When a Patient Becomes a Cause

Chart a Course of Compassion, Professionalism

The recent, heartbreaking story of Charlie Gard, the U.K. infant whose parents battled to keep him on life support and seek experimental treatment for his genetic disorder in the U.S., over the objection of his doctors, highlights an issue that all healthcare organizations need to think about.

“What happens when our patient becomes a cause célèbre?”

Wikipedia defines “cause célèbre” as “an issue or incident arousing widespread controversy, outside campaigning, and heated public debate. The term is particularly used in connection with celebrated legal cases.” Sometimes, the célèbre part becomes literal, with celebrities voicing opinions on one side or the other.

In the case of little Charlie, everyone from Donald Trump to Cher to Pope Francis weighed in to either offer assistance to the family or implore the hospital to bend to the wishes of the parents. There was massive public pressure on an institution that sincerely believed they were making the best medical decision given the circumstances – and which was no doubt concerned about their legal liability should the baby die when removed from their premises.

This kind of wellspring of sentiment, public opinion and media coverage is, fortunately, rare. But even stories that don’t generate words from world leaders or pop icons can become maelstroms at the local or regional level should word get out that a patient or their family is being “denied” free will or certain rights by a hospital, particularly where end-of-life is concerned. And usually, it’s the family – or one member – purposely trying to support their cause when they clash with the hospital or another relative. Telling your tale of perceived oppression to a TV reporter can be a powerful way to influence public opinion…and exert pressure on the other party.

When the “Correct” Thing isn’t the Popular Thing

When this happens, healthcare organizations need to tread lightly. Aside from navigating HIPAA rules on patient confidentiality, communications staff must deal with the natural human belief that we all have final authority over our personal health, or that of our children. Then there’s the legal aspect: doing the morally “correct” thing may be in opposition to legal requirements. For example, the compassionate move may be to take a patient who is virtually brain dead off life support, but the patient may have an advance directive prohibiting it, or in the absence of one, family advocates opposing it.

In the case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who was in a persistent vegetative state, her husband and legal guardian sought to remove her from life support while her parents fought to prolong her life artificially. Prolonged legal battles, with the hospital and Schiavo’s doctors as key witnesses, caused a seven-year delay before her feeding tube was ultimately removed in 2005. Her name remains a flash point for patient and spousal rights.

The Eye of the Storm

So what to do when there’s a clash among family, or between family and hospital that becomes public? While each case will be different, here are some basics to bear in mind:

  • Designate a single spokesperson for the hospital or organization, but be careful in your choice. An executive might come off as more concerned with preserving reputation than the good of the patient or family, while the treating physician can credibly fall back on what’s best clinically in the circumstances. Think long and hard before trotting out a lawyer to speak for the organization.
  • Remember HIPAA. Talking specifics of a particular patient’s care is a no-no, even if the family is going in front of every reporter they can find. Limit comments to policy, protocol, and information already published elsewhere.
  • Expect fallout, and be ready for it. One of the best ways to defend your organization amid a public hue and cry is to demonstrate that you are adhering to standard procedures and protocols, and there’s nothing different or personal in the case at hand. The public needs to see that your organization acts legally and professionally, even if they disagree with your stance.
  • Be available. Despite the heat, offer opportunities for the media to have their questions answered, either one-on-one or during a press conference. Don’t bury your head in the sand.
  • Stay off social media. There’s little to be gained, and much to lose with a misstep, by posting or tweeting in a sensitive situation. However do share any public statements you’ve issued after you’ve disseminated them by other, more traditional means.
  • Know when to fold ‘em. Sometimes, a story will wane after a news cycle or two, or when the public gets consumed by something else. Don’t proactively reignite it through unsolicited statements. If courts are involved, don’t go out with news of even favorable rulings, but be prepared with a statement if the media seek you out.

Things can get highly charged when a controversial patient comes through your door or emotion clashes with clinical care. No institution wants to be in a volatile situation, but if a patient does become a cause, level heads and a reliance on existing protocols will keep you on the high ground.

When Employees Behave Badly

Avert Crisis with Preparedness

There’s an old saying that the only things that are absolutely certain are death and taxes.

Close behind is the reality that forms the basis for Murphy’s Law: sooner or later, despite our best efforts, something is going to go wrong, and we’ll have to answer for it, or at least explain it in a satisfactory manner.

Bad online reviews can dampen business, and should be dealt with promptly (as covered in a previous blog) to mitigate the ill effects. A significant error or lawsuit can become a major news story, depending on the circumstances.

Then there’s the human factor. Employees saying things they shouldn’t under the auspices of the organization, or worse, physicians or employees behaving badly. Whether it’s a misguided social media post, a verbal smack-down or physical altercation caught on camera, or a criminal act, you need to act quickly to minimize the impact on the organization and move toward mending public perception.

People Behaving Badly

Take the case of a national home care agency, with thousands of employees offering wonderful, compassionate care to their clients and making a difference in thousands of lives each day. Alas, like every industry, there are a few employees who shouldn’t be in their roles, who lack integrity, or don’t respect the trust they’ve been given.

When news broke that an employee – or in this case an independent contractor working as a caregiver – had stolen cash and jewelry from a client’s home, SPRYTE had to dust off the crisis communications playbook. The arrest, including perp walk, made local television news in the city where it occurred, and had the potential to spread beyond, as negative news often does. The franchise office which contracted the caregiver was facing blowback, and even other nearby franchises that had nothing to do with the incident were fielding calls of concern from clients and were asking for help.

Have a Plan, Then Work It

Every organization should have a crisis communications plan, with some basic steps. Of course, these will evolve or change with specific circumstances, but generally, you’ll want to designate a single spokesperson, develop talking points, and establish a means of providing timely, accurate information to those affected and other contingencies. Here are some specific steps to think about when the crisis involves the actions of an employee:

  • Assess the situation. See how it is being reported, and how widely. Is it a one-and-done story or does it have “legs” to carry it through more than a single news cycle? Are other outlets picking it up? Is the incident ranking high in online searches of the company name? In our sample case, we learned one television station ran the story on air and on its website, and that was the extent of it. It appeared near the top of a Google News search, but was several pages down on a general Google search.
  • Create talking points for various audiences. Limit this to the facts you know, and include mitigating information if there is any. SPRYTE learned that the victim of the theft didn’t even want to report her suspicions to the police because she liked the caregiver so much, and that it was the agency itself that encouraged her to contact the authorities. This kind of proactivity shows the company is ethical and trustworthy, even if the employee wasn’t. Also, we included the point that this was a 1099 contractor, not a regular employee, while acknowledging that to the public and clients, that distinction is meaningless.
  • Empower your managers. Since this was a local-level story, we briefed the franchise owner on how to answer questions that might come up, from either the media or clients’ families. Essentially, she was prepped to be the front-line representative for the company. We also shared separate talking points with neighboring offices.
  • Brainstorm all scenarios. Come up with a list of “what-ifs” addressing all eventualities so you or your front-line staff are ready for them. In this case, we created a table with the headings “If this happens” and “We’ll do this” and listed potential issues and how to react. Sometimes, the response was as simple as “refer the reporter to the corporate office, which will respond per the talking points.”

 

As Gene Kranz, the NASA flight director immortalized in Apollo 13, memorably said, “Let’s work the problem. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.” Take the time to gather all the relevant information, then monitor the situation and respond with facts, not conjecture. By being transparent, and addressing the concerns of your publics in a timely and accurate manner, you’ll go a long way toward minimizing the damage to your organization’s reputation.

Podcasting for Healthcare

Honing in on Dedicated Consumers

As healthcare communicators we are always looking for new and creative ways to get our messages out to our desired audiences.

One of the fastest-growing mediums in recent years has been podcasting. The 2017 Infinite Dial Study by Edison Research and Triton Digital found that 40 percent of all Americans age 12+ have listened to a podcast at some point. That’s up from only 13 percent 10 years ago. And 24 percent listened to one within the past month.

In addition, podcast listeners are active consumers. Edison Research reports that of all audio sources, listeners spend 30% of their listening time on podcasts, compared to 21% on AM/FM radio and 23% on owned music.

According to the Pew Research Center, one of the largest podcasting hosting services, Libsyn, reported 3.3 billion requests for downloads in 2015 (most recent year available). That was up from 2.6 billion in 2014, 1.9 billion in 2013 and 1.6 billion in 2012.

Why is podcasting so popular?

One reason is that people are busy. They just don’t have time to sit and pay attention to the vast flood of media information and entertainment that is coming at them.

Podcasts are a practical and convenient means for multitasking individuals to keep up-to-date with information that is most important to them. And they don’t take much effort. Podcast listeners can plug into their latest episodes anywhere they please – while sitting on the commuter train or bus, working out at the gym (treadmill and healthcare podcast – perfect together?), or doing chores at home.

The continuing popularity of mobile devices and satellite radio (the “connected car”) are helping to spur the growth of the podcast market, as more and more consumers are able to access their favorite podcasts via smartphone, tablet or other portable device.

The introduction of smart speakers such as Apple’s HomePod, Amazon Echo and Google Home products is another positive development for evolving communications platforms that empower consumers to create their own media mix.

New Outreach for Healthcare Communicators

From the healthcare communicators’ standpoint, this suggests an attractive opportunity – to have a captive audience for (typically) 30 to 45 minutes so that your unfiltered, uncensored healthcare message can be heard. It’s a unique chance to develop the kind of personal relationship and engagement that blogs, Facebook and Twitter can’t match.

Done well, your podcasting platform can help position your doctors, nurses or other healthcare professionals as authorities while at the same time driving traffic back to your website. (Every podcast directory provides a link back to your website, thus you can channel listeners there at the conclusion of each podcast.).

One more consideration is that, because of this more intimate level of engagement, podcast listeners tend to be more intent listeners. Midroll, a podcast advertising network, reports that 63% of its listeners purchased a product or service after hearing it advertised on a podcast. It isn’t far-fetched to think that an already pre-qualified listener (one who has made the choice to download your podcast) might be predisposed to visit your hospital or practice to sign-up for a procedure, service, or healthcare event that your podcast has covered in interesting detail.

Metrics Still Evolving

Earlier this year, Nielsen, the prominent media measurement company, announced that it was working with several key clients in testing a platform for podcasting metrics. Currently, the key measurement involves tabulating how many users download specific podcasts from a hosting platform such as Libsyn or iTunes. Nielsen is reportedly looking for ways to gain a better understanding about the time users spend listening and being engaged, as well as individual listener demographics. Nielsen says it hopes to launch its podcast metrics platform toward the end of 2017.

For healthcare communicators, this is offered as the “why” you should consider podcasting. In a future SPRYTE Insights Blog we’ll discuss the “how” you should go about setting up a podcasting program.

“And Doctor of the Year Goes To…”

Exploiting Awards to Boost Reputation

Awards programs can be powerful tools to generate positive press – and much goodwill – for the practitioners in your healthcare organization, and possibly the organization itself. Just about every local business or regional lifestyle publication has a “Top Docs” feature, or recognitions for “Top Hospitals” or “Best Places to Work.”

To capitalize, it helps to plan ahead. By creating a calendar of opportunities suitable for your organization, paying special attention to deadlines, you’ll be able to stay atop these programs and plan your nominations in advance. For institutional awards, you can mobilize your workforce to provide testimonials or vote.

When entering, it’s vital to follow the online nomination instructions fully, and pay particular attention to the narrative portion, usually the crux of your submission.

Heroes of Healthcare

SPRYTE recently spearheaded a regional health system’s nominations for NJBIZ magazine’s “Healthcare Heroes” award. Categories included Hospital of the Year, Educator of the Year, Public Health Hero and several others. We focused on the Physician, Nurse, and Volunteer of the Year categories.

We put out the call for prospective nominees, and the client came back with three excellent choices. After nailing down the particulars of each candidate, we set about writing the narratives which, again, would make or break our entries.

Here are some things to keep in mind, based on SPRYTE’s long experience and track record of awards success on behalf of our healthcare clients:

  • Don’t hold back. Sometimes the essays must be brief, but we had up to 1,000 words to make our case. There will be much to say about any good nominee, so take full advantage of the space provided.
  •  Interview the candidate personally. If you rely on their CV, your submission will sound it and likely fail to garner attention. Find out what makes them tick, the “why” behind the “what.” Why did he or she choose that field, or job? Who (or what) influenced them? Get anecdotes illustrating their compassion, service and empathy. Tell a story.
  •  Provide the whole picture. Your candidate might be a great doc/nurse/teacher, but there are lots of those. What does yours do outside of patient work to benefit the community and humanity? In the end, you need to answer the question, “Why is this practitioner deserving of this award above all others?”
  •  Interview your nominee’s colleagues. At the very least, speak to the person who nominated them, or a direct supervisor. They had a reason for choosing that person. Find out why. Consider including a direct quote in the narrative.
  •  Don’t forget references. Sometimes awards forms require one or more. These can be the nominator, a supervisor, an executive of the organization, a professional colleague, or a patient. Let the references know you’re including them and prep them in case they are contacted.
  •  Don’t Compete Against Yourself: Keep nominations one per category.
  •  Enlist your patients and staff. Rally the troops, especially for organizational awards like Best Places to Work. Use internal communications, social media and e-blasts requesting testimonials, and include a link to comment or vote. Some of these awards are a numbers game, so leave no stone unturned.
  •  Have fun. Often, publications name finalists soon after the deadline, then announce winners at a paid banquet later. If possible, the nominee should attend to (hopefully) accept the award in person. Even as a finalist, it’s their night to shine! If colleagues can go, even better.
  •  Promote your win. A news release about an award bestowed by one publication won’t be picked up by a competing media outlet, but you can still publicize the victory in the winner’s hometown newspaper, college alumni publication, professional journals, and newsletters of organizations or chambers to which they belong. And, of course, post the happy news on the organization’s own social media channels and website.

With some planning, thought and effort, you can take advantage of awards programs to enhance the reputation of your client or organization while boosting morale of their employees. And who doesn’t like to add hardware to the trophy case?

As for Healthcare Heroes, our client’s physician nominee took home the big prize, but all our entries are heroes in their patients’ eyes.

Growing Thought Leaders

Engaging Internal and External Audiences Key

Like growing a lush garden, developing a reputation for your practice or individual physicians as thought leaders takes cultivation. It’s no easy task. No matter how much your physicians know, no matter how impressive their credentials, you have to disseminate that knowledge consistently in a way that will appeal to their peers and other professionals.

The good news is you don’t have to go it alone. By engaging internal audiences such as colleagues and staff, and nurturing relationships with influencers in your specialty, you can create a web of authority around your physician that goes well beyond what you can accomplish individually.

Using the Intermountain Healthcare’s Cardiovascular Clinical Program as an example, Jason Carlton, the organization’s social media manager, shared advice for developing content and guiding docs to become thought leaders during the Public Relations Society of America Health Academy held in Orlando earlier this year.

Conference as Content

The Cardiovascular Clinical Program sought to enhance its reputation as a top-tier research center in order to attract other cardiologists and practices to potentially partner with. The social media manager does this, in part, by leveraging its physicians’ speaking engagements at professional conferences. These events offer a prime opportunity to engage industry peers, and as a result its content – including blogs, video interviews, and posts from “brand ambassadors” – is oriented toward those audiences.

Importantly, Carlton notes, the process should begin well before the conference itself. His recommendations include:

  • Have doctors and staff prep blogs ahead of time to post during the event.
  • Distribute a news release about your participation and key points of your presentation to local press, being mindful of any embargoes from the conference organizer.
  • Distribute the news release on one or more online distribution sites (e.g. EIN, EurekaAlerts) for search engines to find.
  • Repurpose content of the release for tweets to gin up interest in the weeks and days leading up to the event.
  • Set up Google Alerts for your practice and other key terms relevant to your topic or the conference, and save links as they arrive for more shareable content.

During the Conference

The conference floor is ground zero for content gathering. Carlton recommends the following:

  • Live tweet during the conference, particularly during your doctor’s presentation, to deliver up-to-the-minute information to other professionals. Enlist other physicians in your practice, including your brand ambassadors, to do the same.
  • Collect content from other presenters and exhibitors. This might include presentation decks if available, and links to others’ studies and reports. This can all be great shareable content.
  • Gather intelligence for future posts during speeches. Take pictures and get names of the people in them.
  • Be your own media. Conduct video interviews with your physicians and their peers, either in a studio if available or simply in front of your own booth. Share the clips on your practice’s website and social media, or even Facebook Live, using relevant hashtags and handles. Ideally, clips should be 2-3 minutes long.
  • Identify influencers. Frequently, these will be other presenters or workshop leaders. Tweet what they’re saying, including their handles (researched in advance). Follow them and share their posts. They will likely return the favor.

By delivering a steady stream of quality content, you can gain eyeballs of other professionals and unlock potential working opportunities. But the process takes time and effort. If you involve both internal and external resources, and expand your view of what constitutes great content, you’ll go a long way toward building your practice’s expert creds online.

Rx for Reputation Health

Manage Online Reviews

What’s worse than a negative online review of a physician practice?

A negative review that’s left to linger in perpetuity, unanswered, like sagebrush drifting across a ghost town. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a whopping 99% of healthcare consumers said physician ratings found on the Web were “very important” or “somewhat important” in their decision making.

Digital recommendations can be a boon to your office, but digital slams can be equally impactful in dragging down business. Seventy percent of consumers base purchasing decisions on online recommendations from strangers, and that figure rises to 80% for Millennials, according to a 2015 study by global market research firm Mintel.  Some 86% of consumers will hesitate to purchase goods or services from a business with negative reviews on sites such as Yelp, Healthgrades.com and ZocDoc.com.

Clearly, your online reputation is important, and requires attention and nurturing. During the Public Relations Society of America annual conference in Orlando, which SPRYTE attended, Matt Weber, CEO of ROAR! Internet Marketing, presented “First Aid for Online Reputation,” which offered techniques to help physicians take command of their standing in cyberspace.

First, Do No Harm

Poor or rude service, long waits, arbitrary billing practices or missed diagnoses may foster negative reviews, so start by running a professional, pleasant operation. Why invite negativity? If, despite your best efforts, patients complain online (and there will always be a few), you can manage that feedback and maybe even turn it into a positive endorsement.

Claiming or register your business on the relevant review sites, then keep your ear to the tracks. Just about all of them will alert you when reviews are posted, but you should also sign up for Google Alerts or FreeReviewMonitoring.com for your practice’s name.

There are also paid tools for review monitoring, including:

The Treatment Plan

If a good review shows up, great! No need to do anything, unless you want to write a brief “thank you” note in response.

When a bad review surfaces, however, spring into action pronto:

Respond quickly, preferably within 24 hours. The more prospective patients who read negative comments without seeing your side, the worse it is for your practice. Additionally, no response gives the impression you simply don’t care.

Set up login information and keep it handy. Make sure key support staff have the passwords for all the key review sites, so someone else can respond quickly if the designated employee is unavailable.

Create template responses. Be ready to go with a pre-written but sincere apology and promise to do better, or to address the patient’s issue in more detail, offline and in private. Then follow up. With a few tweaks, you can customize your reply quickly and let the commenter know you’re listening to their specific concern.

If you believe you’ve addressed the problem to the patient’s satisfaction, consider requesting an amended review. A changed opinion could be a great outcome for your practice!

Solicit reviews. You can do this with a third-party site that will manage the process, like SurveyMonkey.com, or by e-mailing patients requesting a review, with direct links to the major review sites.

Review Malpractice

Don’t ever post a fake review, or ask a friend or relative to do so. Google and other sites have algorithms that will weed out fraudulent reviews, and they’ll be removed.

And don’t post reviews from the office, even if they’re legitimate ones compiled from patients. Review-posting on behalf of others is frowned-upon by search engines. Not to mention, patients may not provide their completely honest feedback while they’re still in the office.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, patients and clients will share their negative encounters with your practice on the Web. But if you are monitoring and KNOW what they are saying about you, you can be in control of reviews, rather than letting them control you.

Bracing for Cyber Attacks

Reputation Management is Key

If Target suffers a cyber attack, customers’ credit card information may be at risk. But if a hospital or health system is struck by ransomware or a denial of service (DOS) assault, not only could patient health information be compromised, but quality of care can suffer, and indeed, lives could be at risk.

In a recent webinar by the New England Society of Healthcare Communications (NESHCo), of which SPRYTE is a member, Diana Pisciotta, president of Boston PR agency Denterlein, explained why healthcare providers need to be hyper-vigilant about protection from cybercrime.

Ransomware, which blocks your access to your own files until you pay a cash ransom, can send a healthcare facility back to the Stone Age, as happened at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles last year.  In 2014, Boston Children’s Hospital suffered a DOS attack which crashed its server, rendering its website and intranet useless.  And a data breach can not only put patients’ medical information at risk, but open them up to potential ID theft because of the highly personal information in their records.

With so much at stake, maintaining your good reputation means healthcare communications professionals have to be ready to respond, reassure their audiences, and mitigate any potential negative reaction.  As in any crisis, they need to do it quickly, transparently, and with authority.  And as in other corporate crisis situations, it is helpful to do all you can do to prevent a disaster before it occurs.

This means PR staff should communicate with the IT department to make sure all that can be done to protect the organization is being done.  According to Pisciotta, some of the questions to ask include:

  • Are protections up to industry standards?
  • Are they doing spot checks or audits to ensure the network is safe?
  • Are policies and procedures updated routinely?
  • Are they pushing outside vendors for ideas to strengthen firewalls and protect personal info
  • Are there official agreements with third-party vendors to protect data?

 

But even with those precautions, the worst may occur.  It’s already happened in other health systems.  So we always advise our clients to scenario plan for any potential adverse scenario and develop messaging and standby statements for those with the highest probability.

During the webinar, Pisciotta stressed that if there is an incident, the basic crisis communications rules apply:

  • Maintain confidence: Let patients know they will continue to get the same quality of care to which they’re accustomed, if that’s the case.
  • Share information: If some part of your operations is down, or you can’t provide a certain treatment as usual, tell patients before they arrive at your facility, so they can make other arrangements. If data were lost, share what kind of information was breached, and what you’ll do to support affected patients.
  • Reach out directly: Contact affected patients directly to mitigate negative feelings and blunt any negative social media posts.
  • Limit the scope of concern: Ascertain exactly what happened, then communicate the scope of the impact. For example, in a DOS attack there is no actual breach, so give patients confidence that their information is not at risk.

Community outreach messages should include:

  • “We are open for business,” but be forthright about limited service, if that’s an issue.
  • “Impact contained,” but don’t be premature in saying this.
  • “We are prepared to move forward.” Lay out what patients should expect, and how you’re going to improve systems in the future.
  • Even if the organization wasn’t at fault, it should apologize for the inconvenience the incident has caused.

Keep in mind that a cyber attack carries certain challenges that other crises do not.  Full transparency may not be possible, because speaking publicly about how you were compromised or what fixes you plan to put in place could increase your future vulnerability.  And if your network is down for an extended period, you might have to turn to other means to get your messages out, like using personal devices that aren’t on the network, or deploying people on foot to inform patients.

Being prepared to respond is vital, so start the conversations now.

Employee Ambassadors in Healthcare

The Key Considerations

Congratulations! Your organization agrees that leveraging key employees as brand ambassadors will lead to better reach, credibility and engagement than your own company channels can achieve.

Scenario planning, creating guidelines, training and selecting the right employees and the best content to share are the key considerations in designing and launching an Employee Ambassador program.

Developing clear guidance: It goes without saying that you must get the buy-in of senior management – particularly because of its potential impact on corporate reputation. After their buy in, your next meeting will be with your legal/regulatory and medical team to create an issues preparedness plan and program guidelines.

The development process may take several months to a year. But when completed, it will serve as the working guidebook for employee ambassadors and the internal team that manages the program.

  • Issues preparedness: Working with your legal, medical, social media, communications and HR team, identify potentially negative scenarios and issues related to employees engaging in social media on your company’s behalf. Use these findings to develop a “Regulation Roadmap.” This roadmap will provide communications guidance and responses – including messages and social media copy aligned with Food & Drug Administration (FDA), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations – for the most likely scenarios.
  • Employee guidelines: Your employees need to abide by clearly articulated rules. The purpose of these rules is to influence employees’ content without telling them exactly what to say. Their content is liked and shared by others because they inject their own character and personality into posts.

Guidelines should include background on the company and what it stands for, program goals, the brand voice, how to stay compliant with regulations, responsible social media strategies and how to handle questions on their posts. They should also include information about who to contact in case of a question or issue.

Choosing the right employees: Recruiting employees to become advocates isn’t as difficult as you may think. You can start with enthusiastic employees who already share your company’s message. Or just ask for volunteers and triage the employees who opt in. Prioritize those who have large online followings and an online voice consistent with that of your organization. No matter your method, you’ll need to audit their social media channels to identify any red flags or opportunities. The audit will also help inform your training program.

  • Training: The employees who volunteer as ambassadors will probably be social media savvy. Still, you need to ensure they are savvy about the rules and expectations of your program, so we always recommend conducting a formal training program for all participants.

Content: Employee ambassadors should be viewed by their followers as healthcare influencers, not as a mouthpiece for your company. Therefore, most of the content you provide should focus on general health and wellness; only a third to a half should be about your company.

Before making content available, seek your employee ambassadors’ input on the type of content they like to share. The more relevant the content, the more likely they are to use it.

Via the company intranet or another easily accessible online storage unit, curate a variety of approved articles, visuals and video they can easily share and continually encourage feedback. Health and wellness content may include tips, recipes, photos or infographics developed by your company for your own channels or by third parties. While expensive to produce, video and visuals are more frequently shared than articles, so try to include some in the mix.

Keep content fresh by ensuring that future corporate initiatives and marketing programs include development of ambassador materials as part of the plan. Communicate with your ambassadors first about updates and changes, new products and other company news.

Measurement and analytics: There are many ways to measure the success of your employee ambassador program and the metrics you choose will be based on your goals. At a minimum, you should be analyzing the following:

  • Program reach: How many people did your ambassadors reach with company related content? How many posts contained the company hashtag?
  • Traffic on company sites: Was there an increase in traffic on your owned and shared sites during the program?
  • Ambassador engagement: What percent of employee ambassadors participated in the program and how frequently did they participate? Who were the most and least active ambassadors? Which ambassador’s posts had the most engagement (likes, comments, shares)?

These metrics will help you understand how active your employees are and the type of content with the most engagement – information fundamental for continuing the program – and hopefully for the program’s continued success.

Employees are Best Ambassadors

Enjoy Awareness, Credibility and Endorsement

The healthcare industry is governed by rules under a whole host of government agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and Health & Human Services (HHS). You’re already challenged with getting content approved for your brand or company’s own channels. Knowing the implications of a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violation or FTC misstep, why would you consider asking your employees to advocate for your company?

The short answer? The right employees are the best brand ambassadors, providing the kind of awareness, credibility and endorsement for your company or brand that can’t be bought. Consider the following:

  • Increased reach: Employees can reach patients in their social graph who might not be considering your brand – and might never seek out your website or social channels. Employees’ social media posts reach 561 percent further than the same posts shared by a company’s social and owned channels. Once that content is posted, it’s shared 4.5 more times than social influencer posts.
  • Authenticity and credibility: Today’s health consumers shop for healthcare services the way they shop for other expensive purchases. Regardless of how healthcare evolves under the new Presidential administration, consumers will continue to have a lot more choice in who provides their healthcare. They are researching healthcare the way they do other services – seeking information online and soliciting the opinions of others. Half of all consumer buying decisions are influenced by word of mouth and according to one study, 92 percent of people trust recommendations from people they know.
  • Engagement: Across all industries, consumers are increasingly less interested in what companies have to say, favoring instead the opinions of influencers and the people behind the brand. A study released last year by Altimeter Group found that 21 percent of consumers said they “liked” employee posts about companies — an engagement rate comparable to or better than other social advertising campaigns at a much lower cost.
  • Addressing risks upfront and providing clear guidance to employees considerably mitigates risk: The biggest question is how to manage risk. And it should be. Once management buys into an employee ambassador plan, your first step will be partnering with your legal and medical team to anticipate possible negative scenarios and developing guidance on how to handle each one. You will need to make sure, for example, that programs comply with FTC regulations by having employees include a hashtag in all posts to make it clear that they are employees. You also will want to develop clear direction on adhering to HIPAA guidelines.

Getting your employee ambassador program up and running will take some work. But once you create guidelines and identify and train employees, our hope is that you will find the benefits far outweigh the risks.