The world’s largest referral programme

Laoise O’Murchu examines the implications of the new social media for health service managers.

Winston Churchill famously stated, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” The same sentiment could be true of social media. While some social media outlets have succumbed to the global financial downturn the concept behind social media, the citizen journalist, is here to stay.

So what impact will social media have on your organisation? Well, think of it this way, word of mouth can now go world of mouth. Instead of just telling one or two people about your experiences of healthcare, you can tell all 135 of your Facebook friends, in a matter of minutes. Or, you can tweet your 300 fans on Twitter in seconds and detail your experience, positive or negative.

Laoise O’Murchu
Laoise O’Murchu

A new blog is created every minute, and millions of tweets are making their way around the world every hour. The fact that it is virtually free to create social
media content means that everyone can voice their opinions online. Your patients, employees and other stakeholders are now all potential journalists and they are posting their views about your service.

Your patients, employees and other stakeholders are now all potential journalists and they are posting their views about your service

A very real implication of social media is its use as a source of trustworthy information. For example, if you are wondering what laptop to buy, you can ask Google and get hundreds of responses from companies trying to sell you a laptop. You can spend hours looking at these sites and still be none the wiser.

Alternatively, you can ask your friends on social media and discover that 20 of your friends have laptop A, and they like it. Your other friends have different laptops and they point out faults with them all. As you know and trust all the responses you are more likely to choose laptop A. Your decision is made in far less time with a lot less stress.

This functionality of social media is quickly making it the biggest referral programme in the world. Consequently, the value of paid for publicity or self publicity, often used by healthcare organisations, is declining and the value of personal interactions is increasing. This is the number one reason for healthcare managers to be aware of the power of social media. Our interactions with our customers are becoming more and more important to the company’s reputation.

The implications

Looking at social media from this perspective has implications for health service managers. As managers we need to focus more than ever on the experience we deliver to our patients and customers. As managers, ensuring that all our staff understand the importance of all their interactions with their customers is vital. Encouraging our staff to cultivate positive relationships with their customers and recognising and rewarding this behaviour when we see it, is a business imperative for managers

There is no shortage of examples of how quickly reputations can be made or destroyed with social media. Dell’s share price took a hard hit when Jeff Jarvis posted his Dell Hell rant online, about Dell’s poor customer service. Equally, Domino’s Pizza’s share price fell through the floor after a revolting You Tube video was posted, by two employees, about food preparation. These examples demonstrate that there is now a very real possibility of any failings in your service being exposed to hundreds or thousands of people instantaneously. This means, as managers, we have to be open to dealing with difficulties more quickly and more efficiently.

In less than three years, social media has become the most popular activity on the web, surpassing pornography for the first time in internet history

The days of being able to take a day or two to respond to negative stories is fast disappearing. As the use of social media increases, managers have to gear up to respond to these types of crises quickly. The key to this is to develop systems of two-way communication with employees. Effective two-way communication will help address issues as they arise. If strongly developed, two-way face–to-face communication with your staff will also facilitate the identification of difficulties before they become problems for your customers.

Whatever our feelings about social media it is here to say. The reality is that, in less than three years, social media has become the most popular activity on the web, surpassing pornography for the first time in internet history. What is more, social media is increasingly affecting every aspect of business. The democratization of information has allowed real people – our stakeholders to voice their opinions. We should be preparing to embrace those views not fight them.

If you are new to social media, and would like to know more about the social media offerings, one of the best websites to check out is http://theconversationprism.com. The prism allows you to see many of the social media tools and you can simply click on the icons and visit each tool.

Laoise O’Murchu, Communications and Public Relations Manager at The Adelaide and Meath Hospital, Dublin incorporating the National Children’s Hospital in Tallaght has recently completed an MPhil in internal communications.