Will Jeremy Hunt improve NHS reform comms?

Communications and lack there of has be a consistent problem during the last two years of NHS reform. The Department of Health hasn’t been able to find a lead spokesperson to outline in easy to understand language the huge challenge of changing the way the NHS operates. And there has been a lack of understanding from all parts of government and the NHS (bar the NHS Confederation in the last few months, in my opinion) of the need to take time to build up the case for change with the public, NHS staff and the media.

Andrew Lansley’s approach to the reforms helped propagate these issues, so will Jeremy Hunt help reverse some of the communication problems?

The consensus seems to be that Hunt as the better, smoother communicator is able to reverse the comms problems but has no understanding of the thing he is now trying to communicate. As Paul Corrigan rather politically put it on his blog:

The appointment of the new secretary of state for health is a move away from someone who had a single idea about a policy to reform the NHS but could not communicate it (Andrew Lansley), to one that has no idea about NHS policy but communicates that very well – Jeremy Hunt.”

His implementation record during the Olympics and Paralympics is being flagged as proof of his abilities. Let us not forget however with the NHS we’re talking about the largest employer in Europe with 1 million+ staff spread over 400+ organisations all holding onto their slice of roughly £105bn of funding as the turbulent seas of reform buffet them from job matching to redundancy to opportunity and back again. Two, two week sporting events pale in comparison; as do the number of acronyms.

Olympic and Paralympic acronyms NHS acronyms
ORN, PRN, LOCOG CCG, CSU, PCT, HEE, PHE, AHSN, FT, QuOF, QIPP and on and on…

Digitally speaking Hunt has a Twitter account, something Lansley wisely opted out off, and has just witnessed digital comms at its most persuasive and pervasive during the Olympics; the first social games. Will this help him see the full suite of digital communucations as one way of the DH and NHS leadership building trust with NHS staff and the public? Hopefully so.

However, if the government wants health to quieten down then I doubt digital will get the step up I’d like it to.

As a stab in the dark, if I was in his position I would go with something along the lines of:

“We’ve all be dumped with this set of reforms. We must now enact the law. I want to work with you all to ensure we make these reforms as good for patients and the general public as possible.

I will take the next four weeks to understand my brief in depth and hear your thoughts on how we can get the best of these reforms. Please write to me or leave a comment at [link].”

Perhaps that is a naive view of political life, but I know that would resonate with my NHS colleagues more so that any of Lansley’s communications ever did.

Hunt has two years or less to implement the reforms before the election. He can either do it with or without communications. But only one of them has the potential to deliver a committed and supported change for the good of our nation’s health.

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 Twuffer.com (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 http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/9610-q-a-the-ico-s-dave-evans-on-eu-cookie-law-compliance
Government Digital Service’s theory http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/9416-eu-cookie-law-uk-government-crumbles
Government Digital Service’s approach http://digital.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/2012/03/19/its-not-about-cookies-its-about-privacy/ andhttp://alphagov.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/gds-cookies-implementer-guide.pdf

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.