Healthcare Associations and Social Networks

Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to participate in a two-part panel discussion on Healthcare and Social Technologies, sponsored by ASAE & the Center for Association Leadership. It was part of the organization’s first Healthcare Association Conference, bringing together leadership from many different medically oriented associations. Acronym, which is ASAE & the Center’s aptly-named blog, has posts recapping session one and session two.

Ordinarily when I attend a conference I try to live-blog the sessions I attend, and for my presentation I create a post in advance to publish just before my session. But this was such a fast-moving discussion (even though the two sessions were 2.5 hours with an hour of that as Q&A, I think they could have gone much longer), that it wasn’t possible for me as a panelist to even surreptitiously tweet.

So I’m writing what I think will be a few posts with observations and highlights of the sessions from my perspective, a few days after having arrived home from Baltimore, having digested both the discussion and Jeff Jarvis’ What Would Google Do?, which also has important related implications for associations and healthcare.

Big Idea #1: As Frank Fortin, Communications Director for the Massachusetts Medical Society (which publishes the highly respected New England Journal of Medicine) said, “Associations need to figure out what business they’re in.” He has a blog post to that effect here.

By confusing how they do their business with what it really is, businesses lose perspective of why they got customers in the first place. They build their businesses around the artifact of the transaction, rather than on the value they deliver.

What is the business of the association? You might argue it’s publishing journals, holding conferences, or doing trade shows. But you would be wrong – very wrong.

I’m sure no medical journal is more lucrative than the one Frank’s organization publishes. But as Jarvis says, “Beware the cash cow in the coal mine.” Often the existing business model hamstrings organizations, keeping them from exploring new services lest they “cannibalize” their current profitable operations. But again, as Jarvis points out, if you resist cannibalizing your own profitable products or services, that just means another organization will feast on yours.

The example of Craigslist and newspaper classified ads is appropriate here, and it’s one I mentioned in the session. I recall paying north of $2,500 a few years ago for a job-recruitment ad in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Then came in with price of a few hundred dollars, and its candidate pool wasn’t limited geographically as the newspaper’s was. And now Craigslist makes the ad free in most markets, or at most the charge is $25.

Great for employers. Bad for newspapers. They (understandably) wanted to milk the cash cow as long as they could. But now the damage is irreversible in the loss of classified ads, because how could they possibly undercut the free service Craigslist provides?

Here’s the topper, as Jarvis noted (quoting the Wall Street Journal) in his “Inefficient Print” post on Buzzmachine:

Last March, Baylor Health Care System, a large Dallas-based nonprofit, began purchasing keywords on Google, Yahoo and employment-related search engines and The search-engine ads generated more applicants, at less cost, than the other recruiting methods, says Eileen Bouthillet, director of human resources communications.

In the first six months of the program, Ms. Bouthillet says, the search-engine ads delivered 5,250 applicants, at an average cost of $4. By contrast, Baylor paid an average of $30 for each of the 3,125 applicants who came via job boards, and $750 each for the 215 applicants who replied to a newspaper or magazine ad.

As a result, Ms. Bouthillet says Baylor has reduced spending on job boards and print ads. . . .

Was that last line really necessary?

Application: As we discussed in our sessions, social networking tools have the capability of providing many of the benefits members have traditionally received from belonging to associations. If associations don’t provide for easy connection among their members, someone else will.

So think about what business you’re in, and what unique value you can provide to your members. Take into account where they are on the spectrum of social media propensity, as outlined in Groundswell, so you don’t create platforms your members won’t use. 

You may want to use general purpose sites like Facebook or LinkedIn, or create-your-own social network sites like Ning, or even one of the many so-called “white label” alternatives that let you create a standalone network. Or maybe what you really need is a blog.

But realize that in a world in which establishing and re-establishing connections is ridiculously easy (as the 29 members of my Austin High School Class of 1981 group in Facebook can attest), these tools are not just a threat to your current business model, but are great potential aids to help your organization (and its members) accomplish the goals you all share.

HARO: Craigslist for PR and Journalism

I had heard about Peter Shankman’s service, HARO – Help A Reporter Out, but until yesterday hadn’t gotten around to trying it. I had meant to check it out, but it just never got to the top of my to-do list. Probably it’s because my focus has been in social media instead of mainstream, traditional media.

Apparently 37,000 other PR sources haven’t been so slow in adopting.

My first impression has been quite positive. HARO is a really neat service, with a site for sources to sign up to receive thrice-daily emails of media requests, and a separate page for journalists to enter their source requests. Peter goes through the journalist requests and categorizes them (actually, the journalists do the categorization themselves) and sends the email digests to the HARO, community which operates on five simple rules. And it’s free to both sources and journalists.

You also can get Urgent HARO requests by following Peter on Twitter.

Craigslist has contributed significantly to the mainstream media meltdown, particularly in newspapers, by offering a free alternative to what formerly had been a cash-cow monopoly, the local classified ad.

I don’t know whether Peter aims to do the same to ProfNet, an established service of PR Newswire that is free to journalists but not to PR sources.

What do you think? Have you used HARO, either as a source or as a journalist? Will HARO make a significant dent in ProfNet’s market share?

Tax Time and Weekend SMUG Class Readings

One of the nice simplifying factors about running a tuition-free online university is that you don’t need to fill out a request for 501(c)(3) status or other federal tax-related forms. With no revenue, the Internal Revenue Service isn’t interested in us. We can focus on our non-profit educational mission.

Alas, the IRS has not shown the same disinterest in my personal life, so in addition to attending some of my daughter’s basketball and volleyball games this weekend, I’ll also be doing this:

So while I’m meeting my obligations to the U.S. Treasury and the State of Minnesota, it’s a good opportunity for you to catch up on some SMUG homework and extra-credit readings:

First, here are the most recent SMUG class offerings, in the Podcasting track

During the past week your Chancellor was continuing his education (and hopefully helped some others with theirs) at the Bulldog Reporter Media Relations Summit 2008 in San Francisco. Here are some of those highlights, and while they don’t involve direct homework assignments, you will find them helpful for your capstone project:

I’ll also maybe let you know how long TurboTax took. Of course no self-respecting do-it-yourself on-line Chancellor would do anything but electronic filing. I’ve used TurboTax before (though usually not this close to the deadline), and I like how it carries forward my information from year to year. Hopefully its servers won’t be slammed by fellow procrastinators.

Wikinomics Book Review

wikinomics book review
Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, provides an excellent overview of the technologies and trends that are so disruptive in the Web 2.0 world. While traveling today to the Frost & Sullivan Sales & Marketing East Executive MindXChange, I had the opportunity to listen to the first couple of chapters of the unabridged audiobook version of Wikinomics.

I had previously listened to the whole book on one weekend when I had lots of yard work to do. The upside of audiobooks is you can listen to them while you’re doing something else. The downside is it’s hard to take notes when you’re holding a power washer, so it takes a second listen to get maximum benefit. But at least you know where the highlights are.

Let me share a few.

The Wikinomics authors, who also maintain a companion blog and wiki, see four great trends shaping the 21st century landscape:

Openness – As exemplified by Rob McEwen, the CEO of the gold mining company Goldcorp, who made his company’s geologic data available to the world to get bright people from outside his company to help find more gold deposits on company property. By providing the data and $575,000 in prize money, he enlisted more than 1,000 virtual prospectors, who helped find targets that yielded 8 million ounces of gold, turning his company from a $100 million business to $9 billion concern.

Peer production, or Peering – Getting masses of individuals to collaborate openly, as exemplified by Wikipedia. The Apache server and the Linux operating system are among the other varied examples of peer production the authors cite.

Frankly, Tapscott and Williams are too deferential to laments from Bill Gates and others that peer production eliminates the profit-making opportunity for businesses and other purveyors of intellectual property. The answer to that (and the authors should have been stronger about this) is: SO WHAT? (Please forgive my shouting.) There may be economic disruptions and dislocations if open-source software like Linux or Apache displaces proprietary software like Windows, but people like Gates with entrenched interests forget that the ability to make money isn’t a divinely ordained right or the ultimate societal good. What matters to users of software or services is the cost of a product or service and its value.

Businesses exist for their customers, not vice versa. If someone (or an organized group of volunteers, as in Wikipedia) provides a service for free that was previously expensive, that’s a good thing. People can then spend their money to buy other services, so they get the formerly expensive product plus something else, as the societal bonus of Wikinomics.

When the Berlin Wall fell, political leaders and journalists talked about the “Peace Dividend“: if we as a society didn’t have to spend as much money on defense, we could spend it on other good things.

The same is true today. For example, craigslist is a great service for its users, enabling them to place free classified ads (in many communities) for everything from rentals to job postings to personals to items for sale, such as theatre tickets. It’s terribly disruptive for newspapers, which formerly milked the cash cow of classified advertising.

Does it hurt newspapers? Certainly. Is that a problem? If you own or work for a newspaper. Will western civilization crumble because of it? Hardly. Instead of paying several thousand dollars for a job posting classified ad in the newspaper, companies can post to for a few hundred dollars, or craigslist for free. The companies can then invest the savings in other areas important to their growth.

That’s the “Wikinomics Dividend.”

The other two trends the authors examine are Sharing and Acting Globally. But instead of discussing them in a post that’s already too long, let me suggest that you get the book yourself.

The key value of Wikinomics is in providing broad trend overviews. The examples used, from Flickr to YouTube to MySpace aren’t the main point. Future competitors may one day render these irrelevant, too.

If you’re looking for the latest new thing, Wikinomics isn’t the place to find it; it is, after all, an old-media tree-killing production. But Wikinomics does give the theoretical framework upon which to build your understanding of changes in today’s economy.