Hospital Crisis Communication in the Age of Social Media

How many hospitals have a crisis communication plan they’re truly comfortable with (and if you do, how often do you update it?)? Truth is, most of those plans are reactive. If only we’d known what to expect before it actually hit us. That’s the goal, of course: to diffuse a problem before it becomes a full-blown crisis. Doing that requires proactive crisis planning, if not a crystal ball. And, that’s where social media can have an impact.


A few things to consider:

  • The doors fly wide open with social media.
  • Our customers—which include not only patients, but their families; affiliated and employed physicians; nurses; support and administrative staff; and others—are the influencers.
  • Those customers now have more tools than ever to share what they like or dislike about their experience.
  • It only takes a single voice to ignite a spark.
  • Nervous? We should be. Ultimately, that’s our brand they’re talking about.  

But, also consider the very things that we think may work against us—tools like Twitter and Facebook—can do double-duty work for us when embraced and consistently managed.


Here’s why:

  • It’s like having an ear to the ground on the good, the bad and the ugly. 
  • We’re able to quickly identify problems and opportunities.
  • We’ve also got the ability to swiftly engage with customers to address problems—before they become crises.
  • We can learn and disseminate the lessons from each of those engagements. 

Ultimately, it’s about listening, getting personal and humanizing our hospital brand. Once we realize this, anything with the potential to create a crisis becomes an opportunity to enhance a relationship.


What about you? How is social media changing your hospital’s crisis communication strategy?


Old Dogs, New Tricks? Be Mindful of the Pitch.

The other day, I invited a hospital marketing colleague of mine to connect with me on LinkedIn. His response was that he was too “old-school” for that sort of thing. I didn’t tell him that I had 60- and 70- something family members that had Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, nor did I remind him that he was a mere 40-something—and a marketing professional to boot (plus, how do you get to be old-school at age 40??). I didn’t even remind him that he’d been very clear several years earlier that, to him, marketing was all about building relationships. Um, yes, that’s pretty much what social networks like LinkedIn are all about.


So, with some restraint (I’m no bully), I shared a few compelling reasons about why he might want to try this particular social network. But, it got me thinking about how marketers (and others) should go about convincing the unconvinced to venture into social media. This is what I came up with:


  • Shaming doesn’t work—this only puts folks on the defensive, don’t you think?
  • Give them a reason to which they can relate—doing something just for the sake of doing it is just dumb. Show them how it can become part of the big picture. You know—strategy?
  • Offer up a case study—well-presented case studies are always powerful, especially when it shows ROI.
  • Stop with the buzz lingo, it’s threatening to the uninitiated—when it comes right down to it, all of this stuff is really just word of mouth and relationship building.
  • Show them how to do it/use it—personal demos are golden.
  • Be a resource—be the expert and share your knowledge.
  • Be patient—eventually, everyone will have to come around to this stuff anyway.

None of these are “aha” concepts. I think in our urgency to get colleagues on board with new technologies that improve communication, we forget they may not have that same enthusiasm and sense of urgency. Then, we need to step back and re-evaluate the way we’re making our pitches.


I still haven’t heard back from my hospital colleague, but it’s only been a couple of days. He’s smart, so I believe he’ll begin seeing the bigger picture. Until then, I’m being patient . . .

Hospitals Not Doing SM: Get Out of Your Way

Fast forward 10 years—or even just 5—from now, and all cursors point to social media as a primary source of information gathering. And, that’s not just for the youngsters. Adult use (30s and up) of social media has quadrupled in the last 4 years.


Hospitals—big on statistics in so many ways—ignore those at their own peril. Another stat to watch? The coveted demographic for hospitals, women 35 and up, is among the fastest-growing on social networking site Facebook.


So, what are the nearly 6,000 registered hospitals in the U.S. waiting for? A handful have made the leap—their leadership gets it and they’ve allocated at least some resources to make it happen. For the others, the resistance usually comes in a package that includes:


  • Lack of understanding
  • Lack of resources
  • HIPAA concerns
  • Tied to traditional marketing tactics

It doesn’t take much to understand social media—you just need to set aside a little quiet time to get familiar with it. Resources? Sure, it’d be great to have a designated social media staff, and it’s likely one day you will. But, look at Mayo Clinic’s blog. They’ve leveraged patients, staff and other ambassadors to create their own ecosystem.


Concerns about HIPAA are legitimate ones, but to use an analogy that one colleague shared: How is social media different than a radio talk show that opens up its phone lines?


And, regarding traditional marketing and media tactics, no one is saying that they’re going away. But, social media should be part of the mix. You want to create and enlarge your communities; hospitals can do this through social media and be a player in their own conversations.