Are hospitals making the the same mistake as BP?

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax, of cabbages and kings—…

A lot of the strategic issues in healthcare are not easily explained.  One issue can be explained to a fifth-grader.  So, get your crayons out and follow along.

Fifty-some days and counting.  Say it with me—BP.  In many respects healthcare’s approach to social media is analogous to BP’s—the major difference is that neither the payors, pharma, nor the providers has yet to wipe out an entire geography—but the week is not over yet.

BP is offering an MBA in how not to use social media.  Nobody is queuing up on Amazon to buy the book, “BP’s ten pointers on crisis management.”

The funny thing about disasters is being able to schedule them in Outlook.  There are no pop-ups fifteen minutes before the big bang reminding you to get ready—“pipeline blows up in 15 minutes.”

We both know, sooner or later you will have one.  While yours may not crater the shrimping industry, it may be enough to do some serious damage to your business.  Most hospitals have a risk management group.  BP has one.  The mission statement of risk management is to assess and mitigate risks.

BP’s group probably had a plan in place to address a number of risks—risks like OPEC, an expansive war in the middle east, a tanker collision.  Apparently, they overlooked the risk of having a blowout a mile under the ocean.  Who’da thunk it?

If you Google “oil spill” there are fifty million hits.  Add “BP” to the search and the results narrow to a mere forty million.  That toothpaste is never going back in the tube.  People who can’t find the Gulf of Mexico on a map know that BP ruined it.  Thirty years from now people will still know the name of the firm that poisoned the Gulf, destroyed businesses, ruined vacations, made people sick, and cratered home sales along hundreds of miles of shoreline.

No matter what type of disaster BP could have faced, they demonstrated they were not prepared.  Even if it is proven that the disaster was not BP’s fault, it is too late to change their ownership of it.  Nobody is ever going to delete those forty million Google pieces linking BP to failure.  If BP hired a thousand workers whose only job was to try to counter each piece of negative media it would take them decades.

What is the one word to describe BP’s social media strategy?  LATE.

There is no useful social media strategy worth anything that begins after a disaster, none worth anything that begins after a misstep, after a faux pas. defines a faux pas as a social error—a boo-boo.

Unlike Meaningful Use, a good social media strategy can have an almost infinite ROI.  A good social media strategy, in addition to adding revenues and capturing patients, can help assuage the bleeding.  A good social media strategy played out in advance creates allies.

Let us look at this from the perspective of large healthcare providers.  What types of unfavorable events could negatively affect a hospital?

  • A medical disaster
  • Fraud
  • Medical errors
  • Reform
  • Scandal
  • Medical malpractice
  • Natural disasters
  • A data breech

While all negative events are not the same, many aspects of a good social media strategy apply regardless of the type of problem.

There are two major components of a good healthcare social media strategy:

  1. It should be pro-active.  Your social media strategy should be building goodwill each day.  Google the name of your hospital and see how many hits you get.  Next, see how many thousands of those hits are attributable to people outside your organization—too many to count.  You are already late.  People are already posting videos and writing about you.
  2. It should be reactive.  Make sure your “What are we going to do now?” account has a positive balance.  At the very least make sure you can push a button and unleash a plague of social media “I feel your pain” initiatives.

I’d wager a hospital could develop an outstanding social media strategy for less than one-tenth of what it pays in legal fees.

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942

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