2014: The Year Of The Phone

“Yes, we’re a major brand that makes a difference in people’s everyday lives, but we don’t feel the risk is worth it to have phones.”

“There are over a billion people with phones right now who could use information from your company.”

“Oh sure, I get it. That’s why we did get a phone number. With voicemail. Our regulatory team checks the voicemail within three days and determines the best way to react to each message.”

This fictionalized conversation is basically the absurdity that some healthcare brands call social media right now. 

Without invoking the usual parade of statistics, social media and the decision-making it impacts is clearly now as important as the phone to the relationship between companies, consumers and professionals. 



More than marketing, social is an operational brand component. Yet, corporate culture has allowed it to flounder, through fear of the unknown, referred to through jargon as “risk.”

As someone who has helped brands through global social media crises, allow me to give you some unsolicited advice:

You are at the most risk right now. 

You are literally off the charts in terms of risk.

In fact, it’s hard to overestimate your degree of risk because you have no mechanism to assess it. 

Since social media is fundamentally about people quickly forming groups to make decisions, how would you manage a crisis in which everyone is using the method your organization has little or no experience with? 

Here are the first few of many changes in thinking that your organization must embrace before that day:

Own your own agenda, then manage the conversations. Too often, brands focus on a defense-first, keyword-filtering way of approaching social; thinking that after they eliminate what’s wrong, the rest of the conversation will naturally fall positively. But that offers no position for the brand or its advocates to leverage a larger, more beneficial conversation. 

By defining a brand-level purpose in social channels, you are setting an agenda that people can get behind and that forces detractors into a range of topics instead of allowing them to set that premise. 

Help people represent themselves. Right now, much of social media is about how well someone can write or design content that represents a part of their best self to the people they are connected with on that social network. 

Helping people express themselves more effectively is especially important in healthcare, when, too often, patients and health care providers fall into conversational patterns set years, if not decades ago. Social media offers a method for people to explore new ways to outline conversations that deliver better care. 

Ask for the behaviors you want. This might sound simple, but, truly, think about the people you want using your brand to represent themselves in social media. What behaviors are your media asking for now? 

Publicly reward positive, community-building behaviors to model what you want to see more of. People learn through imitation, and if you’re not showing imitable behavior, someone else will.  

With these dynamics in play, if some unforeseen event happens in the life of the brand, you have a community to help manage the conversation, as well as the content to surround and course correct. It’s a far stronger position than waiting for that unforeseen circumstance and hope paid messaging, rushed into market, can make the difference.

So, cheers to 2014, healthcare companies, the year in which you must begin to take responsibility for both having a phone, and knowing how to use it well.

1 comment about "2014: The Year Of The Phone".
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  1. R.J. Lewis from e-Healthcare Solutions, LLC, January 10, 2014 at 3:03 p.m.

    Great piece Michael. I think your point about being at risk by NOT participating is incredibly relevant to pharma, and is not talked about nearly enough. To me, social media represents at a minimum, the next evolution of customer service. You would not want to be a large brand and over absolutely no customer service, would you? The reality is it is much more than that. You don't have to look to far to find examples of healthcare companies that got caught flat-footed in a "social nightmare" because they weren't knowledgeable about social and didn't move to respond with corrective actions early in a crisis, that eventually took on a life of it's own through social. While they are harder to identify, because you are looking for missed opportunities, one also wonders how many chances were missed to fan the early flames of positive brand dialogue into more of a social movement as well. Nice piece.

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