Put the human first, and other lessons from TEDMED

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TEDMED 2013 badge

I’ve happened upon many things on Twitter: advance copies of books, a caterpillar that looks like Donald Trump’s hair, and even several awesome friends I may never have met otherwise. A few weeks ago, I saw an announcement that TEDMED—insert nerd swoon here—needed social media “reporters” to help cover its DC event. So I applied, then promptly forgot about it. (At nearly $5K per ticket, I certainly wouldn’t be going otherwise.)

Then I got the email: they picked me! I arrived at the event shortly after 7 a.m. on a Friday, and after waiting in line with hordes of GW and Georgetown students, got my pass. Then, of course, I went to find the coffee. (They serve hipster coffee at TEDMED—worth the wait.)

Dr. Preston Maring, inventor of the hospital farmers market

Dr. Preston Maring, inventor of the hospital farmers market

Instead of an exhibit hall, TEDMED had “The Hive,” which served the same purpose, only in a cooler way. With better (healthy!) snacks. I didn’t have much time to explore, but did meet the physician who invented hospital farmers markets, Dr. Preston Maring. He was standing next to a lovely display of fresh vegetables, courtesy of Kaiser Permanente (and you know if there’s kale, I’m going to find it).

The first session of the day included five talks, which took place in the beautiful Kennedy Center Opera House, and covered topics from supercomputers to personalized medicine, informatics and the perils of chili fries. (They don’t appear to be posted yet.)

Usually I watch TED talks on a tablet while riding my bike trainer, so this was a novel experience. I wanted to hear more. But I had an assignment: Great Challenges of Health and Medicine. Twenty social media reporters covered the same number of challenge breakout sessions.

Though my experience at TEDMED was only one day, several themes emerged:

Healthcare is broken. Everyone seemed to agree on this. And with a crowd of doctors, CEOs, consultants, entrepreneurs, scientists and med students, that is saying something.

Innovation is happening, but usually not on the front lines. One speaker mentioned that healthcare professionals are just too exhausted to innovate. Strides are increasingly happening in server rooms, not operating rooms. Supercomputers and informatics can predict which patients are at risk of certain problems, sometimes years ahead of clinicians.

Great Challenges poster with illustrations of session concepts

Great Challenge: Inventing Wellness Programs that Work

To find solutions, first you have to define the problem. This is where the troubles began in my Great Challenges session: Inventing Wellness Programs that Work. Our first task included defining wellness, and I’m pretty sure we failed. We failed to come to an agreement, anyway.

Whose job is it to manage wellness? Individual? Doctor? Government? Employer? Depends on your perspective, and we all brought a different view—colored by different real-world experiences. It struck me as we talked that this would be a very different conversation with a wider slice of humanity. Our group (and I suspect most others) included CEOs, doctors, professors, consultants, a vintner, and students from elite universities. Could we really address these challenges from all angles? Wellness programs, maybe. But Impact of Poverty on Health? I’m not so sure.

Put the human first. To effectively tell the story of hundreds, tell the story of one—your own story can be the most powerful.

I’m still pondering many of the concepts and challenges from TEDMED 2013, and I’ll stay tuned for updates from the other Great Challenges. Of course we didn’t solve all of healthcare’s problems at one conference, but attending gave me hope that we’ll get there eventually, thanks to cool science, supercomputers, and—perhaps most importantly—health professionals who are putting the patient first.

For “best of” tweets from TEDMED, check out this Storify by @HealthcareWen


Do what makes sense, and more from #FredNMT

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Yours truly, in the role of Tweet Zapper at #FredNMT. Photo by: Jessica Hibbard / Stories and Ideas

Yours truly, in the role of Tweet Zapper at #FredNMT. Photo by: Jessica Hibbard / Stories and Ideas

Last week, I attended the 5th annual New Media & Technology Conference (#FredNMT), hosted by the Frederick Chamber. In my role as volunteer guest-tweeter, it was my job to share key points in real-time… in 140 characters or less. I was a bit overenthusiastic, earning me the nickname Tweet Zapper at the comic-themed conference, and a stint in Twitter limit lock-up. If you’d like to view the highlights, check out the Storify page.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend FredNMT–the brainchild of my friend Jessica–for several years now. The first year or two, the conversation was mostly focused around defining social media and how it could be useful for businesses, and avoiding common pitfalls. This year, I noticed some different themes. (I purposely waited a week to write this post because I wanted to see what stuck.)

Do what makes sense. Whether it’s personal branding, mobile marketing or media relations, we heard in various ways that new media isn’t one-size-fits-all. The sheer number of social media platforms makes it nearly impossible for organizations or individuals to be active everywhere. A better option: choose a few platforms based on your business needs/goals, and use them well.

Curate responsibly. This presentation by Jessica Hibbard and Beth Schillaci covered a wealth of information on finding content, crediting original sources, and avoiding pitfalls of user-generated content (contests, for example). On finding content, I’m partial to Jessica’s analog advice: read books. Finding themes and patterns and adding context for your audience is impossible if you don’t read … a lot.

Be consistent. In what conference attendees would call the “skimmers presentation,” Michelle Kershner talked about the “festival of confusion,” where she saw a festival advertised, but couldn’t locate the pertinent details (or even mention of the event!) on the organization’s website. Think about where you’re sending people. If you say, “visit our website for more information,” make sure the information is there. And easy to find. Having different messages and graphics everywhere confuses your audience and dilutes your brand.

Be yourself. I’ve long believed that organizations with a human behind the brand are the most successful on social media. @AVDawn took this a bit further in her personal branding presentation, talking about how she and others in the AV industry have built a successful online presence. She also made her own Twitter handle necklace, which helps people recognize her at conferences. (Check out Twitter necklaces and geek accessories here.)

One thing that hasn’t changed: it’s always great to see my “online friends” in person, and meet new fellow geeks social media enthusiasts. For those who attended, what conference advice are you still thinking about, or using in your business?

Social media lessons from health care


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!)