Are you managing the social media program at your hospital?
Do you sometimes feel like you’re pulling out teeth trying to do your job well?
In this article, we continue our conversation with Nancy Cawley Jean, communications and media relations specialist, focused on social media at Lifespan, a health system in Rhode Island. In this segment, Nancy talks about what makes a successful hospital social media manager.
Q1. Who should run the hospital social media program?
A. I think it’s extremely important for someone with experience to perform this role. You have to understand HIPAA regulations, public relations, corporate communications, customer service, as well as risk management and you have to fulfill these different roles on a daily basis. You also have to be quick in responding to patients and know when to escalate an issue up the management ladder.
The problem with having an intern handling social media at your hospital is that they may not have the skills to perform all these roles and I think it takes an experienced communicator to know how to do it without making the hospital seem like a scary place.
Q2. How important is having a healthcare background to perform this role?
A. I think you absolutely need the basic foundations of healthcare communications to be a hospital social media manager. A person may know the ins and outs of social media but may not know the inner workings of the hospital, or when something is a red flag, or a violation of patient privacy or even the players within the hospital who need to be apprised of certain situations.
Q3. Isn’t this something anyone can be trained to do?
A. Definitely HIPAA training will cover some of these things but I think the actual experience of working in a hospital with patient liaisons, hospital administrators, marketing officers, and knowing the mission of the hospital are critical.
When I started working here I had thirteen years of experience in the corporate centers of health systems but I had never worked for a hospital. For me it took a whole year to learn the ropes, and feel comfortable and confident about my job even with my previous healthcare background from corporate. So I think you need to really have the right background and hit the ground running when you take on this role.
Q4. How tough was it to get buy-in from your higher-ups?
A. Fortunately we were in the first 5% of hospitals to jump into the social media world. Before we launched we pulled together top managers from various department and all these folks worked together to develop an employee social media policy. So because they were in on it from the beginning, approval was not an issue.
However we did have to improve and make adjustments to the policy as we went along because of things that were happening that we hadn’t anticipated. But again that’s part of socia media and you have to be flexible and willing to change at a moment’s notice.
Even so there were still people who were very cautious and worried about engagement risks and negative posts, but we explained to them that even if we didn’t participate in social media, other people would still talk about our hospitals and at least if we were there, we could respond to these conversations and publicly inform, persuade, defend our reputation and influence people’s opinions.
Q5. How have you handled negative social media feedback?
A. We have been fortunate to have very little negative patient feedback. We monitor our social media accounts almost 24/7 and anything that’s considered slanderous or embarrassing, especially where people’s names are used, we choose to delete that. I used to believe that you should never delete a negative post on Facebook until a lawyer who is part of a social media users group I belong to in Rhode Island said something that has stuck with me since:
Facebook is like a sandbox in your backyard. If people are playing nice then they’re allowed to stay in the sandbox. If they don’t, then they give up their right to play in your sand box. Having said that we don’t delete every negative post unless it really crosses the line.
Q6. What is your advice to other hospital social media mangers who fear negative publicity?
If something inappropriate shows up on your wall, do apologize to your community and let them know that the offensive post has been taken down. I got a lot of likes and comments when I did that once and our loyal followers stuck with us. Remember that you do have a loyal following who will come to your defense when they see someone trying to be a bully.
But don’t be afraid of negative publicity. When you address complaints and negative feedback you demonstrate that your community’s opinions count and that goes a long way to building credibility and a positive reputation for your hospital.
Over to you…
What are your thoughts about Nancy’s insights? Please share your comments below.