Thoughts from a social media chat

T’other day I went down to the South West of England to have a chat with comms leads from the regions hospitals about social media.

First and foremost, despite growing up round there the journey down there was a happily recieved reminder of the beauty of that part of the world. The pace of life is also different to London. Better than London in my eyes and more friendly of course. I digress….

All-round I felt the meeting was a success. People in the room were open and honest with their level of experience on social media and some great lessons and case studies came out of that.

For my part I was really motivated to hear how far down the road most people were with social media. 18 months ago it was all about getting executive sign off to use social media, or IT clearance for comms teams. Now I was hearing about how people have been building online communities and integrating social media into their media relations work for a few months or more.

Below are a few Q&As I picked up from the chat. Pardon the strange style it is copied and pasted from an email. I also apologise for breaking *all the blog post length rules*; bare with it I think there is some useful stuff hidden away in there for you all.

Questions and answers from a social media chat in the South West

Writing for the different platforms. This only comes with practise! I would take some time to look around at how people you follow/are friends with are writing. What writing styles make you happy/sad/annoyed, click on a link, RT a tweet, like a post? How can you use those styles in your work? Using active verbs and plain English are obviously a must.

Making your organisation’s news more topical. The key here is to join in with region-wide and national topics. For example, the PiP implant scandal – what could your hospital say to its followers about it? Could you RT the DH info? Remember it needn’t be original content all the time with social media.

Increasing Twitter followers is an odd game. There is little use in using follower number as a marker of quality. You could have 2,000 followers but no real influence or interaction. On the other hand you could have 10 local bloggers follow you who subsequently blog about your organisation news and help you get your messages out to the local population. Don’t fret about follower numbers. Here are a few tips to increase the number over time:

  1. Tweet regularly. The nature of Twitter means the more active you are the more chance people have of coming across you.
  2. Network with your local public sector organisations and get them to RT your tweets, RT theirs in return.
  3. RT local people and organisation tweets (you may want to think about a Twitter policy which makes it clear a RT doesn’t equal support)
  4. Join in on local hashtags. Is there a local tweetup (online or offline meet up of people on Twitter) you could join?

Increasing conversations online. Activity and topicality is key here. People won’t talk to a silent account much and it’s difficult to get people to talk about something they aren’t interested in. What issues and concerns are in your area? Perhaps maternity service redesign… in which case can you tweet/update Facebook with news of the proposals, consultation, key dates and facts? Your organisation will of course cop some flack but that is the role of comms. If we’re doing it right we can then feedback the concerns of online followers to the appropriate clinicians and managers in inform the decision making process. Finally, don’t try and lead the conversation all the time, go looking for others’ active conversations about health and join in.

Capacity issues with a 1.5 WTE team. The key here is to remember the broadcast-reactive stages of my ‘sliding scale of [online] conversation’ diagram (below). Don’t try and do it all online. Just maintain a presence. This can be done easily using scheduling functions on Twitter (TweetDeck (software) and (website) offer scheduling functionality). Perhaps you can plan the weekend and next weeks content on Twitter on Friday and schedule it in. Facebook updates should follow your press releases at this stage, just remember to personalise the content a little for Facebook’s very personal life culture. A friend of mine checks Twitter and Facebook for notifications each hour, it takes him two minutes (roughly 15 mins a day). He only uses more time when someone has interacted with the organisation’s profiles.

You won’t get left behind. Use your networks around the NHS to get updates on future social media ideas etc.

The colleague with the control of social media, you with little understanding of what goes on there. I’ll be honest, this scared me a little. If the comms lead hasn’t got an understanding of what is going out under the organisation’s name and brand there is a risk of issues arising. A weekly check-in of what is planned to go out and a daily 5 min update on any interactions on Twitter/Facebook would be useful to make sure you know what is ongoing and help you understand how the platforms work. No need to be an expert, just know enough so you can explain it to a director if something does go well or badly online.

Video quality. My personal opinion on this is that it is not worth us spending money on high-end broadcast quality video. News outlets around the world are now regularly screening mobile footage and Skype interviews. The public are used to slightly lower quality video. It is the content that counts. You can have perfect HD head and shoulder shots of a CEO banging on about what’s important but it is still boring to most people! This excellent urology robot example proves that. Save the money and spend it on training your staff in how to use a basic flipcam/digital camera and buy a cheap piece of editing software.

Social media turning into too much of a customer service channel. This is a tough one. There is the balance between reputational risk and wasting capacity. If I were to be cynical I would say treat the people with large and or influential online followings like customers and people with 10 followers less so. Shocking but one school of thought. This question also brings into focus the issue of teaching PALS teams to use social media and perhaps providing a suggestions and complaints specific Twitter account for people to contact.

Finally on this, remember the invention of emails allowing people to directly email the CEO? Twitter may follow the same grain, a busy start, slowing as people (who are more reasonable than we sometimes recall) realise Twitter isn’t the right channel to complain on. #waitandsee.

Apps. This most definitely should be done at a national level. If you are to look at it remember apps shouldn’t be costing £10,000+. They are quick and easy to produce for people with programming knowledge. Is there anyone in the NHS system in your region who could help you? Could your team provide the service to other acutes for a fee and start to satisfy the need for more income generation? Philosophically a strange argument but something to think about.

A few general issues were raised too…

EU Cookie Law – read these things and don’t worry to much for now.

Econsultancy’s Q&A with ICO’s Group Manager for Business & Industry
Government Digital Service’s theory
Government Digital Service’s approach and

IT issues – these often depend on local relationships. There may be some ground to be made in educating your IT colleagues as to the approach by other trusts in the South West.

Telling difficult stories online – In short – plan, plan, plan. Just the same at traditional comms and pr.

Twitter is now often the source of stories that get printed – how could you use Twitter as the hook for a boring story. #NHSXmas is a great example – we got a boring “don’t go to A&E when you aren’t dying/really ill or injured over Christmas” message into the London Evening Standard on the back of using Twitter.

The digital divide – SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REPLACING TRADITIONAL COMMS!! One day I will get a t-shirt printed with this on. It is merely being added to the toolbox. It is not the silver bullet to end all our comms problems. The traditional comms rules apply, particularly the go where the audience is one. You’re not going to communicate with me or the many people younger than me through quarterly magazines and leaflets.


ATTdigital’s weekly read-round-up #5: GPs are private contractors, a national patient experience challenge for engagement staff, making videos is easy and national service

“I honestly don’t think it matters whether that [NHS care] care is delivered in a state hospital or a privately operated GP surgery.”

This quote came from a Guardian Healthcare Network interview with Stephen Dorrell, chair of the Commons health committee.

I highlight it not because it is a very insightful article but because this is the first time I have seen a GP surgery being classed as private by a politician.

To often for my liking GPs are seen as the guardians of the NHS despite being private contractors. They are not part of the NHS but an extremely key partner, just like the private sector already is through contracts to help the NHS get through its elective waiting lists.

Politicians would do well to help the public understand that GPs don’t necessarily always hold the NHS’ best interests at heart. After all they too are running a business, a business that has to make a profit.

Why we need a national framework for patient experience

Jocelyn Cornwell from The King’s Fund has blogged on the new DH framework for patient experience.

This framework is designed to ‘to apply a single generic framework for patient experience to a wide range of health conditions and settings’. Jocelyn sets out well the challenges that stand in the way of getting the framework adopted across the NHS.

One she doesn’t explore fully is the engagement staff who may well own patient experience questionnaires as part of their work. In my experience NHS engagement professionals are often extremely wary of change preferring to stay within the comfortable boundaries of face-to-face meetings (during work hours) or presentations in town halls to audiences of older people and the usual community champion suspects.

Implementing the framework without a top-down dictat will require a huge amount of engagement work with NHS engagement professionals to teach them that their local population isn’t that different from others and that the same questions across the nation apply to them too. After all a knee op is a knee op in Newcastle or Bristol.

The framework is a great step towards pushing patient experience up the agenda and I hope comms and engagement staff across the NHS embrace it and become experts in it alongside their clinical colleagues.

Ruth Carnall give us her views on Health and Wellbeing Boards in London

This video was taken after Ruth had given a Greater London context at the first of four London health and wellbeing challenge events that bring together the people and organisations that will make up Health and Wellbeing Boards (HWBs).

While the context may not be of interest to many (even though HWBs offer a lot to think about and act upon, especially integrated care) the point of me showing you this is to break down how easy it is:

  1. Film Ruth answering 3-4 questions with a Flipcam
  2. Download the films to my laptop
  3. Use basic Windows Movie Maker to cut them together
  4. Insert a couple of fade outs and fade ins
  5. Publish (wait a while as your processor works hard)
  6. Upload to YouTube
  7. Promote: Tweet, embed and share with staff and colleagues.

Total time taken to get all this done? About 2 hours. Easy!

Hint: Make sure the interviewer asks the interviewee to repeat the question in their answer and tell the interviewee not to jump straight in after the answer has finished so editing is made easier.

NB: Windows Movie Maker is included on most, if not all, Windows laptop and desktop packages, but is nowehere near as good as Final Cut or Final Cut Pro on a Mac

National Citizen Service (NCS)

This government initiative is an opportunity for 16 year olds to explore their skills, likes and dislikes through outdoor pursuits, helping their communities and creative endeavours such as making short films.

A lot of thinking is currently going into how to make the most of the talent, energy and enthusiasm that British youth have and I like the sound of NCS as part of the answer.

It doesn’t  prescribe a right and wrong Q&A style education like exams, it enables participants to learn through making mistakes (e.g. do taking the right gear when hiking) and gives them the freedom to be creative and explore what makes them tick, something the school system doesn’t do very often. Additionally, as the programme looks to add value to their CV, helping them show the breadth of experience required these days on job and university applications.

If you know any 16 year olds looking to use their long post GCSE summer well this year send them to:

Collateral video

I’m out of the office today using a Flip (video) camera for the first time. It’s for an internal film so fortunately my wares won’t be publically aired.

I was reading about WordPress templates yesterday and came across the video template on my current theme, twenty eleven.

I’ve no excuse to use it so I’ve made one up… from the cuts of video that don’t feature interviews I’m going to put together a ‘my commute’ style piece. Then I can use the video template 🙂

Don’t hold your breath on this. I’ve a busy few days ahead.

From the silence of the Richmond-Waterloo train, that’s all for now folks.