The Third Annual Social Media Summit at Mayo Clinic kicked off Sunday with pre-conference sessions attended by hundreds of folks.  I’ve made the pilgrimage to Rochester, Minnesota, as a member of the external Advisory Board of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.  I’ve been attending sessions and – at least as important in this crazy social media world we live in – I’ve been meeting in real life for the first time other members of the Advisory Board as well as many folks I know and interact with on line.  For those of you not on site – please feel free to follow along on Twitter.  We’re tweeting it all using the #mayoragan hashtag, and you can follow along at home at the hashtag, or peruse the #mayoragan tweets at your leisure.

I made it to two of the preconference sessions (there are three tracks of excellent programming, which leads to some difficult choices this week.)  The first was a morning with Shel Holtz and the second was an afternoon with a panel of docs active on social media: @ctsinclair, @richmonddoc, @endogoddess and @subatomicdoc.

As usual, Shel offered an engaging mix of guidelines for using social media effectively and real-life examples from the healthcare space.  Some highlights:

  1. Be sure that your use of social media aligns with your organization’s broader strategic goals – and don’t forget to include improved customer service as one of those goals.  Heightened engagement will give you early warning of burgeoning issues sooner than otherwise, and well-handled service recovery will likely give you a bump in positive word of mouth.
  2. Effective community outreach builds goodwill and leads to improved metrics – in physician and patient recruitment, and philanthropic giving to nonprofit institutions.
  3. Use blogs as your “home base.”  But use Facebook as a means to connect with your public.  Shel cited a powerful factoid: Facebook hit a new high of 500 million unique logins on a single day recently.  That’s where the people are, so you need to push your content on Facebook.
  4. He also loves podcasts and video – and shared a surprising tidbit on podcasts: while conventional wisdom seems to peg optimal podcast length at 5, 15 or 20 minutes, he (and some others) have had notable success with long-form podcasts (over an hour in length) which listeners download and listen to while commuting or working out.  (I’ve settled on 20 minutes as an optimal length for podcasts, through a less-than-scientific process.)
  5. Crisis communications experiences of healthcare organizations hold some good lessons, and he focused on a couple, including the Innovis Health communications while its home town in Iowa was being flooded a couple of years ago.  The overarching lesson: Be prepared.  The aphorism:  “There are two kinds of hospitals: Those that have experienced a crisis and those that will experience a crisis.”  The takeaways: (i) During a crisis, post updates on Facebook every 30 minutes, whether or not you have something new to say.  (ii) Have a crisis communications plan in place in advance, including, e.g., a “dark” crisis website/blog ready to roll, just in case, and guidelines for communications so that folks don’t need to run to legal/regulatory/risk management to get each individual communication vetted.
  6. Don’t block social media sites on your organization’s network.  Not even the U.S. military does that.  The DoD treats the internet as a “field of maneuver” rather than a “fortress to be defended.”

The physician panel was particularly fascinating because the docs did not speak with one voice.  Some were very interested in metrics as a means to measure success and fine-tune online tactics.  Others were uninterested in metrics.  There was a range of views on being provocative/controversial online.  There was more agreement on the notion that yes, it does take time to be active online, but it’s worth it, that individual patient outcomes may be improved through various uses of social media, and that one may become better-read (more up-to-date on health care policy news and research, etc.) than the average bear by following key curators in your niche on Twitter.

You can glean more details from the tweetstream, and also read about the concurrent sessions that I unfortunately had to miss.

I took a tour of the Mayo Clinic Simulation Center during a break in the day’s proceedings, and made a new friend.

A recurring theme in my hallway conversations as the day continued was that it is impossible to transplant a successful program from one location to another without taking into account myriad local conditions (social media program, heart transplant program – same problem).  As I always say to folks who just want to copy, say, the Mayo Clinic’s, or the Cleveland Clinic’s, social media policy, change the names and be done with it, it is critical to take the measure of local conditions and customize an approach.  As I will be discussing in my presentation later in the conference, there are risks – manageable risks – inherent in the use of health care social media, but the risk tolerance of each organization is different, born of a whole host of factors, and those differences must be respected.