Social Media Talking Points

Over the past few months, I’ve developed a set of talking points about social media. Here’s what I share with different folks at my hospital:

The 30-second elevator pitch – suitable for anyone:
Social Media is a conversation. Millions of people use these sites to connect, create trusted circles and talk to each other. Sometimes they talk about us – our hospital, our staff and their experiences here. We have to be in the room – the social media site, if we want to be invited into the conversation.

To the Marketing folks:
You can use Social Media in three ways – 1. It’s another way to promote our services and let interested patients find us. 2. You can also use it to monitor and protect our brand reputation. 3. It’s also a great tool to follow what folks say about our competition. And oh yes, our competition is starting to use it to promote their services. Do you want to be left behind?

To the Customer Service team:
It’s an easy, asynchronous way to let our customers contact us when they need help. It’s simple, cheap and a way to catch problems quickly – then resolve them before they get out of control.

To the Public Relations office:
The traditional media (TV, Radio, Print) is monitoring social media looking for breaking stories. They use Twitter, Facebook and other sites – many times connecting directly with our employees, asking questions and bypassing traditional news releases. Participating in social media is one way to monitor this activity, and promote the messages you consider important.

To the Community Outreach folks:
You invest energy working with the local community around our hospital. Social networks are a extension of our local, physical communities – many of the folks who live near us use these sites. In addition, with these tools, the definition of community extends beyond physical boundaries.

To the Patient Education / Support teams:
Our patients and many others are on these sites are looking for trusted medical information. We can be that trusted source – and yes, we can do it without violating privacy and HIPAA rules.

You get the idea. Social Media is a technology, and just like the telephone or computer, its a tool, not an endpoint. Its uses are only limited by our creativity and imagination.

What do you say?

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20 Responses to Social Media Talking Points

  1. This is super useful -thanks for sharing your structured thoughts on social media.

    Question: What are ways hospitals can use social media for Patient Education/support to be the source for trusted medical information without violating privacy and HIPAA rules?

  2. Tom Stitt says:

    Great post. What do you say to those who worry that inbound social media messages or conversations will be critical or negative, sometimes misinformed or contain inaccurate statements?

    • Sjacobs says:

      Be prepared.  Remember when people are engaged you have an audience and the opportunity to educate.  Naysayers and the like will always exist, however, they make our world go round and keep us moving.

  3. Daphne Swancutt says:

    This is great. How do you respond to any questions that come up re: HIPAA?

  4. Lee Aase says:

    Well done, Ed. I particularly like that you don’t get to health-care specifics until the last two points. I think too many people within health care act as if the nature of our industry precludes social media involvement, and they dismiss it reflexively. I think your talking points have some attention-getters that might cause some to reflect instead of their initial reflex. How’s it working at U of MD? Making progress?

  5. Ed Bennett says:

    Thanks for the great feedback everyone. Let me try to answer your questions.

    Tom – I do get this question. Social Media is seen as messy, and hard to control. We are used to thinking about the worst-case scenarios, and tend to overlook the impact of the positive.
    I respond with three points:

    – While negative comments sometimes show up in the hospital social media sites I follow, the vast majority of the feedback is positive.

    – If something negative or inaccurate is posted, see it as an opportunity. Solve the problem, correct the mis-information or use the feedback to improve how we operate.

    – and finally, realize that these issues already existed. The person who wrote the negative comment is talking to friends and family. Isn’t it better for us to know what they are thinking and get a chance to change their attitude?

    Nicole and Daphne – the HIPAA issue is the #1 fear. So much doubt and confusion exists around this issue that many feel the safest response is to do nothing. But there are many things we can do in this setting to help and educate while respecting patient privacy:

    – direct them to educational content on your site, or other trusted health care sources. (feel free to send them to 🙂

    – suggest offline solutions. Encourage them to seek the proper specialists, give them a number to call for help. Link them to appropriate support groups.

    All of this can be done without disclosing protected health information. I discussed this in more detail here:

    Lee – “How’s it going at U of MD?” Well, it’s going slowly. But having the Mayo Clinic lead the way makes it easier. As these questions arise, I point to the social media sites you manage and tell them that Mayo has already solved these problems. I don’t expect things to change quickly, but I do expect it will happen in the near future. Based on the flow of updates to my list, the pace of acceptance is increasing. Soon, running a social media program will be routine, expected of any large organization.

  6. Arik Hanson says:

    Great idea, Ed. One of the major hurdles, as you well know, within a hospital system is educating our internal stakeholders around appropriate uses of these social media tools. You’re outlines some great examples of how we can can talk about SM the right way–as the messages are slightly different depending on the audience. I just passed this along to a few folks within our system to read and learn–we’re just dipping our toe into the SM waters. I might add a few other distinct audiences to your list that may require slightly different versions of these talking points: executive leaders, physicians and IT folks. Each perceives SM a little differently and needs to hear different messages.

  7. Drew Diskin says:

    Ed– Great positioning. Some of the thoughts we have been sharing at Johns Hopkins Medicine is that although social media is for the many, the conversations are centered on the few. Personal references and shared experiences on social networks have more influence on personal perception than a traditional one-way print advertisement; however, don’t expect the same awareness impact as a home page story on We consider these social media channels as ways to build relationships, knowing that control of the message is not our role– sharing it is. And for the 2% (those who express their bad experiences and non-favorable opinions), we can use it as a free market research, a way to improve customer service, and an opportunity to share a solution. Within our own culture- it should help make us more humble and realistic about improving. Again, great post. Cheers- Drew

  8. Tom Stitt says:

    McKinsey just published a report – Six Ways to Make Web 2.0 Work.

    “…Prudent managers should work with the legal, HR, and IT security functions to establish reasonable policies, such as prohibiting anonymous posting. Fears are often overblown, however, and the social norms enforced by users in the participating communities can be very effective at policing user exchanges and thus mitigating risks.”

    Personally, I think anonymous posting is ok, just needs to require moderation/approval in every single case of anonymous posting vs. comments/posts that have a verified identity.

  9. Great sales skills! Talk about speaking to each department’s hot button. Nicely done, Ed. In particular, what I like best is, in each instance you answer the question; “why?” And, you answer in their native tongue.

    Unfortunately, most spend all their time talking about “how” before they have come to terms with; “why.”

    Great post.

  10. lsaldanamd says:

    Very good post and points made. Thanks.

  11. Ed Bennett says:

    Nice to see the conversation.

    Arik – My 30-second elevator pitch is what I use with executives – it gets to the heart of social media. Yes, physicians and IT have different concerns. What would you say to them?

    Drew – I completely agree with your comments. Social media will not have the immediate ROI of traditional media exposure. It’s also not as straightforward as pay-per-click SEM or traditional SEO. This is old-school relationship building, one person-to-person contact at a time. But it has a twist – each positive connection we make is visible to everyone, building good will and brand equity one interaction at a time. It ties in to what I call circles of trust. In the long run, I believe this will have much bigger impact than a page one Google ranking, and the hospitals than invest early will have an advantage.

    Tom – Thank you for the excellent McKinsey report. It’s the perfect handout for C-level executives. Also agree about on anonymous posters. They can be an honest voice in our conversations, and troublemakers can be managed with basic admin rules.

    Jim – good to see you here. I like what you are doing with medXcentral. I don’t consider what I do to be sales, just a technique that I’ve always used. See the situation from the other person’s perspective – everyone wins when that happens.

  12. Patrick says:

    Ed – Your talk-track is great, and I have nothing to do with health care. My BMI proves it. But you’ve put into a nutshell several of the key positives of today’s social media. I wish I had written that post, and I’ll be sharing it as much as possible with others. I’m about to “tweet” it right now.

    One other point I’d like your opinion about, related in some way to anonymous posting. Why do so many sites require Registration before I can leave a comment? I find that absurd. To me, that discourages conversation. I’m not about to register for every site I come across, though I would like to contribute to the conversation. Ask me to register just to get my opinion and you’ve probably lost me. Your thoughts?

  13. Tom Stitt says:

    Patrick – I’ll let Ed answer the anonymous posting question from his direct experience in a hospital. My basic answer is that registration policies need to vary depending on the type of entity sponsoring the forum for social media exchanges.

    From my indirect experience, having a policy of allowing anonymous comments but requiring moderation before anonymous comments are posted is a best practice in a typical healthcare environment (like a hospital) where there are going to be reasonable concerns about intentional (the lawyers might say “willful”) patient privacy violations or uninformed, irrational or hateful comments/posts. At the same time, sharing identity (registration in your terms) establishes a basic trust level that in turn tends to drive more attention to the message of the party making the comment or post. How many times have you seen tweeters say “please show your real face as your avatar” to other tweeters instead of an abstract avatar.

    Outside the healthcare environment and for personal weblogs, I like the “living room” policy a colleague developed for comments. Un-moderated, anonymous comments are fine as long as the comment is something I would consider appropriate at a social gathering in my living room. Break the living room rule and the comment gets deleted with a polite request not to break the rule. Break the rule again and the IP address of the anonymous poster gets blocked. I’m sure you’ve seen private weblog authors turn off comments from time to time when the living room policy violation level costs too much in time and effort to police individually.

  14. Patrick says:

    Tom – Thanks for your input. I can certainly see why in a health care environment, posting moderation AND registration would be absolutely valid. If I were Ed, I’d have hurricane shutters up on my comments sections.

    And the living room rule makes sense, too.

    I’m pretty far removed from any health facility. That’s by design (fear of being told I’m not as healthy as my faded college-years photo lets me believe I am). So, for example, if I read an article online at HuffingtonPost (on the political left) and want to comment, it’s encouraged…as long as I register. Likewise, if I happen to want to comment on something at (on the right), I’m more than welcome to…as long as I register. Same thing.

    To me, thinking as a website-owner, the benefits of requiring registration (gaining email addresses and maybe other demographic information) do not outweigh the benefit of engaging as many people as easily as possible.

  15. I’ll say wonderful post, but them I’m a fan of Ed’s so I’d say that on just about every post. Now allow me to be a journalist of sorts. The issue with this thing called social media is it is foreign to a culture that is accustomed to being a closed loop. Aase’s approach to go with the “On demand” media lexicon as he posted packages already being made available to the media on social sites like You Tube is classic.

    And Ed your comment about tools is so true. Which is why the “Tool Time” discussion is a way those opposed to social media delay its implementation. It goes something like this, “Well which tool is good for this or that, and what will be our ROI, and then there is legal…”

    Yes, yes, I’ve heard that circular argument before, pass the Excedrin please. It is a discussion of a symptom and not the underlying issue – which is – improvement. For the full participation of social media to reach maximum benefit, there must be an acceptance to listen to what the social part of social media is saying. It may not even be a critical thing, just a different way to do things.

    All the best.

  16. Ed Bennett says:

    Patrick and Tom – The full registration model works if your site is popular, and folks really want to leave comments. Patrick mentions Huffington Post and Town Hall – two good examples of destination sites, where the desire to post outweighs the “pain” of registration. It also decreases spam, and junk comments. (it doesn’t eliminate it – nothing will)

    But those sites are the minority. Most of us want to encourage comments and participation in our sites – but in way that can be managed. There are many options. For example, anyone can comment, but it can be deleted by the Admin. Or it has to be approved before it goes up. Or the community can flag it as inappropriate. Or you can set a whitelist or blacklist. The solution will different for each site owner.

    Albert – Gee, I have a fan! I’ll need to get a agent now…You make a good point about the tool argument, but fortunately it hasn’t been raised with me. Maybe because our SoMe efforts have been done without asking for additional resources. Which is one answer to the ROI question – the investment is minimal, but the commitment must be long-term. This not something that brings new patients overnight – it is way to maintain / enhance our reputation, and should be seen as one part of that effort.

  17. Pingback: Ed Bennett from UMMS on Social Media « Davis Blogs

  18. I know I must be the last healthcare marketing professional on earth to view this post, but I’m going to comment anyway: I LOVE it! This is all intuitive to our marketing department at GMC, but I think these points will definitely hit home with our aging C-Team. Thanks, Ed!

    • Ed Bennett says:


      On the contrary, just being aware of social media means you are in the leading edge of healthcare marketers. Good luck with your C-team and email me if you have any questions.

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