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.

Can We Be Facebook Friends?

August 17, 2010

An issue that has been been discussed in other venues is whether doctors and their patients should be “Facebook friends”.  There have been various posts on other sites, but last night’s #HCSM chat brought it up.  The quick consensus, especially from the medical folks, was that this would be a bad idea.  Too many potential conflicts and too many possible lines can be crossed–at least on a personal/private Facebook page.  I expressed my concerns–I consider Facebook a private space: I interact with friends and family, people I know.  I consider Twitter a different creature altogether: I am throwing my comments, thoughts and opinions into the public forum and allowing the public to decide if they listen or not.  Facebook is, for me, a much calmer arena.  A place where my nieces can tell me what they’re up to for the weekend, or where my friends can invite each other to barbecues.  I don’t consider any of these to be public issues.  As a result, I’ve done my best to lock down my Facebook profile so that only my “approved” friends can see postings and activities on the account.

There are potential serious concerns as well, such as unprofessional behavior that may show up on Facebook pages (an issue seen in a recent study of medical students’ social media presence) or breaches of patient confidentiality (as seen in California, where medical staff posted pictures of a seriously injured patient directly on Facebook).  There are clearly limits which we all agree must not be crossed, but there are others that fall into a more difficultly-defined gray area.

The answer, for many professionals, is to have two different Facebook pages: one personal for friends and family, and another public page that can be the official and professional contact site for patients to interact with their doctor.  This allows patients to have a way to interact with their physician in a less-official capacity.

Not all were in agreement.  Some participants felt that that physicians and other medical professionals should be willing and able to be completely open on the web.  They raised the issue of whether anything should be posted online if one does not want it to be seen, and noted that patients hire their physicians as much as physicians opt to work with patients.  There was also a sense of frustration: patients clearly want to have a more direct (and a more personable, if not personal) relationship with their health care provider.  Current medical practice does not easily allow the necessary time for patients and doctors to develop a therapeutic bond easily; Facebook (or other) interactions could allow patients and doctors to have a stronger connection.

The issue can also be complicated when a friend becomes a patient: how does that change the doctor/patient relationship, Facebook sharing, etc.  My thoughts are different in that situation: if you were already a friend, someone I’ve known in real life, then you likely know much about my family, my other friends, etc.  We already trust each other, and we already communicate outside of our professional doctor/patient relationship.  To me, this is very different from accepting friend requests from patients–that is the situation where I feel uncomfortable becoming “Facebook friends”.

The conversation did open a theme that is sometimes lost in the discussion of health care and social media.  It is clear to me that there is a strong need for patients to connect with and interact with their physicians, and to form the necessary therapeutic bond.  Conversations and interactions allow us to form the relationships that humanize us and that humanize health care systems.  Health care providers’ Facebook personal pages may not be the best option, but it seems evident that there must be some other way to meaningfully extend doctor/patient interactions.

How can we leverage social media techniques and platforms to encourage productive communication and interaction between health care providers and patients?  Can we use professional Facebook pages more effectively?  Is Twitter a better means of interaction, given that the short posts and updates limit the amount of information that can be transmitted–is that a positive or a negative?  How can technology effectively personalize health care?

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