We hear it said all the time, “technology is the future.” While some industries are way ahead of the curve on technological advancements, healthcare is quickly catching up. Around the country, healthcare systems are increasingly turning to technology to improve patient care and outcomes, for streamlined data integration, to realize efficiencies, and to better engage with their key stakeholders. Hospitals are also embracing social media platforms as a way to communicate and share information. However, too often, hospitals are leaving their own employees out of the mix by blocking their access to popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. By doing this, you may be limiting the full potential of your social media efforts.
The Usual Suspects For Blocking Access
Hospital leaders usually adopt this ban on social media within the hospital walls because of concerns over privacy laws, productivity, lack of message control and IT limitations. Let’s examine these to assess the full risk of each.
HIPAA violations are a very real and important concern. Hospitals cannot have employees violating a patient’s right to privacy. However, consider this: HIPAA can be violated anywhere, anytime. Employees can be on social networks at home or at work. An employee can violate HIPAA while in the cafeteria or in a patient’s room. Since there’s always a risk of HIPAA violations, the greatest way to mitigate this risk is through clear training and hospital policy. Employees should be thoroughly educated on the importance of being HIPAA-compliant and what is considered a violation – both online and offline.
There’s also the fear that productivity will decrease if employees have unlimited access to the Internet and social networking sites. However, just the opposite has been found. In fact, a recent University of Melbourne study found that people who use the Internet at work were 9 percent more productive than those who didn’t. It may seem counter-intuitive, but employees who can take a break from work by participating in online social activities have the chance to take a mental break. What’s more, if you have active social networks that employees participate in while on the job, they’re more likely to participate in them when they’re off the clock too, which adds a new level of productivity.
Virus threats or bandwidth issues also come up as a possible negative of granting social media access. This concern may be the easiest to address. To ensure that your organization has the appropriate amount of bandwidth and software to allow for safe and easy Internet browsing, work with your IT department to investigate what solutions are the best fits for your organization.
Another big concern is the time it takes to monitor all the social activity and the possible negative comments that could be disseminated. My first piece of advice is to encourage employees to be honest and transparent, but also respectful. Don’t fear negative comments, embrace them. As long as employees are being constructive in their criticisms, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. When an employee (or anyone for that matter) makes a negative comment, it gives you the opportunity to address it in real-time. Once again, use social media to help boost morale, address internal processes that aren’t working, and to give your employees a voice in your organization.
Many companies have been successful in using sites like Twitter and Facebook to address customer service issues. Why not use these sites to address employee issues. The key is to establish a code of conduct for social media sites that fosters productive and respectful feedback that will help improve the hospital work environment and patient experience. And in the event that someone is not respectful, you may be surprised about who comes to your defense. I’ve often seen a rally of support from other social media users when a single individual chooses to post harsh words against an organization. So, remember that for every negative comment you may be barring, there may be many more positive ones you’re also stifling.
The Fruits of Your Discussions
Now that we’ve addressed some of the most commonly cited reasons not to grant access, let’s look at all the benefits of not just granting access, but promoting it.
First and foremost, your employees are already using social media, and with the rapid increase of smartphones, they may be using them while at work. According to Nielson Mobile Insights, nearly half (49.7 percent) of U.S. mobile subscribers now own smartphones, as of February 2012. This is a 38 percent increase from the prior year. So if you can’t stop your employees from using social media, you should absolutely join them and encourage them to participate in your organization’s social media platforms.
Secondly, when hospitals limit social media activity to one department such as marketing, communications or PR, they’re putting a great deal of responsibility and work on just a few resources. By encouraging all your employees to participate in your social media activities, you’re spreading that work across many resources, plus you’re getting different voices and perspectives. All those employees are linking your social media activity to their networks which exponentially increases your reach and creates an organic growth that you could not achieve without their participation. This makes your social media strategy far more authentic, effective and engaging than if you have one or two marketing individuals checking off their posts and tweets on an internal spreadsheet.
This leads directly into the next benefit. By encouraging employees to use social media at work, your organization can disseminate information in real-time, so you’re sharing more relevant and timely information with referring physicians, patients, families and the local community.
Another valuable benefit of allowing access to social media is improving retention rates. Consider your employees who work night shifts, weekends, holidays or long hours. Allowing these employees to engage in their own personal social activities gives them a chance to stay connected to their families and friends, which can alleviate the feeling that they’re missing out. In turn, this can foster more positive attitudes toward work, patients, your organization and can help retain valuable employees.
Furthermore, more and more people are turning to social media sites for job opportunities. When you’re trying to recruit the best and the brightest, you can now expand your reach and have a greater presence in the areas where they’re looking. Your staff can get the word out much quicker and to a much larger audience than you can, and their networks might prove more fruitful too.
As a social media advocate, the benefits seem endless to me, but for the sake of this article, I’ll end on this benefit, which may be one of the biggest ones. Employees who actively engage in social media add a human touch and a face to your social media platforms. Too often, I visit an organization’s Facebook or Twitter page and all I see down the page is the organization’s logo – I repeat, a logo. Now, branding is important and all of your social media pages should be well branded, but when it comes to the conversations taking place, let your employees be the face of your organization. It gives your activities a personality that will engage audiences far more than your logo. For patients and family who are dealing with illness, the individual employees will connect and resonate with them more so than the general entity that has no face and no name.
No one is saying that creating a work environment that supports social media use is easy. The biggest challenges are often cultural. How do you shift the mentality of your organization and show your leadership that allowing social media usage in the workplace is a positive change?
You can start with small steps. If you think selling an open-access policy hospital-wide will be too big of a cultural shift, run a pilot program. Target one department or select individuals to see how this policy affects the work environment. By starting small, you can also tweak your approach and adjust it to your organization’s dynamics.
Also, use this new policy as an opportunity to reinforce your vision and mission among employees, growing your reputation from within. Remind your employees what your organization stands for and empower them to live that brand both at work and via social media. Then, monitor and measure this program’s effectiveness. First, look at your online results such as increased followers, and the quality and quantity of online conversations. Are those conversations engaging the target audience, and driving the desired call-to-action? Second, look at how this new social media access has impacted the work environment. How has productivity, attitudes and the work dynamic been affected (if at all) by this change? Lean on the department managers and leaders to help you gauge that impact.
Don’t let another post, video or tweet pass you by. Take a close look at your social media policies and see how you can introduce an open-access platform to your organization. Then, let your employees be your ambassadors so they can deepen and grow your connections both internally and externally.
Social Media Policy Best Practices
Start your social media efforts off on the right foot with a good policy. Here are some quick tips to consider:
- Create a policy that is user-friendly. In other words, don’t post a 12-page policy drafted by your legal team. You can have that policy in place, but create an employee user guide that’s easy to understand.
- Avoid the words “no”, “don’t” and “never”. If every rule starts with one of these negative commands, you’ll give the impression that using social media in a professional manner is too complicated and risky, ultimately discouraging use.
- Educate Employees on privacy. While some employees may understand this already, it’s a good idea to reiterate that anything posted to the Web is likely to be publicly viewed by everyone.
- Keep it authentic. While you want to discourage derogatory comments, don’t spoon-feed employees with what to say either. Any savvy social media user will sniff out scripted comments and, at best, tune you out.
- Poll Your Employees. Since this policy’s success rests on their activities, ask them what they would like to see or not like to see in a social media policy. Involving them from the start will also give them a greater stake hold in it.
- Get Inspired. There are plenty of social media policies online that you can review. Read through a few of them and get ideas about what might work well in your organization.