4 keys to creating a common-sense approach to social media

By Michelle McNickle
12:37 PM
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During one of the first talks at the Connecting Healthcare + Social Media Conference this past week in New York, Ed Bennett, director of Web and communications technology at University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), presented on his experiences with social networking, gaining buy-in, and successfully launching a thriving social media presence.

"I come to this as someone who works in a large academic medical center," said Bennett. "The challenges we face with bureaucracy and the themes of my presentation are the things I have learned the past three years using social media."

Bennett spoke on four keys to creating a common-sense approach to social media.

1. Real change comes from the top. According to Bennett, patients are ahead of most organizations in terms of expectations. "And one of the things I've learned is big change comes from the top," he said. "Folks from lower levels may be coming up with ideas, but it takes real leadership to make fundamental change." He added although most view "conservative organizations" as slow to change, when there's buy-in from the top, change happens more quickly and efficiently. "We speak about social media, and I had to find the things that resonated with leadership," said Bennett. "And then it was easy…there are certain types of things you can't make happen unless you convince senior management."

[See also: Social media insights from a digital strategist.]

2. Patient satisfaction is a key driver. During his experiences, Bennett said, patient satisfaction was the number one reason to open access to social media and have a public Wi-Fi network at UMMC. "Patients would go through the hospital and they bring their laptops, and they would be blocked from Facebook," he said. "[They would say], 'You're blocking me from my support network at the very time I need it most.'" Bennett said it was easier to "make the case" to leadership to open access to social media sites because of the growing patient demand, while also pointing out the evolution of the patient-organization relationship. "Some would say, 'Why should we bother with social media? Patients come from the website.'" But he added that such an attitude was all too similar to one 10 years ago, when organizations initially questioned the value of websites. "Those are the drivers I would repeat back: we've been here before, and we realized they weren't as big obstacles as we thought. We moved forward with it."

3. It takes time. UMCC opened access to social media sites in January of 2011. The result? "Nothing happened," said Bennett. "It was a 'no drama' launch; we just let people know and we let staff know, and everything went on like normal. The building didn't set on fire or collapse to the ground. We were just aware of the social media activities in the hospital." However, open access did bring about new opportunities and new services. The organization now has four Facebook pages for patients, each launching three months after opening access. "[Patients] share, and everything is managed in the Com department," said Bennett. From what he found, the biggest hesitation that remained, despite the success, has been the time it takes to implement successful social media efforts. "We think it doesn't take time to put things on Twitter, but it does take time, and physicians have a legitimate question of, 'What's the benefit to me?'" he said.  "It's tangible. Once you get past a certain threshold, patients come because that's the expectation."

[See also: Social media could 'accelerate clinical discovery'.]

4. Social media is more than just the sum of its parts. Throughout his presentation, Bennett maintained a common theme: Social media is more than the sum of its parts. "It wasn't just social media and Twitter and Facebook, but everything else the organization was doing," he said. In summary, there are three takeaways to creating a common-sense approach to social media, said Bennett. "Understand patients are far ahead of anything you want to do," he said. "At a large, transformational level, change has to come from top leadership, so is time best spent to educate and convince about the value of social media. And remember, social media is a tool – anything that comes along, anything an organization wants to do, there's some aspect of social media that can benefit."