The Problem With Social Media and Healthcare Marketing

Yes, you can market, communicate, and build community with patients and their loved ones using social media.

The problem, however, is that the center and circumference of online media are predicated on peer-to-peer connectivity.

If Healthcare marketers and communicators break that geometry then brands tarnish, returns vanish, and frustration levels creep.

I”ve talked with all sorts of organizations – I’ve even been asked to interview for Healthcare digital media positions in last couple of years (companies are starting to create these sorts of positions).

These are good organizations with smart and kind people running them.

A common temptation I sense in many of Healthcare organizations, however, is to go the “safe” route – the well-known, tried-and-true practices of 20th Century Marketing.

But playing “safe” that way is actually playing with fire.

The concentric and overlapping circles of peer-to-peer connectivity are like rings of fire.

If you want to “play it safe” in Healthcare marketing, public relations, and general communications, you will eventually get burned when you jump into to the rings of fire without fully mastering – and realizing – the prowess of the supple musculature and passion demanded of 21st Century pressures.

So many traditional PR pros – with outstanding skills and experience – have serious troubles making the flip to today’s communications and community-building. I hear this complaint all the time from those Healthcare PR and marking pros who have completed the other half of public relating and are doing well with social media.

So, a few practical tips:

  • Don’t ask patients, er consumers, to Like you.
  • Tweeting and Facebooking are not marketing nor communicating nor building.
  • Don’t be lazy about content creation.
  • Learn more about Search algorithms.
  • Develop CRMs amenable to today’s nebulous networks.
  • Put the on-the-ground communications before online syndication and engagement.
  • Critical: Hire smart people with Healthcare backgrounds – if you stumble upon a physician or nurse or other HCP who is not only tech-savvy but also adaptive and who can learn new things: grab her or him! If not, your competition just scored a huge advantage and you’ll regret your decision when you realize what you let pass out through the door.

I understand the concerns – and fears – executives and managers of Healthcare organizations. Their concerns are rational, while the fears are not. Unfortunately, organizational fear often holds more sway than rationality.

But history has shown, over and over, how so many companies that faced changing conditions simply refused to step back, brave self-critical analyses, and profoundly apprehend and exploit a changing world.

In the end, patients will bear the costs of fearful leadership in today’s participatory communications – safety belongs at the bedside, not the boardroom.

The problem of Healthcare and Social Media Marketing is within you. So is the solution.

More crudely: You are the problem.

Good news (maybe): You are the solution.



People are NOT Diabetics nor Schizophrenics Nor Any Kind of Ics

People with diabetes are not “diabetics”.

People with schizophrenia are not “schizophrenics”.

People with diseases are not their diseases.

Language influences our perceptions of reality.

When healthcare professionals speak like this, they run the risk of contaminating their assessments, communications and treatment implementations.

When people who have diseases refer to themselves as diseases, they too run the risk of confining who they are to what they have.

Please don’t confuse having with being.

– Phil Baumann

Healthcare Advertising Is More Effective Than Social Media

Should I have added a question mark to the title? Probably. But I didn’t. Here’s why:

“I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative’. I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product. When Aeschines spoke, they said, ‘How well he speaks’. But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, ‘Let us march against Philip.'” – David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising

Three key pearls of wisdom:

  • Medium of Information
  • Buy the Product
  • March against Philip

It’s now almost common “recognition” that advertising is dead – static, slow-to-place and vague targeting quality material.

No, no. It’s not – and you shouldn’t want it to be dead.

What’s dead are the traditional conceptions, creations, contexts and processes of advertising.

We just have new media, new modes and times and spaces of positioning.

Remember, Advertising is a subset of Marketing. Marketing is vital to Healthcare because it connects points of suffering/need to points of care.

Like Ogilvy, I don’t want your sociality – I want action.

If sociality is part of the action, by all means: socialize!

But we now live in a wonderfully powerful time of Information Distribution and Interaction.

I don’t want you to interrupt me…unless…

…unless you’ve got something I need but I don’t realize.

But how would you know this and how would you deliver it?

^1 I’m leaving a trail all over the place – via social networks, mobile devices, etc.
^2 Knowing the times and spaces and modes of targets.

Yes, this is difficult work. But so is spending all your days on social media – and on social media, most of your efforts will get sucked in to sharing LOL cats (or their medically-related analogues).

Yes, by all means, create and share both ambient and focused content in health care – Lord knows, there’s a lot of bad stuff out there: so be on the leading edge.

Yes, generate and participate in Healthcare-related social objects and appropriately recruit influencers and other actives – and cultivate useful CRMs.

Yes, build out social utilities into overall communications strategies and processes – it’s a no-brainer these days.

No, don’t leave out Advertising.

No, don’t think that there’s such a think as social media ‘strategy’ – today, social media are part of the Mission and the operations. But they aren’t the gap in between – no, that’s the job of Marketing Strategy.

Re-think, re-perceive Advertising – not so much as a creative endeavor, but as a medium of information.

Advertising is more effective than social media.

Do you really want to live in a world where your social world is infested with social media marketing? Think of the time everybody’s wasting. It’s not sustainable – and that’s why I say Advertising Is (and will be) more effective than Social Media.

You’d be a fool not to realize that Advertising’s Golden Age is just around the corner.

Some of you understand what I’m saying.

For those that don’t, I’ll try again:

Think of an advertisement as a monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey – it’s full of stars.

Forget talking so well all the time.

March against Philip.



Yet ANOTHER Post On Healthcare Blogging

Dear Healthcare friends, hospitals and other parties interested in health:

Blogging is dead.

What that means is: blogging is dead as a topic of conversation in tech circles. It’s a good thing that blogging is dead: it means you’ve got a trusted canvas to do your work.

I know so many bright people in Healthcare – but most just tweet. It’s as if they spend all their day on Twitter. But what comes of it? A few speaking gigs? A few mentions in trade magazines? A few moments in false fame? There is no Brad Pitt in healthcare social media.

But if you truly care about Healthcare, if you truly believe in social media as many of you say, then why wouldn’t you take a few minutes out of your day and share your thoughts?

You’re wasting your talent if all you’re doing is tweeting those thoughts, those links, looking for the next thing to retweet.

It blows my mind – absolutely blows my mind – that *most* Healthcare communications and marketing agencies rarely blog. You do all that content work, do all that learning from clients – and you can’t find time to share your wisdom without compromising your competitive edge??

Do you realize how bad that looks? – advising clients on digital media and you yourself don’t have the logistical chutzpah to do so yourself? How good is that for your industry?

If your response is: “But I don’t have time – my client work-load is too big”. Well, then – for your clients’ sake and your own health – you need a better workflow ethic and process.

I’m not going to write a lot here. I’ve got a stomach virus and don’t feel like investing too many words convincing too few people to blog.

But I’d recommend you read and heed what @msuster wrote about blogging. Just apply it to healthcare.

Don’t give in to Twitter. I’m WAYYYYY crazier about Twitter than you, and even I don’t waste my days and talent – and most importantly, my passion – there. Yeah, I schedule tweets – but I’m still human and interact more than most people who claim to be “social”.

On behalf of the patients and professionals who need your leadership and knowledge and wisdom, consider the cost of a few tweets, grab a moment of solitude and write your heart out on your blog. Because your blog is the only thing you can own on the Internet.

You have zero equity in Twitter – just a mortgage you’ll never pay off.

Your blog is an estate bequeathed to you by uncle Vint Cerf. Why on earth would you abandon it to the weeds?

@PhilBaumann – @HealthIsSocial – Newsletter




Things That Matter in Healthcare Social Media

These are some things that matter in the intersection of Healthcare and social media:

Clear Signals It’s easy for nuances to get lost in different kinds of media. A missing emoticon can rupture an intended meaning, and even ruin someone’s day.

Silence Communication isn’t always a good thing. During conflict, for instance, communication at the wrong time can intensify violence. An angry patient might go ballistic via social media because her father died of sepsis at a mediocre hospital. “Engaging” with her at that moment might not be helpful. We don’t always have to talk. There is strategy in silence.

Understanding Human Needs This is both the easiest and hardest part. When someone is grimacing in agony, it’s a clear signal to us to do something. When someone is clinically depressed, he may put on a mask – and there’s no quality signal to tell us what’s important. He may say angry things online, but is just in pain. Do you understand both the human psychology and its conveyance or blurring on social media? Furthermore, the human condition is complex and what we know about it offline may not be enough to understand how the Web impacts it. Knowing how to communicate via social media is not the same as understanding the human condition in light of evolving technologies.

Transcending the Medium (This is tricky for me to articulate, so bear with me). Because Marshall McLuhan was right that the medium is the message, we must prove him wrong because the message should be the medium. This sounds like a paradox, but think about it. We don’t want the medium to be the message, even though it is! So what are we to do? Well, this is where knowing the three points above come into play: our messages must be created so full with meaning (within moments of silence) and communicated with such clarity and understanding of human needs, that they burst through the medium. You want an example, don’t you? Well, go read through this transcript and see how the message of Alzheimer’s burst through the medium of Twitter. (Tip: search for “the red light” in the bar at the bottom of the document and read the tweets before and after that part.)

That’s it for now, friends – more things that matter in healthcare social media.

@PhilBaumann – @HealthIsSocial – Newsletter



We Are NOT All Patients – The Video Edition

Following up to yesterday’s post “We Are NOT All Patients”, here’s a video expanding and clarifying on the question concerning how language may be influencing Healthcare [link]:

Sometimes the words we use are so propounded into our heads that we barely even think to question what they do.

@PhilBaumann – @HealthIsSocial – Newsletter


We Are NOT All Patients

Who wants to be a patient?

Do you? Is that something to which you aspire?

How many times do you wake up and say “You know, I hope I become a patient today. The wait is killing me.”?

We’re just people. This is life, and life bring problems which – one way or another – become our problems.

Fortunately, we have people curious and passionate and smart enough to take stabs at solving those problems. They are given names, like doctor, nurse, biologist, advocate.

None of us wants to be a patient.

This language, this way of speaking, is a consequence of the industrial age – the time when things needed to be neatly categorized and packaged. The world of the neatly-packaged, squarely-folded, factory-made cracker with no salt is coming to its end.

Healthcare marketers would be wise to avoid questions like “What do patients want?”.

Who knows what they want? They could want anything.

I don’t know what they want. I don’t even know what I want as a patient because I don’t know what condition I might have at any given moment. My frame of mind and focus on my needs/wants depends on what happens.

I do know that we want empathy.

I do know that we want competence.

I do know that we want ethical conduct.

Fun too, if possible.

Healthcare marketers need to think in terms of problems and solutions. Forget “patient”. Ditch the term from your thinking – it’s practically meaningless, and will only lead to Powerpoint water-boarding in tortuous proposal meetings.

Feel free to use the term, just don’t let it get in the way of knowing the people behind the word.

Knowing demographics and doing bread-and-butter market research are well-advised activities.

Just keep the language reality-appropriate. (There’s a new phrase for you: reality-appropriate.)

A patient is someone who waits for nothing to happen.

You do know that’s why “patients” are called “patients”, right?

We are not all patients.

We are all people.

Communicate with people, not patients.

What are you waiting for?

@PhilBaumann – @HealthIsSocial – Newsletter


Successful Healthcare Advertising

Successful Healthcare advertising depends on…

  • The healthcare need in question
  • The goal of the advertising
  • The time needed for behavior change
  • Where people are during the advertising
  • Why people are where they are during the advertising
  • What people are doing during the advertising
  • The degree to which the need is felt as a want
  • The expertise marketers have in behavioral economics
  • The design of every interface before and after the advertising

It’s the last part – the design of the interfaces before and after the advertising which is most critical.

There is no grand unifying theory for advertising in Healthcare because there is no one problem in Healthcare.

One ad in Healthcare is unlikely to win any big scores. This is the source of confusion which the Web has thrown into the marketing mix.

Last century’s conception of advertising arose out of limited Interfacing technologies. That’s what’s changed. Thinking about advertising as a discrete, stand-alone process no longer holds up.

The discrete view of advertising worked last century because limited channels held in the flow of attention. The Web has broken open the channels into infinitesimal pours, and so attention leaks out of every pour.

Rather, the key to understanding advertising in light of the Web is the Interface.

What is the Interface? It’s everything:

  • The printed page
  • The television screen
  • The radio sound
  • The desktop
  • The laptop
  • The mobile device
  • The pharmacy counter
  • The physician’s office
  • The grocery aisle
  • The electronic billboard
  • The QR code or MS tag
  • The online community
  • The unexpected place

But here’s the thing: you must forget to think about desktop, laptop, mobile, email, Twitter, Facebook, blogs. They’re all Interfaces.

So think Interface. Think about Interfacing.

Advertising is just one of many Interfaces along an ever-growing continuum of interfaces.

Once you understand the continuum of interfaces which you could build online, offline and the yet-to-be-explored interfacing in between those worlds, you’ll have a better understanding of what makes successful healthcare advertising.

If a social interface is needed, go build it. If simple scheduled messages are needed, build the app. If video content is the enhancing interface for eduction, shoot the vid.

Successful Healthcare Advertising depends on an understanding of Interface in all of its forms.

Successful Healthcare Advertising depends on forgetting about thinking about just Advertising and on starting to think about Interfacing.

Just know: Interfacing is hard work. Which is why you must pour love into every part of your work.


Why Hospital Blogs Fail

They don’t have to fail, but here’s why the do:

  • Fear of failure
  • The word “blog” – it’s ugly and to conservative enterprise peeps evokes something of Dungeons & Dragons
  • The false belief that hospitals don’t have any stories, in spite of the hundreds that happen everyday which the staff, the people they serve and the family members who love them would happily share if simply asked
  • Reliance on Twitter and Facebook
  • Twitter? Why hate on Twitter? Twitter gives the illusion that longer content is dead. Plus it encourages creative laziness. (I’ve earned full rights to critique Twitter btw.)
  • Incomplete communications strategies – or lack of any cohesive strategy.
  • Overstating the risks of HIPAA while understating the risks of never being found in Google
  • Misunderstanding the role of blogging in communications
  • Lack of long-term investment discipline
  • Lack of resources – more specifically: lack of resourceful use of resources
  • Lack of confidence
  • Lack of desire

You can be trained to overcome all of the above…except…

…all except the last one. That’s the one can’t be instilled.

But if it’s there, it can be enkindled.

Desire for excellence burns down all obstacles.

That’s true in nursing; that’s true in medicine; and that’s true in communications.

The real failure of blogging – and the resulting skills needed in today’s communications gained from blogging – is a failure to understand today’s behavioral economics.

You don’t own your tweets. You don’t own your Facebook updates.

The only thing you can own on the Web is your own domain.

Why on earth would you willingly leave your only home abandoned and failed?



The Unsubscribe Punch

You work hard (and smart). You build great things, interact with people but something obviously just isn’t working out. Nobody reads your tweets. Nobody Likes you on Facebook. Nobody comments on your blog.

You’re passionate about your ideas but now you’re alone in the silence, hurt by the apparent rejection and failure of it all. C-suite’s gut about social media was right, wasn’t it!

Then that Unsubscribe comes along – that’s the punch in the gut. Who cares about Twitter unfollows or what happens on Facebook. But that Unsubscribe  – that’s the slice.

This is all going to happen to you online – as well as off. It’s part of life in today’s world.

Yesterday, I wrote something straight out of my heart – an appeal to respect for nurses in general, and Healthcare communicators in particular. I got great reaction. …Except: one Unsubscribe from the Newsletter showcasing the post.

I get Unsubscribes as a matter of course in this business – happens, and it’s cool. Clearly it would be psycho to go off.

But that one – that one from a Healthcare communicator hit me right in the gut. The frustration of driving away the very person who I was appealing to do something with her skills.

Here’s what’s important though:  my feelings aren’t reality – and that’s something you will need to remind yourself: you don’t really know what people think or feel, nor do you fully understand their intentions. Misinterpretation is easy – especially online where information isn’t complete.

For all of our efforts to market our passions, there’s always the chance that the market isn’t there; or you’re in the totally wrong market; or you’re style isn’t matching with the market’s.

But, I guarantee: this problem will drive you nuts – especially if you’re truly passionate. The Unsubscribe isn’t just the literal one – it’s in every interface of your strategy.

This Web stuff isn’t easy as some (i.e. the inexperienced) would have you believe. It’s actually a Healthcare issue in itself: people working in this business will have to learn to cope with the good and the bad: negative comments, blasts, threats, etc. That’s why organizations need to have support systems for their employees.

So my advice is as follows:

  • Be willing to accept that your passion may not be shared by others
  • Your definition of the market, may not be the market
  • Consider that you may have to trade a bit of your passion for the reality of the market – if you want some way of helping who you’re tying to help (your way isn’t the only way, no matter how passionate it is)
  • Know that the essence of passion is love – and love without risk and disappointment and heartbreak isn’t love
  • In the 21st Century, Marketing without love is like a hand without fingers
  • You can always give up on your job – but never give up on your love
  • Don’t confuse your passion with you – that’s when the ego rises and crushes the passion

If that Unsubscribe doesn’t punch you in the gut, you have no guts.

@PhilBaumann –  @HealthIsSocial

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