Meet The Experts – Brenda Finkle

Meet the Experts – Profiles of Hospital Social Media Managers

Over the past year, I’ve met dozens of hard-working people pioneering Social Media use for their hospitals. Despite similar challenges, they’ve built successful programs and have a great deal of knowledge to share. This Q and A series will introduce you to a different professional each week.

Our first interview is with Brenda Finkle, who is the Director of Corporate Communications at Norman Regional Health System in Norman, Oklahoma.  Brenda has been with Norman for 3 years, and oversees the internal and external corporate communications for the three hospital system.

Tell us about your hospital and the department where you work.

Brenda: Norman Regional Health System serves healthcare needs throughout south central Oklahoma. Our acute-care hospital on the Porter Avenue Campus is licensed for 337 beds and offers a full range of services. Moore Medical Center provides general medical and surgical needs, physical therapy, obstetrical services, 24-hour emergency services and close-to-home diagnostic imaging to the Moore community. The HealthPlex Campus at Interstate 35 and Tecumseh Road is under development and already includes the HealthPlex Professional Building. The third, 152 bed hospital opens in September, 2009 and will feature Cardiovascular, Orthopedic and Spine, and Women and Children’s Services.

We also provide outpatient diagnostic centers, medical transport services, physician services, centers of excellence, durable medical equipment supplies, a primary care network, community wellness service and employer health services. Norman Regional has grown to employ more than 2,300 people and partner with 293 active-staff physicians.

I manage the Health System advertising and marketing activities with the help of a highly professional, specialized team of experts. The department has an award-winning graphic designer and copy writer, web designer and media specialist.  Our team of four specialists/experts has oversight of the communication and advertising needs for the Health System. Our copy writer has responsibility of writing and sending our social media updates daily.


What got you interested in social media?

Around January 2009 we were hearing more “buzz” about Twitter and Facebook in print and some TV media regarding business applications.  I asked my team to research how hospitals were utilizing social media and if this was something we could adopt. We also, at the same time, realized that traditional methods of advertising were evolving and wanted to be part of this evolving conversation. We still had a message to share with the public – but found ourselves regrouping and rethinking how to best communicate with our audience.

Here is some of our thinking:

  • Needed to be part of the conversations about our Health System
  • Develop relationships with our community that allow for feedback – instantaneously
  • It’s free. There are no costs associated with Facebook or Twitter outside of staff time.
  • We can reach an audience that typically doesn’t read or watch traditional communication tools such as the newspaper, magazines or TV.
  • We would be building relationships and hopefully trust with a new group of community members we had not touched through previous advertising or communication campaigns
  • Customer Service and feedback from the public without expense of a focus group or more formal information gathering tool
  • Building brand loyalty and public awareness

Is there a particular Social Network you prefer for your hospital program?

We focus on three: Twitter, Facebook and our Website blog

What are your social media goals?

  • To build relationships with those that “follow” us or “fan” us through our social media platforms.
  • Increase knowledge about ongoing community service, health screening events and other events they and their families can attend
  • For the public to have a voice about their expectations.  A platform to share their story and experience at the Health System.  Develop two-way conversations.
  • Educate the public about their health and what they can do to improve their health and that of their family.
  • We want to be seen as a health resource for the communities we serve.
  • Be part of the conversation and monitor conversations about the Health System.
  • In Oklahoma crisis communication is always a consideration – you’ve highlighted a hospital utilizing social media extremely effectively during flooding this past spring on your blog.  We plan on using our social media accounts and website to communicate – “real time” with the public during an emergent situation.  We had a great response to our H1N1 updates this spring.

What’s your opinion on measuring ROI for social media?

ROI for social media is going to be very difficult to measure. Right now we measure success through the amount of interaction we receive monthly.  I think this is an area many are struggling with at this time.

How much staff time do you and your team devote to social media a week? How much do you think is right?

We estimate about 30 minutes a day – between writing and launching the tweets/Facebook updates, answering questions and monitoring Tweetdeck for messages. Not much time at all.

Did you need to “sell’ social media to upper management?

No, they were very progressive and forward thinking. Our HIPAA committee has been extremely supportive.  They trust our department and know we’d never put anything out to the public that would put the Health System at risk. When presenting to the CIO and the HIPAA committee I shared that we had to be part of the conversation – so we were aware of issues before they became insurmountable – and could get correct information disseminated before rumor took hold. Once that flashpoint is passed it’s difficult to change an entrenched rumor. We’ve all seen the PR nightmares related to not being part of the social media conversation.  We want to be out in front of any issues before they make the 6 PM news.

Can you share a success story?

Yes!  We’ve posted information regarding events or Health System updates that have triggered media interest and quite a few stories.  We like interacting with the media and find ourselves building great relationships with our media partners.  Twitter and Facebook are truly helping with this effort. Community members tweet and let us know that they wouldn’t have known about the free screening events we sponsor unless they read about it on Twitter (or Facebook).

We have patients and their families write on our web blog about the care they or their loved one received while at the Health System. The patients or family members that share a frustration or concern with us via Twitter, Facebook or our blog are called by our patient liaison for customer service follow up and care.  We would rather have them cared for in a positive and proactive manner immediately than weeks later as seen with other customer service tools. That’s the gift of social media – immediacy.  When positive messages are given and shared we seek permission from the writer to post the feedback on our flat screen TV’s, through email updates, internal publications and team meetings of the department being complimented.

We’ve also been promoting individual service lines with coupons – increased awareness has been extremely successful.

What advice do you have for Hospitals considering a social media program?

Don’t wait too long to engage. There is benefit to being part of the conversation early.

Other thoughts:

  1. Take time to thoroughly review current staffing to assure you can support 1 to 5 updates a day.
  2. Have a plan in place to deal with feedback – be it positive or negative.
  3. Don’t rely too heavily on straight marketing messages.  You’ll want to build relationships with your followers or fans.

What changes do you think we’ll see in the future in terms of how hospitals use social media?

So many ideas circulating out there:

  • Employee updates
  • What surgery is like as demonstrated by our friends at Mayo, Henry Ford and others.  It demystifies what to expect and hopefully take away some of the fear.
  • Public health updates and alerts – such as H1N1 flu
  • Emergency management
  • Hospital communication directly to Physician
  • Physician communication with their patients
  • RSVP for events via Facebook
  • Nursing can utilize for patient education or follow up after patient discharged from hospital
  • Medication management questions for pharmacy

Any final thoughts?

As our world is rapidly shrinking – information is exchanged on an immediate basis via social media, text messages, blogs, chat rooms, websites and other means.  Social media is driving those changes. I literally find out more by reading updates on Twitter than I can by reading the newspaper the day (or two, or three depending on where you live) the event occurs.

Traditional marketing is being re-evaluated by every marketing/advertising professional I’ve spoken to over the last few months.  Where are people meeting/talking/exchanging ideas?  Where will that conversation occur over the next 5 years?  As a society we’re shifting to a more web based environment.  How we address this shift in healthcare will be critical.

For us – we’ll continue to explore new ways to keep our community informed, educated and alerted to healthcare and Health System updates.  We seem friendlier, more approachable and up-to-date with our social media platform.

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9 Responses to Meet The Experts – Brenda Finkle

  1. On so so many levels!!!

  2. Oh, nuts. I hate code. I started my comment with “applause applause,” but because I used brackets, it disappeared. Here it is again: applause, applause for a great opportunity to be inspired (even more) by what Brenda and her hospital are doing.

  3. Rebecca Price says:

    What a great idea to profile some hospital folks who are out there working to figure it all out. Since I was born and raised in Oklahoma, I’m proud to see Brenda and her straight-forward down to earth approach showcased. More applause!

  4. Kathy Mackey says:

    Great post Ed. Brenda, it is so nice to see in print what you have been doing at Norman Regional Health System. I am happy for your success. It looks like you have incorporated the best of ideas. Looking forward to hearing more.

    Kathy Mackey
    @mkmackey on Twitter

  5. Wanted to offer my thank you for your kind comments! I’m so proud of the work we do at Norman Regional. I have the best team in healthcare – hands down. I’m very, very proud of them.

    I’ve had a number of phone calls generated from this blog post – thank you Ed for this post and your website highlighting health care’s role in social media. The sky is the limit when it comes to finding new ways to communicate with the public. Heard a good one just yesterday from a new friend in Kansas – tweeting pharma reminders to patients! Loved it.

    Keep fighting the good fight and working to improve healthcare convo’s. I enjoy reading each of your tweets!

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