“Striking Gold” wasn’t how I phrased it…

…but here’s a story from KCAU TV in Sioux City, Iowa, which covered a presentation I made yesterday to the Siouxland chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. I suppose that’s a natural metaphor, though, since the people in that group are raising funds for local non-profit organizations.

I enjoyed the discussion yesterday, and wish the participants well in applying social media tools on behalf of their worthy causes.

Advertising Age, Hospital Marketing and Social Media

Advertising Age has an article this week in the print edition about hospitals, advertising, marketing and social media, and relates it all to health reform. I was glad to get to talk with the writer, Rich Tomaselli, last week to discuss some of the things we’re doing at Mayo Clinic, and our philosophy relating to social media. Rich had said the article would run either this week or next, and so I was glad when Jane Sarasohn-Kahn (@healthythinker) alerted me to it with her tweet linking to her blog post about it.

I think both Rich’s article and Jane’s post are good and make some valid points, and commend them to your reading.

Here’s my Advertising Age quote, upon which I want to expand a bit:

One of the most famous health-care facilities in the country, the 118-year-old Mayo Clinic, now has a social-media manager, Lee Aase. “Social media is the way word-of-mouth happens in the 21st century,” he said. “Twitter is just one of the most powerful networking tools that I’ve ever seen. It enables you to make connections with people that have a common interest.”

Quotes in mass media (like magazines, TV or radio) are always taken out of context. That’s not a criticism, it’s just a reality. Space and time are limited and expensive. Rich and I talked for about 15 minutes, and it was a great conversation. I’m sure he likewise had good talks with the others he quoted (and he did incorporate elements of our interview in his narrative.) There’s no way all of that is going to fit in a print article.

One of the benefits of social media, however, and why these tools are so powerful, is the opportunity they afford for more in-depth content and discussions. They provide a way to get more in-depth information to (and feedback from) people who are interested.

Given the fact you’re reading this, you must be one of those interested ones, when the topic is advertising, health care or social media. So here is some of the context of my conversation with Rich, and some reaction to the messages I saw in the article.

First, I’m quoted as saying “social media is the way word-of-mouth happens in the 21st Century” which is true and accurate, but the real point, and what I emphasized in the interview, is the continuity of social media with how Mayo Clinic’s reputation has been built over the long term. For more than 100 years, the number one way people have found out about Mayo Clinic is through the recommendation of a friend or family member. It’s also consistent with Thesis 1, that social media are as old as human speech.

Mayo Clinic hasn’t advertised nationally in the traditional media outlets. As Jane says in her post:

It takes information PLUS a “life moment” PLUS a “care connection” to a friend or loved one to deeply engage in health.

Paying for advertising (information) to be sent to a broad, undifferentiated group of people who aren’t currently experiencing the “life moment” or “care connection” is an iffy proposition. You’re paying to reach a lot of people who just don’t have a current need.

As I told Rich, the fact that 25 percent of our Mayo Clinic patients come from more than 500 miles away adds another layer of difficulty to the advertising equation. People need to be much more motivated before they will travel that distance for care. By definition, those patients are “deeply engaged.” But traditional advertising in mainstream media isn’t likely to be a great way to reach them because they are widely scattered across the nation (and even the world.)

This brings me to my other major observation, that the connection of all of this increased social media activity to health reform is significantly overstated. At Mayo Clinic, we have been involved in social media since 2005, starting with podcasts. We launched our Facebook fan page in November of 2007. We have been in Twitter since early 2008. We have been actively uploading videos to our Mayo Clinic YouTube channel for more than two years as well. And our Sharing Mayo Clinic blog for stories from patients and employees is nearly 18 months old.

I believe health reform legislation is essentially a non-factor in the growth in social media adoption among hospitals. Instead, as I explain it in my 35 Social Media Theses, the reason hospitals are using social media is because this is the defining communications trend of the Third Millenium.

As my good friend Ed Bennett (@EdBennett) said in the Advertising Age article, the number of hospital Twitter accounts has more than doubled in the last year, which indicates that this isn’t mainly spurred by health reform legislation. He also offers great advice on the “why” hospitals should be involved in social media:

Hospitals realize that word-of-mouth is the most significant driver you can have, so social media is an opportunity to humanize what can be a scary, complex institution… I tell hospitals “Don’t get into social media because you think you’re going to get more patients. Do it because you’re helping be responsible to people reaching out looking for answers.”

Social media in health care is about much more than just marketing. As for the increase in advertising spending that’s being reported, maybe health reform is playing a role in that. It’s not really my area of expertise, so I don’t have a strong opinion on the matter.

What do you think? Do you agree that increased social media interest among hospitals is essentially unrelated to health reform?

What relationship, if any, do you see between health reform and the reported growth of spending on hospital advertising?

BP Oil Spill: Hospital PR Case Study

I had a nice opportunity to talk this week with Taslin Alfonzo, who does media relations for a Louisiana hospital that has treated workers involved in the BP oil spill cleanup. She mentioned a story in which her hospital had made national network news, and that her SMUG training had played a role, so I asked if she would be willing to share. Here’s her recap of the story (and I’ve embedded the NBC Nightly News piece at the bottom of this post as well):

West Jefferson Medical Center (15min South of New Orleans) has treated a total of 11 oil spill workers who say they have been affected by the fumes from burning off the oil and from being sprayed with dispersant.

None of the workers wanted to talk to the media, but one of them was willing to talk to me. So, I pulled out my iPhone and asked if I could record an interview with him. I asked the gentleman about his symptoms, how he was transported to West Jeff, and what he thought about our medical service. After the 30 to 40 second interview, I asked him if it was okay if I posted his video on our website. He agreed, signed a consent and asked that it only be displayed on our website. He did not want me to distribute it to the media.

So, I did just that. When I edited the video, I made sure to put our website (wjmc.org) under the man’s face in the video so media couldn’t claim it as their own or not courtesy WJMC. Then, I sent out a press release to all media outlets (local & national) telling them I had exclusive video of an oil spill worker treated at our hospital. Some of them used the video and never mentioned us (but we had the bug…ha!), others properly credited us and some news outlets refused to use it because of the bug.

Needless to say it got national attention. Our website and doctors appeared on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, ABC News Tonight, and various local stations.

The best part was I got the whole idea from Lee Aase, the social media guru!

I’m glad for whatever inspiration I contributed, but of course the credit goes to Taslin for seeing an opportunity to apply the MacGyver mindset in her situation, and then acting on it. Here is the first part of the NBC piece, in which her hospital was featured:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

A few quick lessons/observations:

  1. You don’t need a big staff to effectively use social media tools. West Jefferson has three people, I believe, for media relations, marketing and community relations. In fact, the tools like the iPhone and Flip video camera are even more valuable for the smaller shops.
  2. If the story is big, and if TV networks don’t have a way to get footage, they will use yours. Ideally, I’m sure, NBC would have preferred to interview the patient directly. The patient didn’t want that. Taslin’s video was the only video available.
  3. Video quality is less important than content. It didn’t matter that the video was taken with an iPhone, and that it was available only on the Web site. What mattered was what the patient had to say.
  4. The traditional press release still has a role. Having the video on the wjmc.org site wasn’t going to lead to coverage if Taslin didn’t send out the news release. She perhaps could have just sent emails with the link as a pitch, and that might have worked. But the news release spread the word quickly to media outlets. Timeliness is key; getting the word to media quickly made it more likely that they would use Taslin’s video instead of working for a day or two to find a patient on their own.

It’s great to see this example of a SMUGgle thinking creatively and using the tools at her disposal to tell the story.

How about you? What’s your best example of using social media tools for mainstream media relations?

Manual Spam

When I’m advising people in how to get started with social media, I frequently tell them to just act naturally, like they would in a face-to-face interaction. Others have said you should act like you’re at a social gathering. Just as you wouldn’t walk into a crowded room and start talking incessantly about yourself, don’t do that virtually in social networks. It’s just not polite.

This hospital PR guy is making me rethink that advice, because if he acts online as he does in this encounter with a TV reporter, he’s going to be in serious trouble.

You really do need to see it to believe it would even be possible.


Thanks to Lisa Fields for the nudge on this one. I had seen something online about a PR guy repeatedly patting a reporter, but hadn’t checked it out.

Reading the YouTube video background it seems the reporter had shown up unannounced at a hospital town meeting to ask questions related to an investigative story. The reporter had said his calls asking for comment hadn’t been returned, so he decided to try to get the questions answered at the public meeting.

If sending unwanted email messages to people you don’t know is called spam, this seems like an in-person, hands-on version. Manual spam.

Given the worldwide attention it’s receiving, it once again shows that badly handling an issue can multiply the negative effects. If they had answered the questions earlier, and if the story had come out that funds were being misused, I’m sure we never would have heard about it. Just a local TV story in San Francisco. But instead you can read more here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

On the bright side, if the PR gig doesn’t work out (and it doesn’t seem promising right now), Mr. Slavin could always seek employment in the TSA secondary screening line.

Tweets on the Times: “Getting” Social Media, or Not?

While I generally don’t like the dismissive attitude embodied in the assertion that a person or organization doesn’t “get” something, a couple of recent tweets relating to the New York Times and social media make me at least ask the question.

As I was checking my Tweetdeck on the bus this morning, I noted this tweet from Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang):

…which linked to this article about the NY Times hiring 12 techies and a social media whiz. That was encouraging to read, but as I scrolled down a bit through last night’s #Oscars tweets I came across this one from Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_NYU):

…which linked to this post about the reasons behind a plagiarism problem at the Times, and how the culture there and at the Wall Street Journal is antithetical to the world of social media. Felix Salmon’s (@felixsalmon) post (to which I have added emphasis) begins as follows:

Clark Hoyt, the NYT’s public editor, has a good post-mortem on l’affaire Zachary Kouwe, and asks whether “the culture of DealBook, the hyper-competitive news blog on which Kouwe worked” was partly to blame for his plagiarism.

It’s a good question, but also a dangerous one, because I fear it will help to keep blogs marginalized at the NYT and elsewhere: is there something inherent to the culture of blogging which breeds a degree of carelessness ill suited to a venerable newspaper?

The answer, in truth, is not that the NYT has gone too far down the bloggish rabbit hole, but rather that it hasn’t gone far enough. Kouwe was a reporter for the newspaper as well as for Dealbook, and as far as I know he has never had a blog of his own before or since. Big mainstream-media publications, when they hire people to write their blogs, generally hire people with no blogging experience at all — something which is both ill-conceived and dangerous. Some journalists make good bloggers; most don’t. So rather than gamble that you’ve found one of the rare exceptions, why not make prior blogging experience a prerequisite for such positions?

The fundamental problem with Kouwe was that when he saw good stories elsewhere, he felt the need to re-report them himself, rather than simply linking to what he had found, as any real blogger would do as a matter of course.

I hope the actions highlighted in Jeremiah’s tweet mean that the Times will begin to change its approach and will start linking externally. Bringing in some fresh people who don’t have the print reporter mindset may help. But if the paper’s policy against linking externally remains, it will hasten the Times‘ decline, for two reasons:

  1. There will inevitably be additional plagiarism incidents, as print culture tries (and fails) to keep up with the speed of the Web. This will lead to further embarrassment and reduced respect for the Times.
  2. By trying to re-write everything (to avoid linking), the Times will be wasting effort to be later with its reports than it would be if it immediately linked. So people will go elsewhere for timely news.

This post took less than half an hour on the bus. I could have tried to rewrite arguments, but what good would that have done? Excerpting and linking is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. It’s wasteful for print media to expend so much energy to avoid giving other people credit.

Hopefully the new social media whiz the Times is hiring will help management understand that.