August 25, 2010

Unlike my colleague, who has written an energetic and thoughtful post about PhRMA social media guidelines, I have an easier task.  The second topic of this week’s HCSM discussion was how best to successfully launch a new account (Twitter, blog, etc) in an already busy on-line environment.  Many of the participants in these weekly discussions have significant online presences of their own, and offered helpful (and likely hard-earned) advice.  Some of the suggestions that received the most attention:

@sixuntilme: “Know the audience and the key players in the topic you’re jumping into – and also your goal in engaging w/ the community”

@jodyms: “Take time to listen and lurk.”  “Listen, lurk, support, & affirm. Stay away from negative and create fabulous content. Think big.”

@miller7: “Also – Community engagement is essential. Too many times people think they know their audience when they have no clue.”  “It’s all about branding. Give it a name and a mission – people will follow if it aligns with their mission”

@consultdoc: “Key to any new account is to provide value and be unique. Lots of me toos in almost every healthcare niche”

@NickDawson: “you start by following, listening and commenting on content from others”

@kileigh7: “first you need to see if there’s a need for that type of website/community. Sometimes stuff is really redundant”

@saltzberg: “start small by building relationships. Be where your audience is and start listening.”

@PhilBaumann: “Gr8 Question. 1) Create quality content 2) Be a master of conversation 3) Be a loveable peacock”

@foxepractice: “Step 1. Start to Listen. Step 2. Repeat step one. Step 3. If you can add value, only then GO”

@crgonzalez: “Follow the leaders; build ties; share value info; use hashtags; blog; pass along other worthwhile resources to SM folks”

@TheRealDanSfera: “content is king! stop bs’ing and start creating great content while expecting NOTHING in return.”

@rjenbarr: “SM can improve a patient’s experience, comfort people, bring wellness, increase health & access. Doesnt have to be marketing”

@TeresaBasich: “approach new accts/engagement from perspective of humility and desire to learn, too.”

I realize this is a lot of examples, but I think it’s relevant to post them all here because I think they key messages are few and are clear:

  1. Engage in the community you aim to work with. Few/none of us like a newcomer to step in to an environment and claim they are better, smarter and further ahead than we are.  Often, it’s not true and is a rapid way to generate animosity and ill will.  Even if it is true, people will probably still discount what you say as a result of the way you’re saying it.  It is much better, and to our group much more effective, to start by meeting the people you hope will read and react to your contact.  “Meeting” people online includes reading their posts,  replying constructively to their content, and trying to become a resource even before you try to launch your own account/service.  Through online dialogue you can assess others’ needs and offer your knowledge and experience as resources to advance knowledge and learning.  Through such interactions, true connections are formed.
  2. Provide added value. Inherent in the question is the recognition that the internet is a very busy place and it can be very hard to find valuable signal within the noise.  The last thing any of us needs is more static and more distraction as we try to find those services and accounts that will inform us, help us make decisions, and be better professionals in our line of work.
  3. Start slow. Many commentators note that overnight successes are few and far between.  Once you launch an account and start developing content, it will take time before your account becomes widely read and recognized.  Sometimes it will feel as though you might be speaking into an empty room.  You must be aware of this, be diligent and consistent, and continue to build connections as you refer back to point #1.
  4. Be honest and engaging. And have a sense of humor. Over time, dishonest accounts, undercover advertising and other such content will be uncovered.  If you are starting a new site (like this one you are currently reviewing), be up-front when you don’t have perfect answers or when you need help.  Ask for help.  Seek connections with others active in the same arena you are and ask if they will provide feedback (or even contribute content and guest posts) to what your writing.  And have fun.  Health is a serious matter, but even so there is space to enjoy what you are doing and to make friends while dealing with significant issues.

A second thread to the discussion centered on the question of whether blogs and websites provided additional value to more interactive (and faster moving) social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.  The consensus was that blogs and websites do have an important role by allowing deeper discussion, longer reflection, and ongoing interaction between blogger/author and readers.  Twitter’s strength–fast-moving, constantly updated and with a large community actively interacting with each other–also introduces limits.  It can be hard to follow threads and discussions, even if you follow appropriate #tags.  Facebook allows more time for responses and follow-up, but can be a difficult platform to post longer posts.  Blogs allow the writer to take time to develop their thoughts and post a meaningful piece that can dig deeper than often possible on Twitter.  Once posted, blog posts may be easier to read then Facebook updates and the comments allow dialogue and opportunities for authors and commentators to expand on thoughts and introduce new ideas.

Starting a new blog, Twitter account, official Facebook page or website is challenging.  You need to make sure that you are ready for the work, and that you know your reasons for moving forward.  Interact with your intended audience, be a new resource that provides information not found elsewhere, take your time, and have fun.  Figure out what platform (or combination of platforms) will fit your needs and align with your interests.  Take a deep breath, and launch.

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