The #MCSMN Story (2): Early Mayo Clinic Enablers and Encouragers

About 15 years ago I was blessed to be in the right place at the right time to lead Mayo Clinic’s initial exploration of social media. As manager of enterprise media relations I was able to find ways to use social media platforms, especially Twitter and YouTube, as tools to support our media relations work.

In my first post in this series I highlighted a few early external allies in the health care social media revolution, and today I want to recognize people from within Mayo Clinic who made special contributions to our growth and leadership in social media.

My team was then responsible for syndicated media production and for media relations at the enterprise level (as opposed to the specific campuses in Rochester, Arizona and Florida), and Dana Sparks and Joel Streed were my two direct reports. They had started as freelancers, but we were using them so much at a relatively higher hourly rate that I was able to make the case for hiring them full-time, which gave us several bonus hours of work capacity every week at no extra cost. Their willingness to experiment with what we called “new media” at the time was essential to our early good results. If they hadn’t been so cheerful, eager, open and engaged we wouldn’t have built our momentum so quickly.

Chris Gade was my division chair for External Relations, and our chair for the department of Public Affairs was John LaForgia. Both actively encouraged growth in our staff and exploring new ways for Mayo Clinic to connect with our key audiences, and supported me bringing in external consultants Shel Holtz and Andy Sernovitz in 2007 and 2008 to help make the case for new media and blogging. In addition to helping us learn, Shel and Andy provided an external “Lee isn’t crazy for wanting to do this” perspective, verifying that many companies in other industries were actively embracing these technologies.

In August 2009, Dr. John Noseworthy had been named as incoming CEO of Mayo Clinic, and he sent and email with a link to a news article he’d read about the growth of social media to John LaForgia, and asking whether Mayo should consider doing more in this area. As that message was forwarded to me, it gave me license to at least start contemplating an opportunity for team growth.

We were still just coming out of the 2008 Great Recession, and budgets were tight, with very little new hiring especially in administrative functions like Public Affairs. My perspective on what was possible in getting a bigger team was therefore somewhat constrained, and that’s where a meeting with two key internal visionaries was crucial to our next step.

In late 2009 I sat in the office of Dr. Victor Montori along with Jim Hodge, a senior leader in Mayo’s Department of Development and shared my vision of doubling my team from two to four members. As I talked, Jim noticed Victor (he insisted I use his first name instead of “Dr. Montori”) gradually start to slump in his chair, and he asked what was wrong. Victor was losing enthusiasm because he didn’t think I was asking for enough given the potential I was describing.

What Jim said next caused my pulse to quicken: “I have a regular monthly meeting with Dr. Noseworthy. I’ll turn over that time to you, so you can update this proposal and present it to him.”

I was astonished…and a little terrified.

In January 2010 the big moment arrived, as John LaForgia and I met with Dr. Noseworthy and Shirley Weis, who was then Mayo Clinic’s Chief Administrative Office. I outlined some of our efforts to that point, and how we had used social media to generate increase traditional media exposure and to interact with audiences directly, and Mayo Clinic’s leadership because many of our peer organizations hadn’t yet gotten involved.

My proposal called for four new staff, which would triple my direct reports. Showing the photo featured at the top of this post, I said that the good news is our “lead” in social media was actually bigger than Secretariat’s in the Belmont Stakes.

The bad news? “There’s no finish line.”

About halfway through my presentation, Shirley interrupted, “Time out. I’m sold.” Turning to Dr. Noseworthy, she said “Aren’t you, John? I just think it needs to be bigger and bolder.”

I hadn’t even gotten to my “ask” yet!

With their blessing in principle, I was then empowered to convene a broader group to develop the plan for what would become the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media (MCCSM). I’ll describe what resulted from that effort in my next post in this series.

But before I close this discussion of key early internal supporters who aided our pre-MCCSM social media journey, I need to mention a few more:

  • Brian Kaihoi, who led the Public Affairs team responsible for MayoClinic.org and Mayo.edu when I came to work at Mayo Clinic, was and continues to be a fountain of knowledge about Mayo history and particularly negotiating its technical infrastructure.
  • Amos Kermisch, who succeeded Brian leading the web team, was a great collaborator who encouraged me to explore blogging and also helped me to understand that I could use WordPress.com and domain mapping to provide the hosting infrastructure while maintaining a Mayo Clinic look and feel.
  • Mindi Klein, who was part of Brian’s and then Amos’ team, programmed the RSS feed as an “above and beyond” task which made our first podcast possible.
  • Jane Jacobs, also on the web team, but with a media relations background and a good understanding of how we could harness the web for media relations. We were and are different in almost any category you could imagine (and even did a joint presentation based on that theme at a conference in Orlando), but these different perspectives made our combined work much stronger.
  • Karl Oestreich, my successor as manager for media relations, whose hiring in 2008 enabled me to focus on our syndicated media and on social media. His support was essential to keeping the media relations team engaged. He’s now my interim division chair and has been a great colleague. I’m thankful Chris Gade recognized that we needed to split up my job in 2008, because it brought Karl into our leadership team and also gave me the psychic bandwidth for leading the charge in social media.

Teamwork is among the foundational values of Mayo Clinic, and I have been blessed to work with these team members and so many more over the last 21 years. I’ll recognize more of them as this series continues.

Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 14. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

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