WHILE IN THE RUNNING for CEO of Lawrence General Hospital (LGH) two years ago, I performed my due diligence: I perused the hospital's website, examined the printed materials sent by the search firm, and scoured the web for LGH stories and recent news. I genuinely admired what I'd seen in person during the interview process-Lawrence General's leadership, staff, and clinical capabilities-but I was concerned with the public face and persona of the hospital. The website was static, out of date, and full of broken links; the marketing materials were bland; and the messaging in no way matched the progressive Lawrence General I'd experienced during my many visits. I knew all aspects of LGH's marketing would require radical change, but I had no idea where to start. When I took the reins and began my work, the to-do list for our small marketing department was long and filled with urgent items-and there was no room for social media on that list.
Fast-forward two years, and the scene is much different. We have instituted a vibrant, exciting external mindset. The hospital's revamped website receives more than 50,000 page views per month. Our Facebook page is the fastest-growing in our region, with more than 1,700 engaged fans. Healthcare communications firm UbiCare often ranks us first in New England and has ranked us as high as third in the country for fan engagement (UbiCare 2011). Getting to this point was not easy. I needed to be convinced, as did many of the hospital leaders who for decades had been secretive and guarded with our news and stories. Fortunately, we brought in new marketing leadership from outside the hospital sector who helped us see the benefits of social media. Our new vice president, Nicholas Zaharias, had worked in social media in major college and independent school sectors. From the day he started, Nick was ready to begin our venture into the world of social media. However, I remained a true clinician and healthcare administrator, asking probing questions: I was concerned about confidentiality, upkeep, negative posts about LGH, the constant monitoring required, and whether we could even build a fan base. It was his proposed novel use of our initial page that sold me. Our hospital website needed a total overhaul, and the new site would take six to eight months to be launched. LGH had no time to spare and could not afford to wait for the new web presence to come to fruition, so he recommended that our Facebook page become our interim web page through which to better and more quickly share facts, highlights, and achievements with our audience. He argued that an active and useful social media page would show the public that Lawrence General was progressive and willing to share our news in open, tech-sawy ways. While I still needed convincing about social media in general, this argument made perfect sense.
I didn't know how news-starved our audience truly was until we launched the Facebook page and our fan base grew wildly from the first day. Facebook served as the cost-free launching pad for a dizzying switch in our once sleepy not-for-profit community hospital's marketing focus and achievement.
LESSONS FROM OUR EXPERIENCE
Thielst and Angelle and Rose make excellent points that resonate with what I experienced in LGH 's social media implementation. The following tips and examples are based on what has worked well for us; I hope they help calm the fears of other social media skeptics throughout the healthcare field.
Getting off the ground can be daunting. Consider the following starting steps for your social media journey:
* Enlist a local expert to help you begin. Ask around your organization or community for someone who has experience with social networking and media. It could be a new staffer, an intern, a local college student, a clinician, or a volunteer. The person who helps you build your presence does not need to be someone in your marketing department (although in most cases that department will be tasked with social media upkeep). …