A smart healthcare marketing blog
May 2014

5 tips to create a smart social media policy

social media policy

Hospitals are increasingly pulling their heads out of the sand when it comes to the social media activity of their employees, recognizing that they’re active on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube regardless of whether the IT department blocks access to them from work computers.

Time to face facts: Employees post online comments from their computers at home and use their smart phones to update their Facebook status while at work. And yes, they’re talking about your hospital online.

1. Keep It Short

Your social media policy should be short—about one page—and should be written in the simplest possible language. Sure, legal is going to make you put some jargon in there; just try to keep it to a minimum.

Examples of policies that are downright unreadable abound. However one facility that got it right is Danbury (CT) Hospital. The introduction sets up clearly the difference between personal and professional online activities:

  • “Personal blogging is not a business-related activity and should be done during personal (non-work) time only.
  • “Company-sponsored blogging may only be done after express authorization of public relations/marketing.”

Other bullet points are just as straightforward. One that I particularly like: “Since your site is a public space, we require that you will be respectful to the company, our employees, our customers, our partners and affiliates, and others (including our competitors).”

Read more of Danbury Hospital’s social media policy online.

Similar language can be found in other hospitals’ policies, suggesting this is one area where smart hospitals are already borrowing from each other. Mayo Clinic’s policy, for example, reads in part: “Be respectful and professional to fellow employees, business partners, competitors and patients.”

2. Keep It Simple

Mayo, a pioneer among hospitals in developing social media best practices, also drills down into some of the nitty-gritty of posting online—yet still manages to put it in easy-to-understand terms. Take this list, for example:

  • “Mayo Clinic blog posts and comments will be accurate and factual.
  • “Mayo Clinic will acknowledge and correct mistakes promptly.
  • “When corrections are made, Mayo Clinic will preserve the original post, showing by strikethrough what corrections have been made, to maintain integrity.
  • “Mayo Clinic will delete spam and/or comments that are off-topic.
  • “Mayo Clinic will reply to emails and comments when appropriate.
  • “Mayo Clinic will link directly to online references and original source materials.
  • “Mayo Clinic staff will disclose conflicts of interest and will not attempt to conceal their identity or that they work for Mayo Clinic.”

The full Mayo Clinic social media policy is also available online.

3. Keep It Encouraging

I like policies that don’t just tell employees what not to do, but give them guidance on best practices, as well. Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s online “social media toolkit” avoids the finger-wagging tone that some policies take on and manages to make social media sound (gasp!) fun.

It asks its employees to think about their purpose in blogging and other forms of online communication with questions such as “Who are you trying to engage?” and “What would you like to accomplish?” and “What is your message?” The answer to that last question is a useful one: “Social Media is all about connecting, not pushing a message. To be a good participant, you must first be a good listener. Your online community will tell you what they want to hear from you.”

“To be successful at social media takes not only time and some strategy, but it also takes an outgoing personality. If you’ve been described as a people-person or friendly, you probably have what it takes. Or you may be a connector—someone who enjoys making connections and providing helpful information. In any case, you’ll need to have some personal or professional experience with social media before hosting an account on behalf of VUMC.”

Why take a positive tone? Because social media can, in fact, be good for your hospital and its reputation. Employees can be among your best brand ambassadors—it’s better to help them succeed than to simply point out all the ways they can fail (and then mention discipline if they break the rules, to boot).

4. Keep It Educational

Whenever someone tells me I can’t do something, my first question is always “Why not?” Although Kaiser Permanente’s social media does have a warning tone to it, it also gives clear-cut explanations of why it’s in an employee’s best interest to comply with the rules. Even better, the policy references Kaiser’s mission.

“Blogs, wikis, and other forms of online discourse are individual interactions, not corporate communications. Kaiser Permanente staff and physicians are personally responsible for their posts. Be mindful that what you write will be public for a long time,” the policy states. “One of Kaiser Permanente’s core values is ‘trust and personal responsibility in all relationships.’ As a company, Kaiser Permanente trusts—and expects—its workforce to exercise personal responsibility whenever they blog or participate in any social media medium. This includes not violating the trust of those with whom they are engaging. Kaiser Permanente staff members should not use this medium for covert marketing or public relations purposes. If and when members of Kaiser Permanente’s Communications, Marketing, Sales or other functions engaged in advocacy for the company have the authorization to participate in blogs, they must identify themselves as such.”

Read Kaiser Permanente’s social media policy online.

5. Keep It Transparent

What to do with your employee social media policy once it’s done? Share it with the world. Although many hospitals do post their policies on internal sites, many are making them public by posting them online. In fact, you can find a list of hospitals with policies and, in some cases, links to the policies online, on Ed Bennett’s Found In Cache blog.

If you have a social media policy, leave a comment on the post and he’ll add your organization to the list. (Just make sure you follow your organization’s social media policy when doing so!)

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This is definitely a guideline for social media policies all my hospital and group-practice clients follow, except one… that still doesn’t believe in social media at all. Time will come… I hope.

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