PatientsLikeMe is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of patients diagnosed with life-changing diseases. It was co-founded by Ben and Jamie Heywood after their brother Stephen (who has since passed away) was diagnosed with ALS. And make a difference they have, as they were recently recognized by Fast Company as #2 on the list of the top ten most innovative healthcare companies.

They state that their goal is to enable people to share information that can improve the lives of patients diagnosed with life-changing diseases. To make this happen, we’ve created a platform for collecting and sharing real world, outcome-based patient data and are establishing data-sharing partnerships with doctors, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, research organizations, and non-profits. Their collective data has shown enormous power to comfort, inspire, explain, predict and empower.

PatientsLikeMe is a wonderful role model for how modern brands will succeed by helping customers (in this case, patients) achieve more than they ever could on their own. Here are some reasons why:

1. Committing versus campaigning. Going forward, brands will be defined not by what they say to people, but by what they say and do with people (in this case, 45,000 patients).

2. Value through content. We go to the web because there’s something we need to do; a problem we need to solve. So we’re looking for information, insights and advice that we can use.  In this case, it’s content that’s literally saving and enhancing lives.

3. Collaboration. PatientsLikeMe brings together company, customers (patients) and partners (doctors, pharma, medical device companies) collaborating together to help each grow stronger.

4.  Becoming integral to people’s lives. PatientsLikeMe members don’t just share their experiences and stories; they turn their symptoms and treatments into hard data. By telling and sharing so much, members are creating a rich database of disease treatment and patient experience.

5. Transparency. While many companies, and healthcare websites, have a Privacy Policy, PatientsLikeMe has an Openness Policy. They believe that data belongs to you the patient to share with other patients, caregivers, physicians, researchers, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, and anyone else that can help make patients’ lives better.

6. Understanding How Your Audiences Integrate Technology Into Their Lives. PatientsLikeMe patients are heavily involved in what Forrester Research refers to as the groundswell. So this site is the perfect medium for them to contribute, comment, write, upload and publish.

7. Creating brand advocates. People who feel a sense of ownership in the brand, and are motivated to help it succeed will take an active role helping friends or family members make  a decision about a product. In this case, the motivation is literally a matter of life and death.

8. The product is the marketing. And PatientsLikeMe has created a better product.

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Healthcare brands that are fueled by a powerful core idea, and managed with a delicate balance of imagination and precision, have the ability to transform both organizations and their audiences.

Here are six tips for driving brand-led transformation:

1. Step outside of your box. Consider what you might be, and not what you are. Perpetuate the status quo and you’ll never see beyond what you already know. Question deeply held assumptions, consider the business from a new angle, and generate innovative ideas and ways to change consumer behavior. Consider Humana, a health insurance company that’s breaking the mold through their Crumpleitup innovation initiative designed to come up with creative ways to help people be healthy while having fun.

2. Get different. Rewrite the rules of the game. Zig when others zag. Follow the same path as others, and you’re limited to the same gains (or losses) as others. Consider Hello Health, a new healthcare organization that’s reframing the relationship between patient and physician.

3. Drive from a powerful idea. Every great business is built on a great brand. And every great brand is built on a great idea. An idea that’s simple, unique and compelling. An idea that can sustain the business for years down the road. Unilife is a rapidly growing medical device company, passionate in its quest to help its pharma and healthcare partners enhance and save lives through the reduction of needle stick injuries.

4. Get everyone on board. Transformation can only happen from the inside out. Paint a compelling picture of the future. Establish a sense of urgency. Let everyone participate in the journey. Ground change in your culture.

5. Execute meticulously. Sweat the details. Great brands get that way based on brilliant execution. Ensure your brand shines through across all its touchpoints – from products, to behaviors, communications and environments.

6. Be an open book. Open up your brand to participation. Let people contribute their own stories. Let them share their stories with others through you. Create a more powerful story together. After all, there’s always a new chapter in the works. Consider the support and participation through GSK’s Alli Drug community

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People really don’t care about your products and services. This might be tough to accept, but it’s true.

What people do care a lot about, however, is how you make them feel about their decisions. How you help them improve their lives. How you help them achieve what they can’t on their own. And for healthcare marketers, these benefits translate into pretty important outcomes, from preserving life, to being able to live healthier and happier lives.

This is the incredible connecting power of your brand. By being about them, but having a strong vision about your place (what it is and what it can be) in their lives. This is the stuff that cements relationships, builds advocates, drives loyalty, gets people talking about you, creates communities and attracts others to you. This is the enormous power of your brand to help you achieve what your business alone can not.

So why do we keep talking about us? How caring we are. How celebrated we are. How trustworthy we are. How smart we are. How about turning the dial 180 degrees to the care they want. The recognition they deserve. The trust they desire. How smart they are. And how about paying this off with actions versus words (but more about this tomorrow).

Be more about your customers, and they’ll be all about you.

Any comments to share?

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As part of our “Insider Insights” series, I feature the personal perspective of a health brand CEO, senior marketer, digital or social media expert. I’m pleased to have Lee Aase, manager of Syndication and Social Media for Mayo Clinic, as this month’s participant.

Here’s what Lee has to say about the future of health brands and social media:

1. The organizations and brands that will thrive in the future are those that…

Are trustworthy and transparent with key stakeholders, whether they be employees or customers or patients. In this regard, social media will be a force for good because it enables open communication. When organizations don’t treat people well, word will get around even faster than in the past. In the broadcast era, companies could buy gross tonnage of advertising to try to buy a consumer perception, and if they managed media relations skillfully they could pitch positive stories about their organizations to journalists.

There’s still some place for that in the conversational era, but it will be decreasingly effective.

On the positive side, if organizations provide a fantastic, remarkable experience to most customers, social media will enable that word to spread more quickly, too.

2. Specific to social media, how has it impacted the way your organization conducts business?

Social media enable Mayo Clinic to provide in-depth information to patients and consumers, with little production cost and virtually no distribution cost. We can talk in depth about relatively obscure medical conditions, for example, without worrying about turning off the mass audience. The new market has now been called “a mass of niches” and through social media tools we can provide the specialized information people crave, particularly when they’re facing a major medical issue.

We also are much more able to listen, both internally to employees and externally to patients and consumers, and to have discussions with them. This gives us great opportunities to learn and improve.

3. What are the key challenges your organization is grappling with as it considers participation?

We’re pretty well along the road to participation, so now we’re into the phase of seeing how we can incorporate social media into everything we do, and making all of our communications more conversational. It’s really an exciting time now. Early on, we had some understandable organizational trepidation about these tools, but as we understood that social media are just the way word of mouth happens in the 21st century, and that word of mouth has been the most important factor in building Mayo Clinic’s reputation for more than 100 years, we knew we needed to engage. And as we have had positive feedback we’ve been able to extend our social media presence even further.

4. What are your top lessons learned for implementing a social media strategy?

Don’t let strategy become an excuse for inaction. Often organizations wait to become involved in social media until they have thought through every imaginable scenario, and that’s fine, to a point. But too frequently they go way beyond due diligence to a social media form of hypochondria or paranoia.

Realize that if your organization is worth talking about, people are already discussing you online, so it would behoove you to join the conversation. And if you’re not being discussed online, that’s actually worse: it means you’re irrelevant, not worth talking about. That’s all the more reason to get engaged.

Social media are just another way of communicating, and are cheaper and more cost-effective than traditional means. In a twist on the defense department supercomputer’s line in the Matthew Broderick movie, “War Games,” I would say the only way to lose is not to play. It’s great to think about strategy in using social media, just as it’s appropriate to have a strategy for use of the telephone. For example, you may ask whether you will have a voice mail system or whether every call will be answered by a real person, or whether you will have a toll-free number for incoming calls. But it would be extremely odd for a company to decide it wasn’t going to install phones until it had its complete strategy decided.

So by all means, give a little thought to creating a potential growth path for social media in your organization, but don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The sales trainer Zig Ziglar used to say that if you wait until all the lights are on green before you leave the house, you’ll never get out of the driveway. If you spend any money to communicate with employees or customers, why wouldn’t you take advantage of free tools that help you do it better?

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So you feel like the wind might finally be at your back (at least a few days out of the week). Your CFO is easing off the brake pedal. Competitors and customers are showing signs of life. The Board is once again focused on top-line growth rather than cost savings.

It’s time to restart your brand engines. Here are 10 tips for how to proceed:

1. Revisit your customer. Listen unbiasedly to understand their pain points, priorities, practices and unmet needs. Spend time walking in their shoes. Don’t be you being them. Become them.

2. Sharpen your story. Use these insights to help determine where and how you most meaningfully improve customers lives; and do it differently from others? What do you (ultimately) help them achieve that others can’t; or aren’t?

3. Be ambitious (this is actually part b of number 2 above). Beyond where you are today, what can you be in the future? If status quo wasn’t an option (it’s not for customers), what would you want to achieve?

4. Get the juices flowing inside. Brand-building really does start inside the company. If employees are educated, if they’re believers, if they’re inspired, can walk the talk, and do it consistently, customers will come along for the ride (and bring their friends).

5. Deeds versus words. Brands used to be built through imagery and messaging. But those days are just about over. Today’s power brands are involving and dynamic, deliver great customer experiences, are mechanisms for connections and community and for more meaningfully improving our lives.

6. Co-create value. Harness the collective intelligence of audiences to create greater and new value for your customers and company; along the way, creating stronger relationships, greater advocacy and deeper loyalty.

7. Tag team. An inspiring and brand-engaged CEO, coupled with a talented, imaginative and respected CMO is a tough team to beat.

8. Deliver happiness. Happy customers are happy to spread your word. And with multiple channels at their disposal, they certainly will.

9. Extend apologies. If you screw up, admit it. Trying to hide behind it doesn’t make much sense, because you can’t.

10. Execute brilliantly. Success is in the details. Which means your whole brand house needs to be in order. Every facet of your brand expression – from behaviors, to communications, environments and products – must reflect and extend your story.

Any other tips to add to this list?

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Thought I’d recap the highlights (at least mine) from the 10/26-27 e-Patient Connections 2009 Conference.

While all speakers provided new insights and perspectives, I’m summarizing (paraphrasing) the highlights from the speakers and presentations that particularly resonated with me:

Jason Hwang, MD (Innosight Institute, co-author Innovators Prescription); The Innovators Prescription
– we suffer from malpractice, but a different type, i.e. “business model”
– must understand difference between sustaining innovation (performance improvements, historical value dimensions) and disruptive innovation (that lets companies appeal to new rings of customers)
– enabled by technology, we have an opportunity to disrupt/move healthcare out to non-experts to let them do things themselves, e.g. facilitated user networks (like Facebook), a currently underutilized model to serve chronic care patients

Thomas Goetz, Executive Editor, Wired Magazine; Decision Tree: Smarter Patients, Better Choices
– proposes a new strategy for thinking about health, applying cutting-edge technology and sound science to put us at the center of the equation
– today, unfortunately, most healthcare information comes to us in cascades of do’s and dont’s

Dr. Jay Berhnardt, CDC; Social Media & The H1N1 Flu Pandemic

– H1N1 as example of why CDC’s engaged in social media as part of their strategy
– Customer Centered Communication Strategy: how, when, where people want and need to inform about health and safe decisions, i.e.
• information that is accessible and relevant
• mix of high repetition with deep engagement
• combination of high-tech and high-touch
• traditional/vertical media (though harder to have impact given lack of trust) combined with social media (horizontal and spreadable; higher level of trust)

– some interesting stats across CDC social media channels:
• approaching almost 500 million web site page views since H1N1 outbreak
• 5.07 million H1N1 flu-related emails sent, once consumers opt-in
• 19 videos posted on Youtube; 2.33 million views since 4/22
• 25, 322 Facebook fans since CDC page launched 5/1; value is in comments from people
• 917,579 views of CDC H1N1-related podcasts since 4/22
• 928, 412 followers on 3 CDC Twitter profiles
• CDC Health-e-cards (15,433 since 4/22)
• just launched mobile-based text messaging (1,155 opt-in subscribers since 9/14); subscribers receive about 3 messages/week

Susannah Fox, Pew Internet & American Life Project; The Social Life of Health Information
– people just diagnosed are looking for just-in-time “someone like me”
– patient networks can be powerful, early warning system
– marketers should think of e-patients as colleagues, not as people being marketing to (if you’re ready to listen to them)

Mark Bard, Manhattan Research; The Rapid Growth of Health Consumerism
– pharma info seekers have increased from 45 million in ’04 to 100 million in ’09
– majority of e-health consumers now use the internet to confirm/learn after seeing doctor
– health 2.0 can’t happen on web 1.0 websites; need to be able to evaluate, exchange, connect, create community, participate
– mobility is huge trend, certainly on physician side
– key questions to consider: how balance content with community; is it more about initiating a conversation, or a lecture
it’s not a community unless you’re having a conversation; much of pharma is still one-way

Lee Aase, Mayo Clinic Manager of Syndication and Social Media; Marketing The Mayo Clinic
– consider social media “power tools” for doing what we were already doing as organization

– found that patients are “honored” if you ask them to share their stories
– great example of exponentially growing views of YouTube video by using multiple channels (Mayo Clinic Atrium Piano video)
– one of the keys to success is all about repurposing content

Robert Halper, J&J Director Video Communication; J&J on YouTube
– company is on YouTube because:
• reputation: caring, socially responsible, trusted source for health care information
• engagement: comments, listening, responding
• community: linking to other sites, including non-branded operating companies; subscribing to other related channels, videos embedded in external sites
– not easy getting started: cultural (control of message), legal & regulatory (environment, adverse events, medical advice, fair balance, comment mediation), business (ROI, resources, staff, commitment)
more risk not being part of the conversation; funny when CEO’s talk about not putting brand out on social media, when they’re already out there

Dave DeBronkart, e-Patient Dave; Cofounder Society for Participatory Medicine; Special Presentation
– very moving talk about his “free replay” after beating his cancer
– his treatment [cure] options were based, in part, on his incredible outreach, research, open sharing of his health records
– now evangelist for “participatory medicine”; first edition of Journal of Participatory Medicine (his new publication) forthcoming
– accessed tremendous amount of information on (which didn’t exist anywhere else)
– key message is authenticity; don’t pretend, impersonate; be real, contribute value
– best information is a smart patient community; and patients love to give back

Brian O’Donnell, Klick Pharma, Top 1o Trends
10.  social media is becoming more mainstream (about the power of one, not so much followers)
9. pervasive use of technology in solving marketing challenges (can be a multiplier)
8. From wait and see to try and learn (try pilot programs)
7. patients and HCP’s online usage is increasing (balance of marketing mix)
6. data and intelligence becoming underpinning of marketing programs (make data planning part of your kickoff)
5. shift to multidisciplinary solution teams (make effort to reach out early)
4. branded mobile apps are becoming next CRM (think beyond the keyboard)
3. technology can make reps more powerful (integration is key)
2. value add beyond the pill (solutions, not just products; broadly supporting patients)
1. regulatory bodies embracing 21st century, e.g. FDA

Kerri Sparling, author, Patient Opinion Leaders
– diabetes has been part of her life since age 6; but wouldn’t exactly call it her buddy

– she started sixuntilme in May, 2005; felt like she was only diabetes patient on the planet
– now more than 350 sites dedicated to diabetes lifestyle and management
POL’s (patient opinion leaders) don’t blog because they have to, but because it helps us heal
– finding emotional support online is everything
– don’t consider patients a “target market”, but a consumer base being marketed to
– until there’s a cure, there will be a blog

Tricia Geoghegan, Johnson & Johnson/Ortho-McNeil-Janssen; Facebook ADHD Allies
– what social media isn’t: the shiny new object
– what it is: consumer democracy, sharing/not selling, creating foundation for new kinds of relationships, reinforcing commitment to disease awareness
– people trust other people, e.g. Mom-bassadors™
– metrics will answer questions, the best ones will compel more questions
– users will tell you what’s relevant
– what’s unmet need for patients, what’s business case and risk/benefit analysis, how define ROI

Lisa Tate (CEO Womenheart) and Robert Schumm (Marketing Director Bayer Healthcare); Facebook Strong@Heart
– cardiovascular disease is #1 cause of death for women
– was each organization’s first foray into social media
– why social: target was online, patients wanting to speak about/share their own experiences
– c
ombination of traditional (eyeballs) and online (conversations) drove success (key theme reinforced by other speakers)

Dennis Urbaniak, VP Innovation & New Customer Channels Sanofi-Aventis; From Patients To People: What it Takes for  True Shift to a Customer-Centric Approach
– must challenge current mindset within organization; new ideas built on top of old models are doomed to failure
– stop thinking patient and start thinking people; most have their own values, belief systems, etc.; must understand their perspectives
– preference and choice doesn’t fit with one-way approach (typical pharma model; e.g. Model T)
– challenge mindset of patient vs. person
– how to move ahead: change approach
– choice (need to get perfectly comfortable with content, dialogue, listening opportunities)
– what’s the job: what are the hiring criteria and who are the candidates (framework for presenting sustaining and disruptive innovations); start to identify gaps and then pinpoint opportunities; actionable insights from customer pov (vs. brand and product pov)
need to get extremely comfortable living in glass house if you’re change agent inside company
– create the example (very powerful means to drive real change): step back and honestly answer each point:
• project description (elevator speech; not powerpoint deck)
• project objective (what’s the job to be done)
• project metrics (must be prospective; here’s how assess progress, learn and adjust)
• project status (build in points of adjustment as you go)
– sets dynamic that rewards failure; everyone was aligned
– Net:
• change the mindset, change the approach, create the example

Joe Shields, Pfizer: New Ideas For Patient Adherence
– e=empowerment
– process for developing programs:
• what’s your pov?
– Patient (me), Health care provider, Payer, Pharma
• what’s your process?
1. Gain insights (strategic advantage from this work; doc/patient interaction; motivations/barriers)
2. Set objectives
3. Audit current stuff
4. Align current stuff with 1 & 2
5. Identify gaps
6. Fill gaps
7. Measure programs
8. Improve and keep testing
– what does good look like? from different perspectives, as everyone has different agenda/incentives
– make up of strong adherence program:
1. Insightful (patient and doc; does it really solve a problem)
2. Systematic (things that talk to everyone else, things accountable to whole system)
3. Multi-channel
4. Scalable (how easy is it to get work done, get out to most people, return on hassle – is it worth it if you can’t scale it)
5. Social (with regard to adherence, it’s a team sport; some accountability beyond patient itself; service of better patient outcomes)

Marc Monseau, Director, Corporate Media Relations J&J: Connecting J&J To Twittersphere To Tweet or Not To Tweet
– How this came together; what he/J&J hoped to achieve, how it fits together
– Steps:
• Create business case
• Connect with other initiatives
• Establish a personality
• Set guides
• Gain legal/regulatory support
– What kind of Twitter account do you want to be?
• customer service
• expert source
• news gatherer
• suggestion box
• special offers
– establish a personality
– have to be yourself
– not just recitation of PR’s
– Multiple platforms (tie Twitter back to all else company is doing); so nothing is one-off
– setting controls:
• took social media biz plan to lawyers/regulatory  (one of the do’s/don’t’s)
• have to work with attorney’s to gain understanding
• how to manage adverse events/offlabel uses?
– Concept of “content guardrails” (gave credit to his associate for this concept):
• within predefined scope: self-management
• outside predefined scope: legal, regulatory, management
• both = publication for tweets

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As part of our “Insider Insights” series, I feature the personal perspective of a health brand CEO, senior marketer, digital or social media expert. I’m pleased to have Nancy Cawley Jean as this month’s participant. Nancy is a senior media relations officer for Lifespan, a health system in Rhode Island, splitting her time between social media for Lifespan and its affiliate hospitals.

Each guest addresses the same four questions, so that we build a wealth of perspectives and knowledge around these four issues. Here’s what Nancy has to say about the future of health brands and social media:

1. The organizations and brands that will thrive in the future are those that

realize that consumers now have a voice and expect to be heard. Brands must be aware of the conversations taking place all around them that could damage their brand. Hospitals and the healthcare industry are no exceptions.

With today’s technology, communication has changed rapidly, and not only do consumers expect to be heard, they also expect a response. Social media is a way to do that – it is a way to build brand awareness, expand customer service, provide vital public service information and engage on a personal level with people not only in our own community but around the globe. Unless brands are willing to recognize the power of social media, they will be left behind.

2. Specific to social media, how has it impacted the way your organization conducts business?

While healthcare is a business, it is unique in the service it delivers, and we are governed by strict rules surrounding the protection of patient information. While it has not changed the way we do “business” it does offer additional areas of concern for potential violations of HIPAA policies, and that is something hospitals in particular must be cognizant of when entering the world of social media.

In our business, the tools we are offered through social media do not offer new ways of conducting business, but they allow us to expand our efforts in the realm of marketing, customer relations and communication. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube now provide new avenues to engage with our community, and hear back from them. It is another avenue through which we can receive feedback as well. As a result of social media, we can listen more to consumers, and this certainly creates the potential for an impact upon policies and procedures that will enhance the patient experience based on suggestions we hear.

3. What are the key challenges your organization is grappling with as it considers participation?

The sensitivities surrounding protected health information of our patients is always a top priority and a great concern. Our risk management and legal departments have expressed concerns over liabilities that exist in social media. As with any other new procedure, service or technology, communication to staff is vital to ensure that expectations are clear and that they are aware that even in this world of social media, HIPAA regulations and patient privacy must remain top of mind. In other words, if an employee has their own blog or is commenting on a Facebook fan page, there are certain things that are still off limits, even if it is on their own time.

4. What are your top lessons learned for implementing a social media strategy?

Sometimes the best way to learn is to jump right in, but in social media, the best approach is to start by listening – listen to what people are saying about you and your brand, listen to what other brands are saying and doing, and look to those brands in the social media world who have emerged as “leaders” – those who have figured out this new world and have been able to truly experience an impact on their reputation and improve customer relations through this medium.

Management may be hesitant to implement a social media strategy because of what is viewed as the “loss of control” but the fact is that they have already lost control given the plethora of communication vehicles available to the consumer today. Important messages to senior management must focus on acceptance that there is no longer any “control” and social media is a way to be involved in the conversations surrounding the brand.

Even in a large organization, getting the right people around the table will go a long way in developing a social media strategy. By having discussions and getting buy-in from folks like legal, human resources, risk management, and medical directors, you will have the support you need to develop appropriate policies and guidelines to help you move through the ever-changing world of social media while maintaining the focus on your overall company mission.

Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share?

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Health brands are ideally suited to social media.

Across this broad category (from disease management; health care systems and hospitals; home health services and products; medical devices and equipment; nutritional and wellness products; pharma and OTC) there’s the common denominator of people really needing and wanting what these tools allow health brand marketers to provide:

– informative, even life-changing content
– talking back and forth, sharing stories and even emotionally supporting people who share common interests, ailments or illnesses
– learning from friends and providers (locally and from around the world)
– saving precious time and expense

Ultimately, social media allows you to help create healthier communities. Which leads to healthier co-creators. Which leads to a win-win for your customers, your company and society at-large.

For those brands interested in maintaining their relevancy and their value to their customers (meaning everyone), social media must be integrated into your mix. The extent of your social efforts is based on many organizational factors. But at a minimum, you need to get in the game.

Here are seven big opportunities (reasons why) for health brands to use social media:

1. Demonstrate that you practice what you preach. Social media allows you to demonstrate that you live up to the promises you make to audiences. As the traction around “engagement” continues to grow, actions will continue to speak much louder than words.

2. What benefits your audiences benefits your brand. The future of marketing is about doing things for and with audiences – on their terms. There’s simply too much opportunity for conversations, comments and collaboration for traditional one-way, tell and sell communications to work the way they did years ago.

3. Build loyalty through your brand. This is not the same as trying to build loyalty to your brand. Key is to help people achieve more than they can on their own. Helping them do this is how you gain their attention, loyalty and trust (as well as forgiveness if you ever find yourself needing it).

4. Help people live longer. Research has shown that greater social engagement helps people live longer, healthier lives. Pretty important benefit for a brand to be able to contribute to.

5. Your participation invitation is already extended. Whether you sent a formal invitation or not, participants are already gathering around the conversation (and your company).

6. Listen for rich category and brand insights. Social makes it easy to find out what people really want and need – from the category and from your brand. Which makes it easier to listen for ways to make your offering better. Covet the opportunity to collect and act on this information.

7. It’s all about establishing and earning trust. Which is one of the most important and sustainable advantages a company can build in this environment. The companies who understand this, and pay it off with the right “social” etiquette (doing for others), will see the most benefit.

Are there other reasons that should be added to this list? Please contribute your ideas.

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This is the first of many “Insider Insights” posts. Once a month, I’ll be featuring the personal perspective of a health brand CEO, senior marketer, digital or social media expert. I’m pleased to have Ed Bennett as our first participant. Ed is Director, Web Strategy at University of Maryland Medical System.

Each of these guests will address the same four questions, so that we’ll build a wealth of perspectives and knowledge around these four issues. Here’s what Ed has to say about the future of health brands and social media:

1. The organizations and brands that will thrive in the future are those that
quickly adapt to new customer expectations. An entire generation is comfortable with Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Their expectation is to have direct, honest and rapid interactions with the brands they use. PR speak, and legalese will marginalize organizations, but authentic conversations will build customer loyalty and positive Word of Mouth.

2. Specific to social media, how has it impacted the way your organization conducts business? Healthcare, and hospitals in particular are very conservative. So far, most of these tools are seen as an extension of current practices, not as a new way to do business. We are seeing these services used to post news and events information, educational resources, and to re-purpose content like video. There is also some brand monitoring and service recovery going on, but it is not yet integrated into the basic business process.

3. What are the key challenges your organization is grappling with as it considers participation?

There are two major challenges:

A. Fear of HIPAA hold many healthcare organizations back. With no clear guidelines on what is allowed, hospitals in general are waiting on the sidelines. Out of the 5,000 US hospitals, only 360 are doing anything.

B. The other challenge is that IT departments in many hospitals block social media sites. Many times, work on them has to be done from home in the evening and weekends.

4. What are your top lessons learned for implementing a social media strategy?

You should start small, and only begin what you can maintain. Look to your internal experts, the people who use these tools in their personal life. They can see the benefits, and can be a great resource for your organization.

Consult with your legal team & create policies. There are two areas that need to be addressed: External comments / participation and Employee guidelines.

Be able to respond quickly – this is no place for a four-day multi-person review process.

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How do we align the customer experience with social media?

This was the main topic of discussion in our client meeting the other day. With so much emphasis being placed on integrating social media into the marketing mix, this was a conversation about its impact on the total customer experience.

Given this perspective, many conversations about social media start too far downstream. First, even those that begin with objectives, audiences and strategies often bypass the fact that effective brand management is an organization-wide endeavor.

What this means is that all internal stakeholders across business functions need to play together on the same team, as audiences who are tweeting, posting, updating and uploading don’t care much about individual silo practices. And this means that an effective social media program must be “socialized” across the organization, as all disciplines must work together to deliver the brand promise. And delivering this promise depends on having the processes and systems in place to enable this to happen.

So how will your organization align the real-world customer experience with social media:

• how should you/will you respond to customer’s real-time questions, comments or concerns?
• which conversations are more important to business and relationships, and how do you know?
• how will you empower your customers so that they become an extension of your marketing and your sales force, and add value back to your brand?

These are a few of the questions we discussed in our meeting the other day. If you have any thoughts about this subject, please share.

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