Advertising Age, Hospital Marketing and Social Media

Advertising Age has an article this week in the print edition about hospitals, advertising, marketing and social media, and relates it all to health reform. I was glad to get to talk with the writer, Rich Tomaselli, last week to discuss some of the things we’re doing at Mayo Clinic, and our philosophy relating to social media. Rich had said the article would run either this week or next, and so I was glad when Jane Sarasohn-Kahn (@healthythinker) alerted me to it with her tweet linking to her blog post about it.

I think both Rich’s article and Jane’s post are good and make some valid points, and commend them to your reading.

Here’s my Advertising Age quote, upon which I want to expand a bit:

One of the most famous health-care facilities in the country, the 118-year-old Mayo Clinic, now has a social-media manager, Lee Aase. “Social media is the way word-of-mouth happens in the 21st century,” he said. “Twitter is just one of the most powerful networking tools that I’ve ever seen. It enables you to make connections with people that have a common interest.”

Quotes in mass media (like magazines, TV or radio) are always taken out of context. That’s not a criticism, it’s just a reality. Space and time are limited and expensive. Rich and I talked for about 15 minutes, and it was a great conversation. I’m sure he likewise had good talks with the others he quoted (and he did incorporate elements of our interview in his narrative.) There’s no way all of that is going to fit in a print article.

One of the benefits of social media, however, and why these tools are so powerful, is the opportunity they afford for more in-depth content and discussions. They provide a way to get more in-depth information to (and feedback from) people who are interested.

Given the fact you’re reading this, you must be one of those interested ones, when the topic is advertising, health care or social media. So here is some of the context of my conversation with Rich, and some reaction to the messages I saw in the article.

First, I’m quoted as saying “social media is the way word-of-mouth happens in the 21st Century” which is true and accurate, but the real point, and what I emphasized in the interview, is the continuity of social media with how Mayo Clinic’s reputation has been built over the long term. For more than 100 years, the number one way people have found out about Mayo Clinic is through the recommendation of a friend or family member. It’s also consistent with Thesis 1, that social media are as old as human speech.

Mayo Clinic hasn’t advertised nationally in the traditional media outlets. As Jane says in her post:

It takes information PLUS a “life moment” PLUS a “care connection” to a friend or loved one to deeply engage in health.

Paying for advertising (information) to be sent to a broad, undifferentiated group of people who aren’t currently experiencing the “life moment” or “care connection” is an iffy proposition. You’re paying to reach a lot of people who just don’t have a current need.

As I told Rich, the fact that 25 percent of our Mayo Clinic patients come from more than 500 miles away adds another layer of difficulty to the advertising equation. People need to be much more motivated before they will travel that distance for care. By definition, those patients are “deeply engaged.” But traditional advertising in mainstream media isn’t likely to be a great way to reach them because they are widely scattered across the nation (and even the world.)

This brings me to my other major observation, that the connection of all of this increased social media activity to health reform is significantly overstated. At Mayo Clinic, we have been involved in social media since 2005, starting with podcasts. We launched our Facebook fan page in November of 2007. We have been in Twitter since early 2008. We have been actively uploading videos to our Mayo Clinic YouTube channel for more than two years as well. And our Sharing Mayo Clinic blog for stories from patients and employees is nearly 18 months old.

I believe health reform legislation is essentially a non-factor in the growth in social media adoption among hospitals. Instead, as I explain it in my 35 Social Media Theses, the reason hospitals are using social media is because this is the defining communications trend of the Third Millenium.

As my good friend Ed Bennett (@EdBennett) said in the Advertising Age article, the number of hospital Twitter accounts has more than doubled in the last year, which indicates that this isn’t mainly spurred by health reform legislation. He also offers great advice on the “why” hospitals should be involved in social media:

Hospitals realize that word-of-mouth is the most significant driver you can have, so social media is an opportunity to humanize what can be a scary, complex institution… I tell hospitals “Don’t get into social media because you think you’re going to get more patients. Do it because you’re helping be responsible to people reaching out looking for answers.”

Social media in health care is about much more than just marketing. As for the increase in advertising spending that’s being reported, maybe health reform is playing a role in that. It’s not really my area of expertise, so I don’t have a strong opinion on the matter.

What do you think? Do you agree that increased social media interest among hospitals is essentially unrelated to health reform?

What relationship, if any, do you see between health reform and the reported growth of spending on hospital advertising?

“Like” is the new Black


A couple of changes made or announced this week suggest that “Like” and the associated thumb icons will become the standard for ratings.

First, Facebook announced that it will no longer be using the “Become a Fan” lingo for users to indicate affinity for Pages. Instead of becoming a Fan of Mayo Clinic on Facebook, for instance, over the next few weeks you will be offered a chance to “Like” Mayo Clinic.

Advertising Age has a good analysis of the implications. I think the article’s conclusion about what it means for organizations is right: it’s one thing to say you “like” an organization, and another to say you’re a “fan.” So we may see what Facebook now calls “connections” but they will be less of an indication of intensity of feeling.

Which leads to yesterday’s significant change on YouTube. Among the other elements rolled out in the site refresh is a move away from the five-star rating to a simple thumbs up or thumbs down.

Google explains that as it analyzed what ratings were actually used, the curve was pretty heavily weighted to the five-star end:

So they decided to just go with the “Like” or thumbs-down option. People who want to express themselves further can use the video comments, or if they want to indicate a stronger “Like” they can make a video a Favorite.

So, for instance, in this video of our famous piano duo from Ankeny, Iowa:

When you view it on the YouTube site you will see this little icon giving you the chance to rate:

When you do, you get to see how others have rated:

What do you think of these changes in Facebook and YouTube? Do you “Like” them? Will you implement them in ratings on your own sites?

“Quality” in Media = Usefulness

Advertising Age had an interesting article Wednesday – “Lowered Expectations: Web Redefines ‘Quality’” – regarding the challenges big media conglomerates have in a world in which publishing has been democratized. Here a couple of relevant excerpts:

Publishers from The New York Times to Condé Nast to NBC have been arguing for years that, ultimately, demand for quality would give them advantages over online upstarts: Users would demand it and advertisers would always covet the environment that quality can confer.

But they’re facing two trends that appear to be inexorable. Audiences that do not intently seek out quality are increasingly inured to traditional media brands on the web. At the same time, agencies and advertisers are adopting technologies that allow them to target individuals independent of whatever media they may be absorbing, making the media brand itself less important, perhaps even irrelevant.

“Today there seems to be a bigger premium on popularity — substantiated or not — than there is on authority,” said Group M CEO Rob Norman.

Big, established brands are the ones that least need the authority of media, and indeed many are adapting to a diminished world of old media by producing their own content. Where it starts to hurt are smaller brands that don’t have those advantages. Mr. Norman said it tends to be smaller brands that rely on the “the conferred quality, authority and scale of more traditional media forms to deliver brand messaging or persuade audiences.”

While I think this article highlights an important trend (that of quality being judged by average users instead of elites and big media brands), I have a bit of a different take. I agree that big brands that already have a substantial degree of trust have a great opportunity to create content and reach consumers directly, but I don’t see that smaller brands are terribly disadvantaged. They have an opportunity through the Web to reach “audiences” or “communities” directly, just as the more established brands do.

But whereas Mr. Norman says the new standard of quality seems to be “popularity” as opposed to “authority,” I think the real standard to be met is usefulness and trustworthiness. Web publishing enables real experts (for example, physicians and scientists) to contribute content, as an alternative to journalists and the mainstream media. So it’s not always popularity vs. authority; it can equally be one kind of authority (medical, scientific) vs. another type of authority (journalistic objectivity.)

The real opportunity for those who have been advertising is that instead of paying to interrupt consumers of quality media content with unwelcome marketing messages, they can produce content of their own that people actually want. That they find useful.