Developing A Social Media Policy for Your Hospital, Practice (Part I)

July 28, 2011

Whether we like it or not, nearly all of our employees participate on social networks. ... Whether we like it or not, our patients live online, in the digital world.

Two important groups are on social networks:

Our employees: Whether we like it or not, nearly all of our employees participate on social networks. They are blogging, Tweeting, updating Facebook walls, and connecting on their mobile devices using the coolest, latest social platform. They live in a digital world.

Whether we like it or not, our patients live online, in the digital world. So naturally, when they go looking for information about their symptoms, or their recent diagnosis, or when they go looking for a hospital or doctor, they look in the digital world.

Recognition of these two facts is important for several reasons. Accepting this reality will help you to:
1. Establish a clear, formal social media policy
     a. This will keep your organization compliant with HIPAA regulations
     b. This will help minimize liability for your physicians, nurses, and support personnel when
          interacting with patients in the digital world
2. Establish and develop a positive online brand
3. Monitor your online brand: how to listen to digital word-of-mouth

In this article, we will focus on the first of these steps: How to develop a social media policy manual.

We will return to the topics of establishing your digital brand, and monitoring your brand, in follow-up articles.

How to Develop a Social Media Policy Manual
STEP ONE:
Define what you mean by “Social Media.”

This needs to be explicit. It should even include e-mail – e-mail is clearly social, and it is clearly digital media. Many organizations already have a policy regarding the use of e-mail at work. That policy may be a good starting point to expand into a full social media policy manual.

Also include:
• Networking sites (Facebook, others)
• Sharing sites (Flickr, YouTube, others)
• Blogs, microblogging sites (Twitter)
• Social bookmarking sites (Digg, Reddit, others)
• Review sites (Epinions, Yelp, others), and
• Communal information sites (Wikis)

STEP TWO: Define your objectives.

You may be uncertain about this to start with. That’s okay. Your social media policy should be a living document. It will change as you change, and as the digital world changes.

As your participation on social networks grows and matures, your understanding of how to function in that digital world will also grown and mature. Also keep in mind that the digital world is changing rapidly. Today’s favorite social network platform may be gone tomorrow.

Here are some ways that your organization can use social media:
• Share information with patients
• Share information with referring physicians
• Share information with employees
• Establish / increase awareness of your brand
• Increase patient recruitment
• Educate patients
• Improve customer service
• Recruitment: nurses, physicians, other staff
• All of the above

Try to decide early in the process whether your policy will simply set limits - “no texting while at work!” - or whether you will encourage social networking by physicians and employees.

Will you plan to actively participate on social networks? As scary as that may seem, the rewards can be extraordinary. Your participation in the digital world may be a part of your brand that differentiates your organization from others!

If planning to actively participate - with a blog, or Facebook page, or other platform - define your goals. Then share those goals. Share the mission. Recruit individuals within your organization who have an interest to contribute, and who have some savvy in the digital world. You may be surprised to find that one of your employees who has diabetes has been contributing articles on diabetes to a healthcare blog - those could be going to your organization’s website. Do not underestimate the depth of your own bench.

Establishing these plans early in the planning process can give people in your organization ownership. Doing this will increase participation. This in turn will improve your chances of success.

In this development process, be sure to include leaders, evangelists, and tech gurus, and frontline staff.

In Part II of this blog, we'll explore drawing up guidelines for social media use and I'll share some models that may be helpful.

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