Don’t be intimidated by ‘bloggers who blog about blogging’

Two external consultants — Shel Holtz and Andy Sernovitz — played important roles more than a decade ago in our Mayo Clinic social media journey. As our media team was considering how we might use technologies like blogs, Facebook and YouTube, visits to Rochester by Shel (2007) and Andy (2008) had two-fold benefits:

  1. They helped us as advocates learn more quickly about these technologies and how our counterparts in other industries were using them, and
  2. They provided external validation for our proposed strategies with our Public Affairs and organizational leaders.

One of Andy's observations particularly relates to an event that took place 10 years ago today: creation of our Mayo Clinic Twitter account and our not particularly profound first tweet:

Andy had emphasized that in development of our social media strategies and programs we should avoid giving too much deference to the opinions of "bloggers who blog about blogging." We needed to do what makes sense in our situation and that would benefit our organization, and not be victims of the expectations of purists who have their own ideas of the "right" way to do social media.

Our early use of Twitter for Mayo Clinic didn't fit anyone's notion of the ideal, conversational engagement. This was our second tweet:

But while those Andy might have called the "tweeters who tweet about Twitter" may have said we weren't doing Twitter right, this approach did meet two important goals for our fledgling program:

  1. It prevented an recurrence of British Rock Band Syndrome.
  2. It enabled Mayo to have a presence in this new platform without dedicating staff resources.

Within a year we had identified some staff resources to make our Mayo Clinic Twitter account more engaging and got rid of the automatic RSS feed tweets. And today, 40,742 tweets later, our team actively manages interactions with that account every day. But that's because we've seen benefits from this active engagement and have adjusted our strategy to take advantage of these opportunities.

The main idea: Technology and tools must serve strategy, not the other way around. We don't engage in these platforms for their own sake, but because they fit our overall strategy.

I saw this on a personal level today as well, as my wife Lisa and I presented her dad, who's 87, with his first iPhone. We think Leonard will love getting text messages with photos of his great grandchildren, and the speakerphone function will work better with his hearing aids than his land line does.

But to help him be successful in using this new technology, we pared his home screen down to just have the Phone and Messages apps at the bottom, and moved all but the Camera, Photos and Weather apps into a separate page. We also turned off Siri. We hope this stripped-down iPhone will help him stay connected with our kids and their kids in a way that has previously been impossible.

As I stopped to visit my parents this evening and told them about Leonard's new iPhone (they've had iPhones for about three years), Mom said "I probably don't know how to use 90 percent of what my iPhone can do." I told her that's probably true, but it's beside the point. She's meeting important personal needs through this technology. It's here to serve her. It's not her job to live up to the the iPhone's "expectations."

As professional communicators we should work to understand more fully the features and potential of various technologies. That's a big reason for our Mayo Clinic Social Media Network and its learning programs such as the Social for Healthcare Certificate and Social Media Residency. But as we're developing our plans for using social media tools, the priority always should be adapting them to meet our strategic needs, not living up purists' expectations.

Lee Aase is a Communications Director for Mayo Clinic's Social & Digital Innovation team and is Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. This post is part of a series called Mayo Clinic's Double Helix: How Revolutionary Organization and Networked Communication Built America's #1 Hospital.


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