way to record a file to a disk and then read it back? It is not a stretch to think about our relationship with media in the same way. As an experiment, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you see this image?


How long does it take to register "STOP" in your mind? Probably longer even than it takes to put your foot on the brake. Call it Pavlovian, but the truth is that our brains are wired to process visual stimulus very quickly. The "decompression" of the meaning of a red octagon is highly efficient.It takes very little effort for us to decode the message behind the sign.

Now examine a sonnet from Shakespeare:

46pageThere are two challenges to texts as ethereally magical as those from Shakespeare. The first is the creation of the written words. To take a simple phrase - 'I cannot figure out if it's my heart or eyes that love you more' and transform it into:

Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war
How to divide the conquest of thy sight

requires a substantial amount of intellect. The effort required to "compress" the emotional sentiment associated with the text is staggering. It is probably our appreciation for that effort that causes us to always conjure mental images of poets gazing into the distance, quill in hand, always thinking more than writing. It is not just poets that have the challenge. Writing is simply hard work. Ask any good editor . To take an idea and translate it into text that, hopefully, the majority of your audience can understand is not a simple thing. Your audience, in turn, has the job of decompressing what you have written and recompiling it into a cohesive thought. Its a lot more complicated that drawing a stop sign to write about something as complex as love.

Video has emerged as pretty comfortable middle ground in the compression/decompression challenge. From a decompression standpoint, videos require fairly low "processing power". That explains why so many of us are glued to the TV every night. The entertainment value is high compared to the effort we have to put into it decoding it. Practically speaking, the "how two" video has a lot of advantages over a text book. Julia Child understood this very well. Showing someone how to truss a chicken is easier on both parties than writing about about it. To truss a chicken you first tuck the wing tips into and under the wings themselves. Then you have a complicated procedure of wrapping one long string around the bird in a way that both closes it up and forms the perfect roasting shape. On second though, let the folks at HowCast show you how...

Video, as it turns out, is pretty efficient in both compression and decompression as a means of interacting with media. It is worth noting that audio, as in the spoken word, also fits nicely into this niche. Both require less effort than text to create and less effort for an audience to decode.

In a healthcare setting, one of the biggest challenges to the adoption of social media is time. It is fairly easy to convince people they have something worthwhile to talk about. It is another thing to get them to take the time to do it. Doctors, executives, department heads, etc all have the same excuse "who has time to blog or tweet?" I wonder if what they mean is 'I don't want to have to write a term paper every week!'. But what about 30 second audio blip, or 2 minute video? How hard is it to stop a doctor in a hallway, stick a camera in their face and ask for three health tips? OK, maybe it feels funny to do it, but the effort required to capture that moment is pretty low. From an audience standpoint, no one has to read a bombastic (ahh humm, you are still right this, right?) post about health tips; you get the "how to" video and nothing else.

With that in mind, I present a Phil Baumann styled list of 10 things you can try for easily compressed and decompressed social media posts (in no particular order)

  1. Sign up for AudioBoo - AudioBoo is a site that allows you to record (via computer or smartphone) an audio clip and instantly post to many social media sites.
  2. "Three Words" campaign - every day, stop someone in the hall and record them giving their name, job and 3 words that, to them, represent the organization. Do themes, like heart month, and nursing week... Use audiboo, an iphone, a flip camera...
  3. Doc on the spot - stop a doctor, record a 30 second health tip. Make sure the doctor mentions their specialty and how to follow up for more info. "Hi, I'm Doctor Jones with a quick tip for sleeping better.... want to know more, tweet us your questions..."
  4. Roving reporters - Distribute inexpensive flip video cameras everywhere. They are inexpensive. Send them around the hospital and ask people to be "roving reporters" - every week, send out a theme or question and ask for people to interview co-workers. Compile the videos and post online
  5. Physician updates - Imagine a family member in surgery. Have the doctor record updates as audio clips that can be shared with family members who are not in the waiting room.
  6. CEO minute - a daily update from the CEO on the most important things on his desk that day. It is a glimpse into his world (and ultimately what is important for the organization). It does not take the CEO more than a minute to record, and the staff more than a minute to view. He or she can even produce it from his phone on the way to work.
  7. Show the way - record a time-compressed video of how to drive from major intersections to medical practices.
  8. Share the health - allow interested patients to record doctor advice during appointments including advantages and disadvantages of treatment options. Remember that your patients have a network too, help them help their friends (and it doesn't hurt your image either)
  9. Employee recognitions - record spontaneous employee recognitions. Have someone to recognize? Take a video camera, bundle of balloons and their boss along to that person's work area. Record the recognition and share it - tag them on appropriate networks so their friends and family see how important they are to their employer.
  10. Photo of the day - ask employees and fans/friends to contribute to a flickr pool. Re-broadcast one photo a day. Again, remember themes and important weeks.

Have some more suggestions? Post them in the comments!

Hospital Social Media participation guide

So you have a hospital blog, now what? The more contributions you have to your social media effort, the more engaging you will be. No one is an island, and it would be nearly imposable for one person to represent an entire hospital or health system. Fortunately, the nature of social media is that everyone can join in the fun. A model of which I am increasingly in favor is the "Pipeline" approach. The pipeline is where many contributors funnel in various media (video, written posts, photos, etc) into the effort. Those contributions can live on which ever site is most appropriate (IE video on youtube) and be aggregated and embedded on a centralized, branded "social media hub". is a great example of a social hub. They then become the fodder of tweets, facebook updates, etc.

As interest in social media grows and marketing funds disappear, service lines and departments are clamoring for support. We answer that demand by asking those interested to become contributors - part of the funnel of content, the pipeline. When an department or service line is identified, we share a guideline document with them. The guide highlights the social media program and establishes expectations for time commitments and content.

The example below is not fancy or even complete (what about policies and a review process?) but it may help serve as a launching point for those creating their own pipeline of social media contributors. This is a de-identified and simplified version of the document we use internally, please forgive the generic name and branding. It can  be downloaded and used under the creative commons guidelines.

Creative Commons License Social Sharing guidelines by Nick Dawson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at