Friday, June 20, 2008

Social Control

Despite my best intentions, it isn’t possible to capture everything that was presented this morning at “Demystifying Web 2.0: Using Social Media to Reach Healthcare Audiences.”

This summer’s seminar, put on by the Healthcare Special Interest Group of the American Marketing Association-Houston, can be briefly reviewed here. However, the event went for two hours solid and could have gone another two – it was a full house listening to challenging speakers (four of them) with every ounce of attention they could muster at 7.30 on a Friday morning.

The basic plot: How healthcare organizations can or ought to use social media, like blogs; Facebook and MySpace; videos and podcasts to build better interactions between their brands (institutions) and their stakeholders – patients, patients’ families and friends, etc. There are already a lot of players in all these arenas: I wish you could have listened to the presentations.

The moderator was Katie Laird, of sunny disposition, an indefatigable blogger who’s Strategic Advisor for Houston-based Schipul – The Web Marketing Company.

Then there were two speakers each from the hospital side and the social media side – and this is really where deep issues could have surfaced, given enough time.

Hospitals? An exemplary case history was presented by Jennifer Texada of UTMDACC – that’s MD Anderson Cancer Center and a mouthful in any conversation. Texada presented an array of current programs and future plans that demonstrated how MD Anderson is building communities of interest among its patients and well as some of its staff. Chris Ferris countered with warm humor how far St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System has yet to go…although his organization is making progress.

From the Social Media Enablers’ side, passionate Paul Griffiths came in from Boston to present the MedTouch point of view – he’s the firm’s CEO and one of the leaders of social marketing for healthcare organizations. Griffiths firmly believes that information ought to be free, free (as in the “don’t tie me down” school of free) – and that no organization needs marketing copywriters to develop content. You understand that I’m not thrilled with this later idea from the perspective of my life’s profession, but he is a true visionary about the immense capabilities of social media and a thrilling speaker.

He was seconded by the compassionate Jay Drayer of Houston, founder of CareFlash. His firm developed and has deployed very successful “community” tools for putting patients and their families on the Web. CareFlash is remarkable story in itself.

In the seams of these presentations, there were several elemental struggles implied but never explored fully.

One is the issue of control. The healthcare facilities’ very real need for professional and legal control of content in social media environments was admitted – and some institutions can change to accommodate Griffith’s conviction that (eventually) the needs of the patient/caregiver community will win out despite legal departments and HIPAA laws. This is partially an issue of “stodge” and partially of medicine’s attention on cures.

Another issue never quite address was the other leg of the healthcare delivery system – the physicians. Many hospitals today are filled with service teams (nurses, techs, swampers, etc.) Doctors are frequently independent contractors and so are often not even billed through the same system. Unless key parts of a specific institution such as MD Anderson are featured in social media, how do you get doctors to be as socially open as patients want them to be?

Some hospitals don’t even allow patients or their families to access the Worldwide Web from inside the facility – there’s no WiFi, no “public computers” available for use.

It is likely that social media for healthcare audiences have developed way faster than most healthcare institutions or practitioners want or desire. These particular stakeholders see their stakeholders as packages to be conveyed through their systems (as Griffiths pointed out in an illustration of “the old way”).

Maybe this cast will be assembled again, for the edification of other attendees. I think you missed the beginnings of an immensely provocative conversation revolving around issues of social control – a tug of war happening now at your nearby hospital.

Thanks to the Healthcare SIG of AMA-Houston and all the speakers. Photograph © Yanik Chauvin from


Richard Laurence Baron said...

Oh Lord, I forgot about Twitter. Everyone's on Twitter. Ed Schipul's on Twitter. MD Anderson is on Twitter. I believe I am the only human being in the solar system that is not able to Twitter. Yet.

Don't YOU forget about Twitter.

Kathy Mackey said...

Interesting and unexpected post. I am sorry to say I missed the morning event. The focus was a bit different than I remember us discussing but I heard the attendance was very good. Congrats. Have a nice weekend.

Paul Griffiths, CEO of MedTouch said...

Hi Rich,

Paul Griffiths, from MedTouch here.

Fun to come across your perspective of the event and, since you blogged about it, I would be remiss if I didn't contribute to the conversation. (I found out about it thanks to an RSS feed I subscribe to about which finds new mentions of "MedTouch" on the web.)

I think I'll use this space to clarify one key point: writing as a discipline is far from dead! As far as I can tell, we'll always need writers around! But what is true is that we've reached the point where the costs of supplying high quality content can't go down any more. Since most hospitals need to generate more -- not less -- quality content, I wanted to stress the other options available to them.

Freelancing was the great innovation that lowered the costs of writing and allowed folks like you to setup shop, come to work in your kitchen, and (hopefully) take a lot more vacations than those of us who have to go to the office. By creating specialists outside large agencies, freelance writers are a more effective and efficient option.

That same innovation is happening today to audio and video content -- the technical costs of production are so low, your uncle can shoot a decent video with the right equipment. Note that one cannot make that same case for writing -- e.g. your uncle + a word processor does not = Faulkner.

This production innovation comes at the same time a new delivery mechanism, the Internet, has made it cheap to supply and consume the content. It just so happens that the web is a screen based medium first and foremost and it has taken 20 years for the technology to mature. Simply because it is easier for me to type this message, I am contibuting this way -- otherwise, I might leave an audio or video remark.

So let me give you one idea. Instead of kicking against the goads, why don't you pitch yourself as a screenwriter for social media videos? Whereas a big production company might hire a writer as one member of a large team, you could provide a more cost-effective and innovative option: create simple video scripts for clients and then hire your uncle -- who owns that awesome video camera -- as a director.

It's a change to way you might think of your services, but like all innovations, once you embrace the idea, you open up to the possibilites for more, not less, creativity. Who knows? Maybe we'd end up working together?

Best of luck and thanks for joining in the conversation. Feel free to keep up with me at

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Paul: Thanks, first of all, for being one of the most arresting speakers the AMA-Houston Healthcare SIG has had lately. Your use of our event for releasing the latest MedTouch news is also quite an honor. Since I work on the "committee," I can say you delivered the kind of messages our audience really need and want to hear.

Thanks, also, for your response to this blog post; I enjoyed your appreciation of our mutual editorializing. I do strategize and write for healthcare from time to time, I welcome your reinforcement of hospitals' need for clear (as well as branded) messages to all their stakeholders.

Our goals are similar, I think; and I am struck once again by how well encompasses so many sides of the social conversation that US healthcare needs rather desperately.

Now if only I had an uncle who’s adept at videography.