The SMUG Social Media Pyramid

This post has been rolling around in my head for some time, but was triggered by a discussion Sunday night in the #hcsm chat on Twitter. One of the questions that arose related to what (and how many) social media platforms hospitals should use:

Is it better to do one or two channels well, or spread thinly across lots of platforms? Will results be different?

When I talk about a “Social Media Pyramid” I’m not talking about a Madoffian Ponzi scheme, but rather something that is a combination between the USDA’s food pyramid:


And Abraham Maslow’s famous “Hierarchy of Needs”:


Those who have spent any time at SMUG know I’m terrible at artistic representations that involve drawing, so I will just draw a word picture of the pyramid I’m envisioning, which represents both a balanced social media communications diet (analogous to the USDA pyramid) and steps toward increasing accomplishment, satisfaction and social media fulfillment (as per Maslow.)

Maybe someone would be kind enough to contribute an artistic rendering, as we saw in the SMUG seal development (which will soon come to fruition.) If so, I will update this post with that graphic.

Here are the levels of social media involvement (or four basic social media “food groups”) from an organizational perspective, as I see them:

Microblogging is the base, both because it’s easiest to start and because you should have more “servings per day” of this than any of the subsequent levels. Here I’m thinking Twitter as the main choice, but within your enterprise you may want to use something like Yammer for employee-only conversations. Like the USDA pyramid’s base, 6-11 “servings” of Twitter per day is probably a good target, particularly if you are interacting in conversations instead of just pushing out information. It’s a great tool for networking with those who may share your organization’s interests, but with whom you don’t yet have an online relationship.

Social Networking is the next level up, and here I’m using Facebook as the example. A Facebook “fan” page for your organization taps into a potential user base of more than 200 million and enables richer interactions that go beyond 140 characters. This might have a Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 4-5 servings per day, as you could post links to news releases, or add upcoming events, or upload photos or video, for example. Balanced use even within the Facebook platform is advisable: if you send Updates several times a day, you’ll quickly turn off your “fans” unless what you have to share is extraordinarily compelling. Trust me: it’s not.

Web Video. The platform of choice here is a YouTube channel, because it’s free and it’s the world’s second-largest search engine. You need to have some source of video, which is what puts this a little higher on the pyramid, because you’ll need to spend at least $150-$200 for a video camera. But having the ability to upload video that can be found on its own on YouTube, emailed or tweeted to interested folks or embedded in Facebook or your blog greatly extends your reach. The RDA is 1-2 “servings” but with a camera like the Flip that has a built-in USB port for uploading, this is reasonable. And even if you don’t make that target, putting up even a couple per week is a good start, assuming you have something to say.

Blogs. These are at the SMUG Pyramid’s peak. They provide multimedia platforms for embedding video, slideshows and photos as well as a venue for longer, more reasoned arguments (like this post.) They’re at the peak because they require greater commitment, and because fewer organizations have taken this step. While Ed Bennett’s Hospital Social Networking List contains 253 hospitals with Twitter accounts and 174 with Facebook and YouTube, only 31 have blogs. Yet a blog is where you can have, in Paul Harvey’s phrase, “The rest of the story.” You can tweet a brief message and then include a shortened link that sends people to your blog for fuller explanation and discussion. Unlike Facebook, your blog is available to anyone with a Web browser, with no membership required for full access. You should have at least one post (or serving) per blog per week to keep it fresh, but more frequent is better.

Here is an example of a post I did on our Sharing Mayo Clinic blog, in which I embedded an interview with a patient, Tom Vanderwell, who I met via Twitter. We’re also friends on Facebook, which shows how the tools all work together.

The SMUG Social Media Pyramid answers the question that arose in the #hcsm chat by giving both a prescription for a well-balanced social media diet and a progression to get there. Don’t feel like you need to be involved in every platform, particularly at first. Start with Twitter (because it’s easy) and then probably with Facebook, if for no other reason than to keep someone else from claiming your organization’s name. The only investment is your time. As you grow in comfort and capability, and as others in your organization join you in the effort, you can then move to the higher levels of the pyramid.

In a future post, I will deal with the question, “How do I keep up with all the new platforms that are being launched?”

What do you think of the SMUG Social Media Pyramid? Does it make sense to you? Do you see other essential “food groups” for social media that I’ve omitted?

Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 15. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. Emeritus staff of Mayo Clinic. Founder of HELPcare and Administrator for HELPcare Clinic.

11 thoughts on “The SMUG Social Media Pyramid”

  1. Love this. As a dietitian by trade we love to see things in pyramids lol. One caution is for Yammer, which some companies are finding privacy issues with company sensitive materials.

    Love what you are doing with the Sharing Mayo blog.

  2. And as always – my mileage may vary. Thanks for a great way to explain things to those who “don’t get it.”

  3. How fun Lee! A chance to share an artist rendering of your Social Media Pyramid. My mother, the dietitian, is appreciating your comparison. The opportunites are endless for sharing ideas with Mayo Clinic. Great job!

    @mkmackey on twitter

  4. Lee,
    I love the idea of simplifying this and there is certainly benefit in offering suggestions for number of servings. In almost every column you mention something to the effect of “if you have something to say,” in other words… if you have real content. My experience has been that there are twitter users I’d like to hear from 20 times a day, while some should not be tweeting at all… but all of that is relative to what is important in my life.

    I think twitter is extremely powerful in relationship building because it allows us to quickly connect with each other based on some sort of content. This is important because the point of using social media in any organization is to build relationships between our employees and customers, that’s when the magic happens (as you’ve proven time and again.)

    However, I think twitter alone cannot be the foundation of your pyramid. For twitter to become strong enough to hold up the rest of the pyramid you need to have a hub for relationship building content. Whether that’s a facebook page or a blog (depending on audience and objective) I think it has to work hand in hand with twitter, much like fruits and vegetables exist on the same level in the USDA pyramid.

    Again, all of this is relative depending on what you’re trying to do with social media… all my wife wants is to connect with her long lost high school friends on facebook; so for her, all of my strategy is really annoying.

  5. Thanks to all of you for your comments. Ryan, I agree that Twitter shouldn’t be the foundation of a fully developed social media strategy, but I’m seeing this as more a progression than a physical structure. Going back to the Maslow analogy, I would say you can’t reach your social media peak performance without a blog to tie it all together. So whether the blog is the foundation or the peak, I agree that’s essential and should be the hub. I’ve got another post on this today, and have another in mind relating to the “if you have something to say” point you made.

  6. I think you need to add passing notes during class (k-12) to the foundation of the social media pyramid. Is that where, when, and how social worlds emerge via media? And I’m actually not kidding!

  7. Lee, I appreciate the depiction of your hierarchy of social media needs. It prompts a worthwhile dialogue here that mirrors one that’s happening in every networked business on a daily basis: How do I rank the relevance of the various social media platforms?

    I have to say, however, that from my perspective, none of what you describe constitutes strategy. It comes across like a hardware salesperson from the Snap-On Tool Company laying out tools, and telling us what tools are most important…WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT THE TOOLS WILL BE USED FOR!

    In other words, the tools will be ranked very differently in order of importance if I’m working on a car engine than if I’m working on a water main. In the networked world, the operations we perform, the needs we express, vary immensely. From breaking a new music act to the bonding of parents with hydrocephalic children, to (as one of the commentors above mentions, connecting with old classmates.)

    Not being negative here, Lee, just constructively critical. Here’s another thing to consider in ranking the relevance of the various social media platforms:

    Existing content.

    If, for example you’ve got a vault of video related to your subject, or if there’s some incredibly emotional and compelling content available on video, then You Tube (or Vimeo or Hulu or Veoh– each has its own strengths, and merits its own ranking-within-ranking) can become the foundational platform, and the other platforms will be implemented to drive awareness and patronage.

    As a couple of the commentors above have mentioned, the configuration of networks is not predicated on the technology, it’s based on narrative. Before I can tell you what tools you should be using, tell me what you’re going to use them for. Then we’ll talk.

    I have a friend, Dr. Greg Gramelspacher, who will be biking across the U.S. in September/October to draw attention to the plight of the dying poor in America. It is his life’s work. Through the Palliative Care Unit at Wishard Hospital in Indianapolis, Dr. Greg has personally cared for over 3,000 people dying poor and homeless over the past 20 years, and his ride is a commemoration of those lives. At the heart of his ride is the idea that every human life is worth remembering, and everyone deserves to die with dignity. I’m helping him with his social media strategy. The foundation of the platform will be, literally, a foundation site, where people can donate to his cause. The rest of the strategy will radiate from there (twitter, facebook, blog), informed and supported by his narrative, and stories of people who have died, but should not be forgotten. is the site.

    Thanks for the post!

  8. Really great points, and I will be doing a follow-up post on this. The point of the Pyramid (no pun intended) isn’t to rank these in importance, but to put them in some perspective…and to let people know that they wouldn’t need to be on every video sharing site, for instance. As you say, there may be reasons to pick sites other than Facebook or YouTube within the video or social-networking categories.

    Anyway, I really appreciate your comments, and if you’d be interested in becoming an associate professor at SMUG and doing a post or two, you’d be most welcome.

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