Heart, stethoscope and EKG

Yesterday I attended the Ragan Health Care Social Media Summit, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN (albeit virtually, as I have no travel budget). This conference was attended primarily by hospital and health care marketing and PR types, but some of these take-aways can be applied anywhere.

  1. Social media is giving patients power. We’ve known for years that it gives consumers power by magnifying their voices (read: complaints). Patients with rare diseases are now using that power to band together to fight rare diseases, and that is a wonderful thing. This story about spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) from the Wall Street Journal is just one example. Doctors were dismissing the concerns of patients because they’d never seen their condition before; the patients went online and banded together, resulting in new clinical research about their condition. Lesson to marketers in health care: social media isn’t about you. It’s about your patients.
  2. Don’t underestimate the power of humor and whimsy. And video. (Noted in a tweet from @MeredithGould ) We’re all human. It can be risky to use humor in a conversation about serious diseases. But when it’s done well, no press release, newsletter or Facebook post could possibly compare. Case in point: the Mayo Clinic Know Your Numbers music video parody of 867-5309, educating patients about preventing heart attacks by knowing the numbers for blood pressure, lipids and BMI. Lesson to marketers: don’t forget your audience is human. Tell a story, and have some fun.
  3. Content is what people are looking for online. And content is what they need to change their behavior. Not marketing. Patient communities are powerful, and they’re something hospitals have always done. The next step is extending those support groups online, to help more people. In marketing we call this reaching a broader audience, but we should never forget it’s about helping people. Across all age groups, 80% of us look for health information online. Health care communications reach people often in their darkest hours; we have a responsibility to make it as easy on our patients as we can, and truly help them. @chrisboyer created a community for expectant mothers (myhealthybaby.org) because patients weren’t looking on the hospital website for answers to their questions. Lesson to marketers: Communicate with people in the way they prefer, and seek to truly help them.
  4. Set aside an hour a week to think strategically. Both Chris Boyer and Julie Norris of @kptotalhealth mentioned this. Chris said—I believe in all seriousness—that if you don’t know how to measure your results, your successor will. You can’t measure without a strategy. And you can’t create a strategy or figure out how well it’s going if you never come up for air. We’re all busy, but this is one of those things you just have to make time for. You don’t have to know exactly what you’re doing with social media; the best way to learn is by doing. But you should have some goals in mind. Talk to your clinicians (doctors, or in other industries your operations people) and find out what their frustrations are. Can you address some of them using social media channels? Lesson to marketers: Keep track of both the forest and the trees; know your value to the organization, and share your results.

You can follow along for the final day of the conference (October 19, 2011) on Twitter #mayoragan. Attending? What are your take-aways?

Addendum: books recommended or mentioned by speakers at this conference. (Please comment if I missed one!)