A SMUG Decade

Ten years ago today, I published three posts on a new blog that I called Lines from Lee.

I had no idea where it would lead me.

IMG_1576So it’s fitting that I’m starting this post in the KLM Lounge at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, as I have a few minutes to grab a cup of coffee before my flight to Nairobi, Kenya.

When I started my blog on July 30, 2006 my main purpose was to experiment with blogging and learn how to do it, in case we would ever want to have Mayo Clinic blogs.

And while my more-than-full-time job was leading the Mayo Clinic media relations team, I found time for blogging at least in part because I thought it was amazing that I could publish to the world for free on wordpress.com.

In my early days of blogging one of my major applications was to take notes during conference presentations. By live-blogging and linking to the speakers’ blogs or other online profiles, I reported what I was learning to a broader audience, and also shared my perspectives. And I began making connections.

A major turning point was in late 2007, when I was asked to give a Facebook 101 presentation to the Association Forum of Chicagoland. Some in-depth questions led me to joke that they were asking for information that was more appropriate for a 200-level class. That’s what led me to rename my blog Social Media University, Global in January of 2008.

And of course I gave myself the lofty title of Chancellor.

My university name was a tongue-in-cheek riff on the geographic naming of many real universities in the U.S., such as UCLA, University of Alabama-Birmingham and University of Texas- Southwestern.

Because my university was online and available anywhere in the world, the natural designation for Social Media University was…Global.

Which made for a fun abbreviation. And when I developed and metaphorically nailed my 35 Theses to the wall of SMUG, it helped me to think through and make the arguments for why mid-career communications professionals need to develop capabilities with these new tools.

While I started seeing some traffic to SMUG from widespread locations, I never dreamed that it would lead to international travel and face-to-face connections.

Lee's VisitsBut in 2009, Lucien Engelen invited me to speak at a conference he was organizing at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. I had only left the U.S. once previously, for a work-related trip to Calgary.

Carolyn DerVartanian invited me to Sydney, Australia in 2011, and on some other trips I also got to visit Sweden, France (with a brief stop in London), Italy, and Mexico. More recently I’ve made a couple of trips to the United Arab Emirates and a return visit to Australia. My two-week tour of China in June was amazing, and now I’m excited for my first trip to Africa, where I’ll be leading a workshop Monday at The Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi.

As best I can figure, I think I’ve presented in 39 states and Canadian provinces, too.

Of course none of this would have happened if we hadn’t found good applications for social media at Mayo Clinic, and without the support of our leaders to have Mayo serve as a catalyst to help professional colleagues also venture into social media. Special thanks to Jim Hodge, Chris Gade, John LaForgia, Shirley Weis, Amy Davis, and our President and CEO, Dr. John Noseworthy, as well as Dr. Victor Montori and Dr. Farris Timimi, our former and current Medical Director for social media, and Dr. John Wald, our Medical Director for Public Affairs, for their backing and inspiration.

Here are five things I’ve learned in 10 years of blogging:

1. It all starts with taking the plunge. Gaining familiarity and comfort with blogging and social engagement personally made it much easier for me to confidently recommend Mayo’s involvement.

2. It’s not too late to start. When I began in 2006, I felt I was probably too late to the party. People like Robert Scoble, Jeff Jarvis, Shel Holtz, Shel Israel and Jeremiah Owyang had been blogging for a while, and I wished that I had recognized the opportunity sooner.

Handwringing about starting late would have been not just unproductive; it would have been counterproductive.

As the landscape has changed, you may want consider publishing on LinkedIn instead of having your own blog, to take advantage of LinkedIn’s distribution to professional connections.

But it’s never too late to start expressing yourself thoughtfully online.

3. Geography doesn’t matter much. Social tools let you overcome barriers of time and space to bring together people with common interests. Even if there isn’t a dense concentration of those interested individuals in any one location, on the global scale enabled by social, there’s likely a large existing or potential community of interest.

4. The argument on the importance of social media is over. As I review my Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Social Media today, the only elements that seem a bit dated to me are the references to social media being “free.”

But that’s just a sign that social media are completely mainstream. Facebook suppresses organic reach for brands because it has so much friend content to show users, and because brands find Facebook advertising cost-effective in reaching their audiences.

When I published my 35 Theses, Facebook was still almost three years away from its $100 billion IPO. Since then its market capitalization has more than tripled.

And with most print and TV ads now including a hashtag or a Twitter handle, Thesis 12 is beyond dispute.

5. We have a great and generous online community in health care. The people I’ve come to know through this social media journey are delightful. Naming them all would completely blow my word count, so I’ll just highlight current and former members of our Mayo Clinic Social Media Network (#MCSMN) External Advisory Board, along with my team, a.k.a. the “Star Wars” team, and our #MCSMN Members and Platinum Fellows. It’s gratifying to have so many colleagues who want to learn together how we can best use social platforms for medical and health-related purposes.

IMG_1607As I publish this now, having finished it during my Amsterdam-Nairobi flight and arrived at the Nairobi Serena Hotel, I’m filled with renewed thankfulness for another safe landing, and for a decade of blessings from blogging.

Thanks for reading!


Presenting at the Benedictine Development Symposium

This morning I am in Schuyler, Nebraska doing a presentation for the Benedictine Development Symposium. It seems Kathy Caudill had seen me at the Association Forum of Chicagoland in late 2007, which was the inspiration for Lines from Lee becoming SMUG. She’s been a SMUGgle almost literally from Day One.

Here are the slides I’m presenting today:

I’m also going to be doing a Tweetcamp later this morning, so here are the slides for that:

Martin Luther, The Economist, me and you

On October 31, 2009 I published my 35 Social Media Theses, subtitled “The Disputation of Chancellor Lee Aase on the Power and Efficacy of Social Media,” on the 492nd anniversary of Martin Luther posting his disputation on indulgences on the church door in Wittenburg.

Since then, I’ve delivered well over 100 presentations in 7 countries, and in almost every one I’ve used my 35 Theses (get a PDF) as the organizing principle, beginning with the story of how a technological innovation, the Gutenberg movable type printing press, helped make Luther’s theses the first massively viral communication, spreading throughout Germany in two weeks and reaching the rest of Europe in two months.

It all ties to my first two theses:

  1. Social media are as old as human speech, with air being the medium through which sound waves propagated.
  2. Electronic tools merely facilitate broader and more efficient transmission by overcoming inertia and friction.

So it was interesting when Dr. Victor Montori, our former medical director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, sent me a link to an article in the current issue of The Economist, “How Luther went viral.” I’m sure it was unintentional imitation, but I’m sincerely flattered anyway. Here’s an excerpt:

Although they were written in Latin, the “95 Theses” caused an immediate stir, first within academic circles in Wittenberg and then farther afield. In December 1517 printed editions of the theses, in the form of pamphlets and broadsheets, appeared simultaneously in Leipzig, Nuremberg and Basel, paid for by Luther’s friends to whom he had sent copies. German translations, which could be read by a wider public than Latin-speaking academics and clergy, soon followed and quickly spread throughout the German-speaking lands. Luther’s friend Friedrich Myconius later wrote that “hardly 14 days had passed when these propositions were known throughout Germany and within four weeks almost all of Christendom was familiar with them.”

The unintentional but rapid spread of the “95 Theses” alerted Luther to the way in which media passed from one person to another could quickly reach a wide audience. “They are printed and circulated far beyond my expectation,” he wrote in March 1518 to a publisher in Nuremberg who had published a German translation of the theses.

This is required reading for SMUGgles. The article does a great job of analyzing at length what I can only briefly introduce in 90 seconds or so in my presentations. It applies network theory to describe how technology enabled such rapid spread, and does a great job of explaining how and why it happened.

I read lots because I enjoy learning, but one of the extra pleasures it provides is validation. I certainly have gotten new and helpful ideas from Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk and others, but it’s especially encouraging when they affirm what I’m already doing.

For example, if you’ve heard one of my presentations you know that I typically introduce my family, including my grandchildren. After I had been doing that for a while, I ran across presentation advice from Guy Kawasaki in which he suggested including pictures of your kids to build empathy and rapport with audiences. I didn’t start introducing Evie, Judah and Aletta because Guy suggested it, but his guidance validated what had seemed like a good approach, and was just naturally who I am. (For my latest family news, see my Holiday Greetings.)

In some ways, this Economist article serves that same validation function. In my presentations I usually cite Wikipedia as the source for my assertion on the rapid dissemination of the 95 Theses. Because of this article, I now know that Friedrich Myconius is the original source of the quote. And if a writer for The Economist sees the same historical analogy that I have, we can’t both be crazy.

Since you’re here at SMUG, you likely are interested in social media. You “just see” that it makes sense to harness revolutionary tools for the reformation of your industry. But maybe that insight isn’t shared by all in your workplace.

I hope SMUG can provide validation and encouragement for you. My purpose with the 35 Theses is to give you arguments you can use to make the case for social applying social media in your work.

If you work in a health-related field, you also should check out our Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media and consider having your organization join our Social Media Health Network. The Network goes beyond validating your intuition; our aim is to learn together and share best practices so we can harness these revolutionary tools to improve health care, promote health and fight disease.

As The Economist concludes:

Modern digital networks may be able to do it more quickly, but even 500 years ago the sharing of media could play a supporting role in precipitating a revolution. Today’s social-media systems do not just connect us to each other: they also link us to the past.

My first two theses all over again.


Belated Blog Birthday

For a blog that started out with a nondescript alliteration as its title – Lines from Lee – it’s only fitting that I would have a similar approach to the title of this post as I celebrate the fifth anniversary of my first blog post – four days late.

I’ve made it a point each year at this time to take a look back on how this blog has changed – and changed me – over the previous 12 months. See my first, second, third and fourth blog birthday posts for my journal on the journey.

This year, as I celebrate the fifth birthday of what has become SMUG, I’m also celebrating the first anniversary of Mayo Clinic establishing our Center for Social Media.

If I thought the first four years were eventful, this last one has felt like a Space Shuttle launch. It’s been gratifying to recruit a fantastic External Advisory Board, a tremendous staff (click to enlarge the team photo from our recent retreat) and to see more than 80 organizations join our Social Media Health Network.

And while NASA is winding down the Shuttle program, we’re just getting started. We’re holding our Third Annual Health Care Social Media Summit in Rochester in October in collaboration with Ragan Communications, along with our Network Member Meeting and Social Media Residency. We’re also holding a contest for patients and caregivers to attend for free (and even get airfare and lodging costs paid.)

Much of my blogging has been on the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media site (and the related Network member community), so my posting frequency on SMUG has suffered a bit. I definitely plan to still keep growing the SMUG community and provide resources, though (we’re at 1,265 SMUGgles as of today), and maybe recruit more associate professors with honorary doctorates.

If you would like to be among the honorary SMUG Ph.D.’s, drop me a note using the Contact Form. I would be glad to involve other contributors on the SMUG Faculty.

These last five years have been amazing. Thanks to everyone who has been part of it.


From Lab Rat to Social Media Champion

Chancellor’s Note: For his exemplary work in applying SMUG principles to his work, Jason Tetro (a.k.a. The Germ Guy) is today receiving his honorary doctorate (the only kind we have to offer) from Social Media University, Global. This is his doctoral dissertation.

For the better part of the last 30 years, science was my vocation and I was comfortable with life in the lab.  The job was always interesting and results continued to satisfy me.  If I spent the rest of my life as a so-called ‘lab rat’ I would have been content.

That all changed in 1999.

Ironically, it wasn’t science that prompted me to venture out of the comfort of the lab but rather the sad events that occurred in Columbine High School, or to be more specific, the fallout that came as a result.  Back then, I sported long-haired, a goatee and a trench coat.  Up until that day, I had no problem but afterwards, the reactions of people in the streets, on the bus and even at work concerned me.  I had never once shown an iota of violent behavior and yet people looked at me as if I was a villain, an outcast and worse, a potential murderer.  So I wrote an article for the local newspaper, The Ottawa Citizen, called “Don’t judge a man by his black trenchcoat.”

The article in the Ottawa Citizen

It was not only accepted, but heralded by the newspaper and earned me a plum position and a photo that perhaps wasn’t the most flattering but did change people’s perspective of me.  Instead of being viewed as a threat to society, I was a bellwether for others to speak their mind.  For months, I interacted with hundreds of people, most of whom I didn’t know.  I listened, learned, appreciated and shared.

In a way, it was my first encounter with what was to become known as social media.

A contributor to society

Shortly afterwards, an editor at the newspaper called me up and asked me if I would be willing to write more.  I had concerns but was not about to decline the offer.  For the next two years, I wrote as a community citizen, never accepting a cent in return.  Over time, I learned how to engage others to give them the ability to act beyond the words on paper to make their own differences in the community.

The response was tremendous and I heard countless stories of the human experience, many of which could not have happened without my contribution (or so they said).  Some people treated me like their friend, even though I had never once met them.  Others asked me to become engaged in their cause (I would normally decline as I was still professionally a ‘lab rat’).  But perhaps the most rewarding (and humbling) experience occurred one evening on a bus when I was surrounded by three individuals who obviously recognized me.  They told me that there was a group of twenty-something individuals in the Ottawa area who not only followed me, but developed their course of action based on my articles.  I asked why they didn’t act out on their own without my example sparking them.

The answer still brings goosebumps: “You said it when no one else would listen.”

I should point out that although one might think these experiences may have convinced me to be a leader; they did something completely different.  I wanted to be a communicator or broker of knowledge.  I had a passion to be a hybrid of the 4Es – Entertainer, Educator, Expresser, and Engager.  I wanted to be someone that made differences.

Was I ever naïve.

Looking for an audience in all the wrong places

I was just starting my thirties and honestly believed that it was time to take the rat out of the lab and into the real world.  However, to follow the metaphor, once I was out, there were more shrieks of discontent than appreciation of the effort.

The next years were hard as I explored various avenues of media to continue my passion for engagement.  I tried filmmaking with little success; writing fiction, while interesting to scientists, went nowhere.  None of my attempts to interact with journalists seemed to work either.  It seemed that what I was selling was just not wanted.  I sadly believed that the world just wasn’t interested in science as a part of their daily lives.  It wasn’t until almost 5 years later that I realized I was working ahead of the curve and that my efforts were quite simply misplaced.

From Fun Guy to Germ Guy

In early 2007, I was asked to help in the development of a news article on “Germs.”  The premise was pretty simple:  Germs are everywhere but don’t panic!  The reporter decided to make it fun but still educational.  The result was a success for us and a hit with the public!

Germs on CTV Ottawa Part 1


Germs on CTV Ottawa Part 2

While this was not the beginning of the “Germ Guy” (I was actually known as the “Fun Guy” (homonymous with fungi), it did create the spark.

Less than a year later, I was asked not only to take part in live segments on “Germs”, but also to take live questions.  I had trepidations but was not about to say no.  And so, following my 4E’s, the segment became a popular addition to the noon show, the feedback was always positive and soon, the “Germ Guy” became a reality.

It wasn’t long before I was asked about the location of my website or blog or Facebook account.  I’ll be honest, I had been using the internet since the late 1980s and thought of myself as fairly savvy but in reality, I was well behind the times.  In all the work that I had done in the traditional media, I had yet to explore the avenues of social media.

I couldn’t have imagined what I was missing!

The 5th E – Explosion

My first experience in social media was twofold.  First, I set up a Facebook account although I wasn’t sure about whom to friend or not friend.  I was indiscriminate and thankfully was amazed at the interaction.  Discussion topics were as wide as the greatest panorama and for the most part, were well-tempered.  The second was the initiation of the placement of my segments on the web (many of which you can still see by visiting my website).  Linking to the videos was easy and I was able to bring all my Facebook friends to the site to view the segments.  Soon, I was gaining friends, many of whom were looking forward to talking with the Germ Guy and in many cases, to gain the opportunity to ask questions just like on TV.

Germ Guy 2009

By the end of the first year, I had been bombarded with comments, messages, and queries; it was almost all too much.  Yet it was only the beginning.  When the station held an open house, I was welcomed as a member of the family and placed in a highly visible zone.  I was amazed at how many people I met, how many hands I shook, how many hugs I received.

Despite all the joy, there was a significant downside.  It was becoming clear that Facebook was not the avenue to follow.  The critiques were growing from those who believed that they were as capable as me and wanted to let me know this usually in private but sometimes in the public foray.  In addition, some of the topics I discussed were controversial and at times I found myself on the wrong end of campaigns.  This was no clearer than when one segment, in which I supported the flu vaccine against the H1N1 virus, ended up being shared with anti-vaccine advocates.  Soon I was embroiled in hundreds of messages and comments from these people who served no higher goal than to belie, berate and besmirch me until I broke down and disappeared.  I quite honestly tried to fight, but had to give up.

I learned a hard lesson that day and have realized that it is now a tenet of social media:  if enough people find you to be their enemy, there will be no cessation until you are defeated.

A Student of Social Media

After that horrible experience, I stayed away from Facebook and within a few months, moved to Twitter.  The learning curve was high but I found myself enjoying this realm.  Tweeting, Re-Tweeting (RT) and commenting on tweets were a joy and each 140 character contribution was an experiment in the 5Es.  Much like a graduate student, I tested various hypotheses and had many lessons to learn.  Sometimes I would make a mistake and have to apologize for the lack of judgment or awareness.  Other times a test would end up with nary a mention; the tact would inevitably end up in File 13 such as the following “Hygiene United” avatar idea.

Hygiene United Shield

But there were times that something worked and with some further experimentation, I realized what would make a success.  And so, for the next half a year, I tested various Tweets to hone in on the successes both in the Twitterverse and its interaction with other existing means of social media including blogs, aggregators, videos and presentations.  The experience was enriching but there was still something missing.

Being a ‘SMUGgle’

The first time I heard of the Social Media University, Global, I was actively searching for sites that would help to take my experiences and put them to action.  The site was impressive while the logo, motto and overall atmosphere of the site reflected an academic focus that many seem to miss:  education isn’t dry – it should be enjoyed.  And, besides, who wouldn’t want to be called a ‘SMUGgle’?

Initially, I was taken aback by the wealth of information available and also the spirit with which the topics were presented.  Chancellor Dr. Lee Aase not only provided a strong and yet easily understandable curriculum for learning, but also gave direction as to how one might use their skills and create social media success.  In addition, the collection of easily accessible and readable theses showed how each SMUGgle has used the true power of social media to their success and tips and tricks as to how others can do the same.  To be honest, I didn’t just learn from SMUG, I absorbed.

Over time, with reading, reasoning and reflecting, I acquired the resilience to continue my journey towards being a true social media champion.  I felt that it was time to step out from the social media background and start becoming a leader.  It was time to share my vision, act on my mission and achieve my social media goal.

Chancellor Aase would call this my capstone.

I simply called it #handhygiene.

Tweets Alone do not a Strategy Make

I started the hashtag on May 5th, 2010, the annual Hand Hygiene Day promoted by the World Health Organization.  As I imagined, it started off slow and it took about a month to get into a groove whereby I was using the tag whenever I could.  At first, I gleaned from other hashtag conversations, such as #ptsafety, #infection, #germs and #hygiene, and RT them with the #handhygiene hashtag.  I also started looking for terms that would be related to #handhygiene such as “handwashing”, “hand hygiene”, “clean hands” and even “dirt” and “grime”.  Each day, I would find between 10 and 20 items to RT along with tweets of my own.

By the third month, a few people were using #handhygiene religiously while others were starting to get a feel for the concept of the hashtag.  Many contributors were companies looking for a marketing tag while others were focused on hand hygiene as a tenet in the  maintenance of health.  But I was getting nowhere with organizations, governments, NPOs and others who I believed would benefit most from the hashtag.  It turned out that none other than James Carville who I met by chance explained what was wrong.  To paraphrase his few minutes of schooling:  no one is going to listen to a tweeting “Germ Guy!”

It was clear I needed a strategy.

Blogging – Back to the Beginning

It was clear that I needed a blog to support the work that I was doing with #handhygiene.  A blog could go further than the 140 characters of a tweet and more importantly, could attract and keep an audience.  Not to mention it would provide more depth to the goals of the “Germ Guy” and provide a direction for the future.

In the summer of 2010, I started “The “Germ Guy” Blog: Confessions of a Mercurial Microbiologist.”  I felt the title had the right amount of curiosity and alliteration to bring people to the site regardless of the content.  And the image, which I found thanks to a great webinar on hand hygiene, was just priceless.

I tried to post at least every two weeks but found myself lost.  At times I was just not sure of what to say.  At others, I was just afraid; I wasn’t sure I could engage people with something as simple as #handhygiene.  I felt that the blog might actually harm my hopes with the hashtag rather than help it.

I spoke with several people in social media but there were no answers.  No one had the magical answer and even if they did, they were not about to share it.  I found myself lagging both in confidence and unfortunately interest.  It wasn’t until I attended a seminar and met up with a colleague I had not seen in years that the answer hit me.

The question was simple enough:  “Are you still writing for the Citizen?”

“No,” I answered hoping to return with a bemusing quip.  “I’m writing for citizens.”

“I thought that’s what you were doing all along.”

Turns out I was the one to be mused and my block melted.

I went back to my roots.  All the strategies that I used in my newspaper posts were now the basis for my blog posts.  The techniques of alliteration, storytelling, metaphor and more importantly, positivity came back to me immediately and the posts improved dramatically – as did the popularity.

By the end of the year, the blog was gaining between 20 and 50 views a day (quite an accomplishment for something as anathema and uninteresting as germs).  But more importantly, the original targets for #handhygiene were now starting to not only read but also use the hashtag.  Municipal, state and provincial governments were using the tag as were major information sharing groups.  The number of #handhygiene tweets grew and over the winter holiday season, when I had little to no interaction with Twitter, the tag was sustained.

I have to say that these successes gave me a true sense of contribution.  But the zenith of my joy came when the World Health Organization (@whonews) itself, the ones who provided the spark for the tag, adopted #handhygiene for its posts on World Hand Hygiene Day 2011.

@whonews It’s 5 May, over 13,000 hospitals aim to improve #handhygiene with WHO SAVE LIVES campaign.

It took a year but the capstone was in essence complete.

From Social Media to Real Action

Since May 5, 2011, I haven’t been using social media much.  It’s not that I feel it’s time to move on but rather the fact that the successes I have achieved are now starting to translate into action in the real world.  I am now talking with a half dozen international countries in the developed and developing world that have approached me to develop strategies to improve their health and hygiene.  I am regularly talking behind the scenes with media and my hand and card are always taken at galas and other events.  It’s an entirely new world for the ‘lab rat’ but I am ready to learn and find ways to use the 5Es to attain success and bring the world closer to better health and hygiene and of course, the benefits of using social media.

As I accept this honorary doctorate from Social Media University Global, I would like to express both my gratitude and my wish to share my experiences with you as your new Associate Professor.  I’ve experienced much over the last decade and I cannot imagine not sharing it with the global social media community.

And so, with the blessing of the Chancellor, Dr. Lee Aase, I will, over the coming months, develop a course to facilitate efforts in the 5Es and to provide opportunities for mentorship.  I hope that everyone reading this will enroll in the course and find the lessons to be useful and easily adoptable.  But more importantly, I look forward to hearing of all the successes that are to come.

I thank you for your time and as this is a social media environment, would love to hear your comments.