Facebook Forces Us Into the Conversations We Should Have Been Having All Along
Editor's Note: This essay is part of our weekly #TimeLessWisdom series, in which we're highlighting one of the contributions from our 2012 book, Bringing the Social Media Revolution to Health Care. Learn more about the series.
The oncologist was so angry he was shaking.
How had his photo ended up on Facebook? Why was the Cancer Center even on Facebook? “No good can come of this. I want no part of it. The only people who will post are gonna be pissed off.”
Ok, my bad. He’d been caught off guard when a patient casually mentioned he’d seen Dr. X’s photo on our Facebook page. Even if it was the same photo on the Cancer Center’s web site, I know better than to let a doctor be caught off guard.
I checked his photo and found two comments: “Dr. X is the best urologic oncologist in the galaxy,” and “Thank you, Dr. X, for saving my husband’s life.” I let Dr. X know about the comments, “which I have deleted at your request.”
We got into Facebook two and a half years ago. Since then, I can count on one hand the negative postings we’ve had on our page.
I’m not suggesting there aren’t risks in having a Facebook page for your hospital. I’m saying that, in my experience, the benefits far outweigh the risks, and the risks can be managed with some thought and research.
The most obvious benefit is being where your patients, families, and prospects are every single day. Increasingly, if you aren’t there, you might as well not exist.
Done right, Facebook lets you put a human face on your organization. You can teach and inform. You can learn what your customers need, want, and expect. And you can listen to word of mouth, accelerate the positive through meaningful engagement, and mitigate the negative.
One example stands out. A woman whose father was dying of pancreatic cancer posted a complaint about their oncologist by name. I took the conversation off-line by messaging her directly in Facebook. I apologized that she felt disrespected by the doctor and promised to share her comments with the doctor (which I did).
We exchanged a few messages. She thanked me for responding and apologized if she’d been too harsh. I realized that she was a devastated daughter who just wanted to be heard and to have some control over a crappy situation. Two weeks later, she posted that her father had died and thanked our team for doing all we could to save him and to ease his suffering when we could not.
Had we not been on Facebook, odds are she would have complained on her own page. Friends and family would have jumped in, all would have been left with a bad impression of us, and we wouldn’t have even known it. Instead, we neutralized the situation. But more importantly, I hope that by reaching out to her, I helped ease her own suffering a tiny bit.
Facebook, and social networking platforms like it, are not just unavoidable necessities. By forcing us into the genuine conversations we should have been having with our patients and families all along, social media can help us be better health care providers.
A postscript: Dr. X is no longer with us. A PR colleague at his current hospital tells me he has become quite the social media darling. Imagine.