Web 2.0 for Healthcare Providers – Q and A Part 1

Thanks for all those who attended our webinar on implementing web 2.0 strategies last week. If you missed it, the recorded webinar is available on our site. Enjoy.

As I promised, here are some of the questions asked during the session that I have not had time to address:

Q1: Using Facebook and Twitter – how do I get started? How can we monitor it?

Getting started is ridiculously easy. Facebook has a good starter guide . Setting up Twitter is even simpler as there is not much to do other than selecting a name. You have only 15 characters so it is not always an easy task. Twitip has a good guide to best practices in twitting and a list of useful services to track and monitor twitter conversations.

Q2: Why would people want to follow a healthcare organization? How do I promote it without spending money? is it really worth the effort and Investment?

So setting up profiles and pages is easy. The hard part is getting people to follow you on a regular basis. The good news is that you just need to get users to act once and add you to their friends list or follow you on twitter. From that point forward you are just one in a stream of many others.
Spreading the word is done in every way possible, but not through direct advertising. Put it on your website, emails, blog and any other marketing communication form. The best promotion methods are viral. If you have something interesting to say, people will spread the word.

Social media communication tools are just one more way to reach an audience in a fragmented media world but health is something people really care about. If you are a regional hospital, publish daily information your community will want to know. Allergy report, flu alerts, flu vaccine reminders, etc. The cost is usually limited to a resource that will write and maintain all these social media properties. We’ll go into ROI in the next answer but first and foremost the benefit is relevancy. Hospitals that will engage and communicate will be relevant and top of mind. Others will be there when the appendix burst.

Q3: What type of investment is required? What is the ROI

We usually see 2 main areas of investment. The first is Strategy. With so many options, tools, opportunities and risks large organization usually do not just jump in but take some time to look at the landscape, their audience, their revenue centers and their media assets and capabilities to form a cohesive strategy. This is the main area we help clients in as they often lack internal expertise. We usually recommend forming a broader web strategy as these social activities are not isolated from the needs to have an attractive and interactive website than engages users and effective e-marketing programs. The strategy part also looks at the organizational ability to support these types of programs, the skills required and can help in building a cost and ROI structure. The cost of a comprehensive web strategy can range from five to low six figure depending on the size of the organization and scope.

The second area of investment is in the program operations. This usually translates to people who dedicate some of their time to writing content and managing user interactions. It can range from a few hours a week for a small program to a full time position.

The returns: like in any marketing program, these activities are judged by their ability to generate increase in profitable patients and donations. Since they provide a great way to reach an audience without a cost per unit (as you have in email, banners or paid search) the ROI increases as the size of your audience.

Mashable.com has a good overview for the qualitative and qualitative measurements for ROI. I think it goes back to relevancy and the need to be part of your audience daily life.

Illustration: Monica Parra / Newsweek

Building a Collaborative Enterprise: Twitter (Part 2)

This is the second post in a series of posts covering collaborative tools that can make an impact on your business. If you’re new to Twitter, I’d suggest you read part 1 first.

Why Twitter?: Internal Collaboration

Honestly, many of the very creative ways Twitter can be used as a real-time communication platform probably haven’t been invented yet. Here are some creative ideas we came up with using an internal poll on our Sharepoint site:

  • Server or systems uptime monitoring and alerts (tying into Twitters excellent SMS capability with major cell phone carriers)
  • Corporate workflow integration and notifications – new business notification / blasts, integration with development workflow, etc.
  • Events planning and communication – for companies that sponsor annual users’ group meetings, setting up a dedicated Twitter account to communicate details and updates to attendees

Enterprise Use

Especially for large companies, something like Twitter can even take the place of other solutions (such as Office Communications Server), or (as in many companies I’ve seen) public IM services such as Yahoo or AOL. IM services that function outside the company may present serious security risks, including exposure to vicious worms or malware.

Companies such as Yammer and Present.ly are springing up, providing Twitter-like services running for private intra-company enterprise use. These provide the benefits of Twitter, including collaboration and greater dissemination of information, while retaining privacy that enterprises mandate.

While the market for corporate Twitter-like products is still in flux, examining the options available should be an important part of your enterprise collaboration strategy. With recent management changes at Twitter, it is highly likely that Twitter will be introducing a for-pay Enterprise service in the near future. Twitter CEO Evan Williams recently stated that

There is commercial value, not just personal value [to Twitter]

Integration

Twitter provides a very rich series of web services that can be used to integrate Twitter accounts with many existing back-office systems – both for receiving incoming tweets (imagine your Twitter feed integrated with salesforce.com, for example), and for outgoing tweets (imagine integrating QuickBase or Microsoft Dynamics to drive marketing campaigns). The Twitter web services can easily be integrated into existing Java, .NET, or Ruby on Rails infrastructure.

Downsides

Because Twitter is a realtime mass communication mechanism, gaffes can hurt you very quickly, since bad or inappropriate twitstream content will assuredly ripple through the as Internet fast as possible. Additionally, Twitter serves as a very rapid sounding board for poorly vetted social media ideas by aggregating feedback from thousands of users or consumers.

A very recent example of this from November 15-16, 2008 was the very strong consumer backlash to Motrin’s new advertising campaign. Immediately after the advertising campaign was released, negative comments on Twitter began piling up, causing Motrin to decide to pull the ad from its online media campaign.

On many corporate blogs, and certainly traditional “press release” communications outlets, content is reviewed, re-reviewed, and approved many times over before being released for public consumption. Part of a corporate Twitter strategy should include a good understanding (and documentation) of rules of engagement and proper Twitter etiquette, since a traditional review process would be cumbersome and reduce the “immediateness” of responses.

Name Squatting

With the uptick in corporate attention being paid to Twitter, “Twitter squatting” is starting to be noticed by corporations. Much as “domain squatting” happened in the early days of the Internet, Twitter squatting could be potentially either damaging or expensive for companies that don’t own their name. Twitter doesn’t yet have an official policy of releasing names to trademark holders (unlike, for example, domain squatting); however, they will release “inactive” accounts, and I’d bet they will have a policy on this issue very soon.

Should You Twitter?

In the current highly-connected and collaborative business climate, companies must have a social media strategy. Companies must understand all of the major social media platforms and identify how they will bring value to the business.

Twitter has provided a unique service, and many companies, especially ones that deal with B2C services, should consider a strong Twitter presence.

Next in our series of blog entries covering collaborative enterprises: Facebook.

Building a Collaborative Enterprise: Twitter (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of blog posts focusing on ways to integrate specific collaborative technology platforms into your enterprise.

We’ll do this by examining cutting-edge companies who have embraced collaborative technology, and provide some suggestions as to how these technologies might be applicable in different industries.

If you’re new to collaboration in the enterprise, we suggest you read this post by Edgewater’s Ori Fishler, reviewing McKinsey’s research on “enterprise 2.0” collaborative technologies.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a public, free microblogging service. It allows users to publish short — 140 characters or less — updates to anyone who chooses to listen (the Twitter term is “follow”). Here’s a video to explain more succinctly (and humorously!) than I can:

Chances are, your company already has a public corporate blog presence (a recent study says over 55% of companies do). Your corporate blog is probably much like ours, providing insights, expertise, and guidance to your customers and potential customers. Blogs are generally written in an expository, formal style, providing rich and deep content, and an ability to converse through comments.

Contrast this with Twitter, where the 140 character limit profoundly restrains the amount of detailed dialog your can provide to (and have with) your followers. Companies like Southwest Airlines, Dell Computer, and Comcast have embraced this communication mechanism. The Wall Street Journal recently declared that Twitter is going mainstream. Why?

Why Twitter?: External Collaboration

While much of the focus around Twitter has been on enhancing interpersonal relationships, Twitter serves a unique niche for enterprises that early adopters can take advantage of. It is very difficult (or expensive) to get as close to your customers as Twitter allows through other means.

Areas such as customer relationship management, engagement, and marketing strategy are well-served by the opportunity provided through Twitter.

Brand Monitoring

Much like traditional media outlet monitoring, companies are advised to set up a strategy for watching Twitter for tweets about them.

Since Twitter is often a channel for stream-of-consciousness writing, mentions of companies are often interrelated with visceral experiences, both positive and negative. Delving into the subconscious is a savvy marketer’s dream come true!

A nascent industry has appeared with all sorts of tools to monitor companies’ mentions on Twitter, allowing them to be aware of what people are thinking. Smart companies such as Southwest and Zappos have taken this monitoring a step further, to an intervention approach.

“Today, whatever you say inside of a company will end up on a blog.” — Rusty Rueff

Much like blog/website watching services (such as Google Alerts), tweets regarding layoffs, client information, and other sensitive data must be carefully monitored so that information leaks can be identified before they lead to serious consequences (data or confidentiality breaches at worst, PR nightmares at best) for the company.

Customer Service

Twitter allows for a uniquely personal approach to customer service, providing customers with a way to bypass your standard support structure and (at least have the appearance of) talking to a real, live person. Unlike standard support or CRM systems, however, by default all Twitter conversations are public.

This openness allows a company that is willing to invest in well-trained and highly disciplined customer-focused service to shine in a way that was impossible before Twitter. Your concern for, and engagement on, customer issues will be visible for the whole world to see.

Many companies using Twitter for customer service make wise use of the Twitter direct messaging feature to bifurcate between directing responses containing personal information privately to the requester, while directing less sensitive responses as general replies for the public to see.

Marketing

While the ability to drive a rich marketing campaign through Twitter is limited to 140 characters, it’s possible that, by building a robust following through the techniques previously mentioned, you can deliver a strong message to your company’s followers, who are also likely to be your most ardent supporters.

Zappos created great, low-cost buzz when they randomly selected 10 of their 1,000+ followers to receive free pairs of shoes – brilliant marketing strategy targeted at their most loyal fans. Dell Computer Corporation regularly distributes exclusive coupon offers to their followers.

Sales

While there aren’t a lot of good examples of deals being brokered via Twitter, a couple bigger companies are experimenting and have shown marked success.

An Irish insurance company, FBD Insurance, has begun using Twitter to provide auto insurance quotes and other product information to potential customers.

Dell Computer Corporation launched its @DellOutlet Twitter account in June 2007. By the time 1 year had passed, Dell could trace over $500,000 in sales to links clicked through its twitstream.

To be Continued…

In our next post on Twitter, we’ll cover enterprise options, other creative uses, and potential downsides.

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