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Addressing the “Media Elephant” In The Room

06.08.10 written by

Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of Social Media have become generally accepted forums of communication and marketing in society today. Social Media websites are commonly defined as personal blogs, conversation pages, message boards, or other user-generated websites, including Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and YouTube. Social Media has become a communication juggernaut in recent years. As a result, hospitals, healthcare facilities and physician practices are presented with the daunting task of regulating employee communication on these Social Media outlets. Despite this challenge, Social Media can be a vital tool to establish trust and support for patients and to market and humanize a hospital and its staff. Sharing information and ideas on Social Media sites can modernize a hospital’s day-to-day operations and long-term planning and education. Thus, instead of ignoring the “media elephant” in the room, hospitals, healthcare facilities and physician practices should implement a Social Media policy to address Social Media networking with employees and staff. Below are some practical issues to consider when drafting your Social Media policy.

Official outposts. First, Official Outposts should be established for the facility. Official Outposts are the Social Media channels that are the official communication of the facility. Official Outposts allow greater control over the content delivered to the general public. Ultimately, these forums should reinforce the identity or branding of the facility.

Second, staff and employees should be encouraged to use these Official Outposts, but employees must be advised that their communication should be about the facility not on behalf of the facility. Posts made on these networks should be relevant, attentive to copyright issues, and mindful of confidential and proprietary information.
Finally, guidelines for crisis management must be incorporated into the Social Media policy. Employees and staff should be informed of appropriate responses to complaints or negative comments about the facility. Responses to negative feedback should be prompt and in the same medium as the initial complaint appeared. Therefore, facilities should institute a standard reply, acknowledging the complaint and offering contact information for more help.

Unofficial outposts. Unofficial Outposts are the personal Social Media held by employees and staff. The facility should encourage employees to participate in these networking forums, but remind employees that they are the representatives of the facility. Employees should understand that their Unofficial Outposts should not be used to complain or make negative comments about the facility or defame the competition.

Finally, working with Legal Counsel to establish rules in regards to sharing confidential information, patient information, and the like is important. Employees should be open to communicating with patients and offering helpful advice. However, it is necessary to maintain the confidentiality and proprietary information of the patients.

Social Media networks have grown leaps and bounds to become communication juggernauts, and are continuing to grow on a daily basis. Thus, as Social Media evolves, so must your Social Media policy. Marketing, Public Relations, and Community Relations initiatives should work hand in hand with Human Resources and Legal Counsel to develop proper guidelines and establish effective communication to employees and staff. Hospitals, healthcare facilities and physician practices who establish effective Social Media policies will find that such networking provides a great advantage. The information sharing and marketing aspects of the social networking websites will prove to be invaluable, as long as the appropriate Social Media policy is in place.

NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.