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.



Might Big Brother In Healthcare Be Good?

Gary Vanerchuk shot a short video Big Brother Is Good in which he makes the case that if advertisers know everything about us (save for social security numbers, etc.) then our experience on the Web would be much better:

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What if we applied this concept to Healthcare?

On the surface it might seem scary or even unethical. But if we’re going to be online seeking health information or support, wouldn’t we be better off with the most relevant and timely advertising?

After all, we’re going to get hit up with ads anyway.

Now, this is all speculative and glosses over some of the deeper nuances of personal health information.

Still, why not figure out a way to build a Web where consumers and providers can find each other as appropriately as possible?

Just a question. What do you think? How do you feel about this idea?

Phil Baumann


Did You Follow-up On That Healthcare Campaign?

Our campaign was a success!

We got an award for the ad!

Healthcare outcomes met? Check!


…Did you follow-up?

The party’s over. You won. Congratulations.

But now, people aren’t calling much anymore.

Sales are waning.

The patient was sick, you helped her – but you never followed-up.

You didn’t call. You didn’t visit. You patted yourself on the back.

Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee and Jack Dorsey – they gave you the platforms to build the platforms to follow-up.

Have you been paying attention?

Are your marketing and communications and advertising skills *really* up to par?

If you pump enough money into traditional and social and digital media and do something wild that captures the glory of the moment, you can win…

…you can win: a moment.

But a moment doesn’t last a lifetime.

Nursing and medicine and psychotherapy would be more effective if nurses and doctors and therapists were given the resources, time and tools to follow-up.

So too would Healthcare Marketing and Communications and Advertising.

The difference between what the ground troops of our health care ‘system’ can do and what marketers can do is huge.

Doctors and nurses don’t have much wiggle room.

Marketers do.

The components of that wiggle room: The Follow-up.

You’ve gotten the whole social media thing wrong.

The purpose wasn’t to get Likes and RTs and Pluses and Viral Videos and social media attention.

The purpose was to follow-up.

Phil Baumann


Twitter Is God’s Gift to Communicators

“Twitter is God’s gift to communicators” according to Mark Ragan at this years Healthcare Marketing and PR Social Media Summit at Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville Florida.

I spoke at the summit on Tuesday (3/15), going over what 21st Century communications looks like; what the new healthcare provider will look like in the coming years; why Healthcare must invest in a thorough understanding of technologies impacts and places in the industry; why the tools of social media aren’t nearly as challenging as understanding what drives behavior; and briefly went over how RNchat and MDchat started and what they’ve accomplished to date.

Here’s a transcript of the tweets of March 14 and 15 and as you can see the attribution to Mark’s belief in Twitter’s power in helping communicators:

MayoRagan Healthcare Marketing and PR Social Media Summit 2011 Tweets

[link to transcript]

Is Twitter God’s gift to communicators? I don’t know – but it’s a sharp point about the need for communicators in healthcare, and elsewhere, to fully understand the nature of today’s media, their potential and their proper roles.

Has Healthcare been slow to adopt these media? Yes.

Does Healthcare need to learn how to use them? Yes.

That’s the easy part.

What’s the hard part? The hard part is knowing what drives behavior in a world where attention is fraying, people live on different platforms (online and off) and our understanding of the nuances of human behavior has a long way to go.

Twitter won’t accomplish that feat. But it is a nice little gift for us to seek, ask and find.

@PhilBaumann – @HealthIsSocial – Newsletter



Mission Statements in the Age of Social Media

The issue of social media policies in Healthcare and Pharma often come up. There are different angles to consider – employee behavior, risk management, privacy, regulatory considerations.

Often, the approach is based on the idea of integrating social media into strategy. But I think that’s an incomplete view. For today’s technological conditions might be so disruptive that they actually may call into question the very strategies – and mission – of an organization.

So here’s a video – a kind of Business 101 if you will – which hopefully will help make clear the importance of re-visiting the *mission* before trying to just merge social media into strategy and formulating policies. It’s about 8 minutes, but I think you’ll find this to be important if you’re vested in the future of your organization in the age of social media [link]:

Please note: that by “mission statement”, I don’t just mean the formal written document in most companies’ publications. A “statement” is a state of mind (ment – mentation – mental).

Here are the two examples of corporate mission statements I mention in the video. Note the gaping differences in usefulness and meaningfulness between Google’s and Pfizer’s:

Google’s mission is to organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful. (emphasis added)

We will become the world’s most valued company to patients, customers, colleagues, investors, business partners and the communities where we work and live.

I explain why these differences matter when trying to figure out how to make sense of today’s technologies and the impacts they have on every facet of our lives and businesses. (As an aside: Pfizer’s (PFE) current share price is approximately 3% of Google’s (GOOG). Just sayin’.)

What’s your Healthcare mission? And how might technology affect it?

How might the production of molecules that go into our bodies be affected by new technologies? How might the missions of the companies that make them need to change if they are to succeed? (Think: new ways to collaborate, research, recruit, organize, manufacture.)

How might the emergence of social networks of genomic information open up new kinds of missions?

Are you considering a) how to integrate something new into existing strategies, or b) how new things might be changing the mission and its derivative strategies, tactics, policies and resource management?

Do you think it might be smart to consider the later before jumping into the first? The later requires much less work and resources than the first. The later just needs a few healthy brains to find.

Ah, there’s a mission for ya. 🙂



Play Marketing


It’s a great word, isn’t it? Simple. Elegant. Direct. Fun.

When you play, you’re going with the the natural streams of time and life.

You can play with anything actually – you just have to know how. You need skills, knowledge, experience.

You can even play with your health. People do it everyday.

It’s the way you play that makes differences.

If exercising isn’t playful, it’s unlikely to be a lifestyle.

If reflecting on your life isn’t playful, it’s unlikely to be happy.

Why does healthcare marketing fail so often? Is it because people are being asked to do work instead?

Why do social media and mobile devices attract so many people? Is it because they’re work? Or are they play?

The media we work with today are play media.

People love to play. So play.

Push marketing may be dead.

But I say Push Play is the way to go.

A little Push in healthcare marketing is OK – in fact it’s needed.

It’s just that what you push should be playable.

You couldn’t give me a plaything with television or radio or print.

You can do that now. You can push it to me in a tweet actually.

It’s not Social that’s going to do the lifting in Healthcare marketing. It’s Play.

Play is the missing link between traditional and social media.

Play is healthy. Health is playful.

Market play.