Things That Don’t Matter in Healthcare Social Media

Interest in healthcare and social media in the last twelve to eighteen months has exploded, no doubt about it.

With any new movement, there are always guesses, the emergence of ideologies and jockeying for political and economic power. No different with the coupling of healthcare and social media.

Following are some things that have received a lot of attention. And they don’t matter a whole lot. Resources are slim, so thinking needs to be fat.

  • Foursquare. Location is something which Twitter or Facebook can easily integrate into their services. Where your mind is focused is the most important location. If you’re at a conference, just use Twitter and the conference hashtag. Do you really think a badge of some imaginary mayorship matters?
  • Engagement. People only want brands to be available. Get in, get out. Big difference between engagement and availability. This notion that Pharma and hospitals and providers must engage is misguided. Engage what? These social networks are for people to talk with each other, not brands. Just be available. 99% of healthcare organizations don’t even know how to be available – so how in the world are they going to be engaging? This fetish with engagement started a few years ago. It may have been a prank of some kind, I’m not sure. But I do know that this one word has mislead entire industries and digital agencies down a vacuum tube of unfocused loitering.
  • Social Bookmarking. You have Twitter now – if you want to find something, just go search on Twitter or follow feeds of interest. All these curated links – where in the world do they go? Nobody reads them anyway if they’re found.
  • Widgets.
  • LinkedIn. It’s a rolodex with a commenting feature. Just use Twitter to find people and then call them if you want to work together.
  • Intimacy. It doesn’t scale. If it did, it wouldn’t be intimate.
  • The Cluetrain Manifesto – it doesn’t matter much and nobody can simultaneously retain a list of 95 untested “theses” *and* be useful.
  • 99% of Social Media – most of the adoption of these tools and sites are wild goose chases lead by attention-starved tech bloggers with possible substance abuse issues.

I realize that a lot of people are fascinated with this stuff. I know that I am because they *are* changing the world. I just think most people and businesses are being terribly mislead. Terribly mislead. And now the Great Misleading can be retweeted.

The reality of the Healthcare and Pharma industries is that they are corporate enterprises and these media don’t always fit them the way they may fit consumers. Nothing above will appeal – nor will help – most enterprises. They need what matters.

What matters? Here goes:

  • SEO – the organic kind, with just enough of the mechanical so you don’t get the search engines mad enough to kill your rank
  • Content that appeals to emotion – most healthcare behavior and decisions are based on feeling; reason plays a part, but don’t waste time creating nothing but rational content. Look around the world: would you see so much unhealthy behavior if appeals to reason worked?
  • Custom-targeted applications. There’s not a whole lot going on right now, but disposable apps will be commonplace soon. And they will be disposable, so don’t invest too much in building them.
  • Focus
  • Critical Thinking
  • A sharp tongue

Why no mention of Facebook? I can’t say it doesn’t matter. I can’t say that it does. It depends on who are your people, what they do and where they do it. Just know: people lose attention pretty quickly. Track your time, record your return. Re-allocate accordingly.

Most of what’s going on in social media is a waste of time – the social games, the status updates, the tweets.

These are territories of unpredictable behavior transpiring through unstable software. You never know when a conversation about a brand of underwear turns into a bewildering stampede of hallucinating buffalo.

Fortunately, there’s a few good things that can happen and we’ll figure out what they are. I hope.

In the meantime, don’t spread out all over the place with these gadgets. It’s unhealthy. There’s an economics of time and health which I think social media may be undermining.

Get the basics of communication nailed. Get the basics of marketing nailed. Get the basics of care nailed. Get the basics of critical thinking in the Age of the Dissolving Retweet nailed.

15 minutes of fame just may be the most any company gets out of social media. All the millions of other minutes may turn out to be vain and costly attempts to get back to a high that will never return.

@PhilBaumann – @HealthIsSocial – Newsletter


0 Replies to “Things That Don’t Matter in Healthcare Social Media”

  1. Well thought, and articulated. Different channels of engagement serve discrete needs. FB is about the need for personal connections. Linkedin is about career ties in a volatile employment world. Twitter is about news, information and thoughts, filtered by the collective.
    Companies want engagement because they believe they cam create loyalty and monetize a brand community; the whole relationship marketing domain fuels this pursuit. Guy Kawasaki is a shining and retweeting example of the power of brand communities, i.e. Apple in the 90s. Setting to a community for everything is not only risky, it’s dumb. How are companies hoping to engage when they don’t know how to listen? Being social by objective is like babbling about work at you kids birthday party…awkward at best.

    1. Hi Gunter

      Yes – I think the word “engagement” is too strong. Engagement isn’t a strategy – it’s just an activity that communicators need to build on and in.

      My concern is that as companies jump on board social media, they’ll make the mistake of going overboard with engagement and just interfere with the natural process of social networks.

      That’s the real power: these networks engender peer-to-peer communication. Businesses and leaders just need to have a sufficient presence to be available and to interact as needed. Forcing engagement just doesn’t work – and it will backfire.

  2. Phil, this is brilliant. Care, communication, marketing is what it all has to come down to. I hope we soon stop seeing social media as “new, shiny, savior” and just accept that it’s a tool to communicate and do business. It’s not as fancy or as complicated as people make it out to be, nor is it a panecea for bad business planning and execution.

  3. I will challenge the thought that social media is only Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Social media is a new way of communicating AND collaborating. I can appreciate most of your points but completely disagree with the engagement portion. Engagement is key but you have to know how to do it and be creative – THAT is where most ‘big brands’ are failing. Health care companies should be using “social” applications on the web to connect with thought leaders in their industry. Sharing knowledge, experience and research is pivotal to success and ‘social’ does it freely and seamlessly. Don’t get stuck in a silo thinking social media is just the latest fad website…it can be SO much more.

  4. Provocative. Well-said Phil! We have to keep it all in perspective. Is SM just another form of direct mail marketing? Is it a megaphone for brand message reminders? SM is an exciting megaphone for HC leadership and an effective channel to reach some customers–but like other vehicles, it is part of the mix, not the perfect fix-all. There is definitely a point in which it becomes too time consuming and expensive for proper ROI. At the small biz level where u dont have scale, I see clients and agencies struggle with budgeting proper resources for edited impact. Perspective.

  5. I agree with a lot here, but some seems to be true in only in some contexts (probably the marketing context). Perhaps part of the issue is that much of #hcsm is now about marketing.

    The benefits from social media will not come from marketing and gaming new clients, they will be coming from places where people need to collaborate to get things done, least often of which will be in a B to C context (although complaining on twitter about bad service does seem to be effective- not exactly what the marketing folks are looking for).

    Totally agree about Cassandra about engagement. In the UX world, engagement means exactly the opposite of what you are describing. It means getting (the users) in and getting them out with a sense of satisfaction that they’ve done what they needed to do quickly and effectively with as little confusion as possible – and that keeps them coming back (that’s the engagement part). It doesn’t mean wasting people’s time, creating confusion or frustration in some endless session of eyeball glue, it means keeping them interested with sharing something of value or doing something of value.

    1. Agree 100% with you – and that’s what I’m trying to get at – that how we
      avoid creating a culture of “engagement” which becomes just a nuisance.

      What I’m starting to see is that, from a marketing perspective, brands are
      moving from one end – no interaction or availability – to one where they’re
      being urged to be fully engaged. But I think that language, that pressure,
      will foster the wrong kind of understanding of engagement.

      What I”m hoping to emphasize, is the availability – given the
      attention-deficit world being built – is a much more fundamental skill to
      build, and one which has more pragmatic endurance.

      On the surface it sounds, as if this is semantics. It’s more than that –
      it’s about preserving the true value of these social media: connection
      between and among people, and that the role of brands not being insinuating,
      but available.

      For if brands follow the advice of those propounding the word, two things
      will happen: 1) it will be a buzzkill for the networks and 2) the brands
      won’t realize much of a return because of burnout.

      Again, I’ll say more over time.


  6. As Thomas Goetz so nicely put it: Engagement = Giving people an opportunity to act.

    SM is very good for exploiting “weak tie” action, but not for driving “high-risk activism.” I don’t think true health engagement qualifies as a weak-tie request. We usually ask for deeper commitments from people. So, unless you’re brand is one built around a social mission, my guess is that using engagement as a tactic will not be effective nor valuable.

    (see Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker –

  7. Phil could you provide a little more on your thoughts of Custom-targeted applications and disposable apps.


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