Health Is Social

Infusing Social Media into Healthcare

One of the most common questions in the C-Suite about emerging media are: What in the world do we use this stuff for? What’s the point? What’s the value proposition?

So what’s all the fuss? What is all this social media stuff for? As a business, what is our vision for these things supposed be? What are we looking at here? What do we say? Where do we say it. When? How?

More specifically, with all the various existing – and future – media around, where do you invest your time and energy? How do you establish orientation and focus your attention in a disorienting and inattentive new world?

How do you tie all this stuff together?

How do you make your online presence meaningful?

After all, there’s a furious cacophony of hype about social media. How to sort out the nonsense from values that make sense?

Well, let’s offer a guiding view – a general framework in which to place these varied and disparate media into their purposeful and meaningful contexts.


I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

That’s what Rudyard Kippling once proclaimed.

What’s the point of using social media? For that matter: what’s the point of anything related to communications or marketing or collaborating? In a word: Storytelling.

That’s what you do with things like words and pictures and sounds. Right?

A business is a story.

A hospital stay is a story. (Can you make telling it HIPAA-compliant. Yes you can!)

A career is a story.

How polymers that treat disease are conceived, assembled, tested, marketed and administered are stories.

Healthcare reform is a story.

Your birth and life and death – all stories.

If I don’t know what your story is, how are you making it even possible for me to trust you?

So – the question again – What in the world do we use this stuff for?


Except: with social media, you get to tell your story interactively, weaving your audience into the plot, enriching it with their experiences and yours, vivifying it with the excitement of what happens every day.

Every day. Interactively. Your way.


If you want an audience who pays you in attention or respect or trust, you need to know the answers to these following questions and – most importantly – be able to make it easy for your audience to find them:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. When do you do you do what you do?
  4. Where do you do what you do?
  5. Why do you do what you do?
  6. How do you do what you do?

When it comes to establishing your online presences, it’s important that you understand which media best serve those six questions. These simple questions help clarify and orient your vision, mechanics and daily processes involved in the long-term discipline of having an effective presence online.

Don’t just set up social media accounts all over the place and expect something magical to happen. Just because it’s fashionable to use these emerging media, doesn’t mean you have to use them. In fact, I’d argue that a submarine and a Harrier are more manageable and ready to engage than a massive fleet of aircraft carriers.

You may or may not need to use any of these media. Maybe you need to use one or two or three. How do you know what to use? By knowing what the medium does and determining if it’s about Who or What or Where or When or Why or How.


Show, don’t tell.

With online media, you get to show me. You tell your story by showing me who you are, what you do, where you do what you do, why you do what you do and just how you do it.


Who are you?

Your website might tell me something about you. But can I find out more? On your homepage, are you home to answer when I knock?

Where else can I find out about you? Can you tell me on a blog? Might Twitter or Facebook tell me anything about you? If something relevant about you changes, how accurately and swiftly will I know?

If I’m your customer, I’m already a part of your story. Will you help me co-author?

Will you make it easy for me to tell others my part of the story?

Or are you going to make me write another book? What will you do if I sell more books than you  – and people think that your story is whatever I tell them? (Your answer probably depends on how happy you make me…or angry.)

Who are you?

Who you are tells me something about what you might do for me.


What do you do?

What do you love?

What do you create?

What do you destroy? That is, are you clearing the path to a better world for me?

Tell me what you do wherever you think it’s best to do so.

On your website, you can give me a simple list.

On your blog, you can give me (and Google) frequent updates.

On Twitter, you can tell me what you’re doing right now. I can ask you too.

On Facebook, you can explain what’s going on, crowdsource your audience to see if what you do is working…or isn’t…and find out how to do what you do better.

On Youtube, you can show me.

What you do tells me more of who you are, especially who you are to me.

What do you do?


When do you do what you do?

You do all sorts of things, some directly related to your business, others indirectly, and still others that have absolutely nothing to do with what you do. Still: you might need to tell me when you’re doing these things – especially if others are talking about you.

Twitter is the fasted way to tell me when your doing things.

A blog does that too, and so does Facebook.

Plancast gives me a heads up. (And I’m sure we’ll see this feature added to other services soon.) Depending on your industry and business needs and where your Information Customers are, you may or may not need such services.

Still, time is an essential quality of getting things done. Who might benefit from knowing your timeline?

If I don’t know when you’re doing what you’re doing, I won’t be where you are when you need me.


Where, oh where, are you?

Now: where doesn’t necessarily geographical location. Where could mean:

  • Where are you headed?
  • In what stage of what you do are you?
  • Where do you want me to be?

Foursquare will tell me where you are in time and space – but is that relevant to me? It may or may not. You don’t have waste time figuring out how to squeeze the latest gadget into your story if it doesn’t matter.

Your employees might like to know that you’re attending a conference or doing something interesting for your company – but your direct customers might not give a darn. You’ll have to decide what matters to whom and tell those parts of your story accordingly.

If you run a community hospital, I might want to know about a wellness event you’re holding or attending.

If you run a Pharmaceutical company, I’m not sure I want to know where the Vytorin mascot is checking into.

…And yet: Perhaps there are useful events to patients with Diabetes that a pharmaceutical company may wish to call attention to with an unbranded account. Just a thought.

What about the Viagra mascot? Now that’s a story! You might make my day if I see this:

Viagra just checked into the Bunny Ranch.

Cialis just checked into the Bunny Ranch.

Cialis just unlocked the Newbie Badge at the Bunny Ranch.

Viagra just unlocked the Adventurer Badge at the Bunny Ranch.

Cialis is Mayor of the Bunny Ranch.

Do you see how weird this can get if you take all this social media stuff too seriously and mindlessly? 🙂

Are you starting to see why you need to relate relevant parts of your story with the those media that purposefully accomplish that goal?

(I’ll concede that such an approach may get a lot of attention on the Web, but: does that translate into true value for you?)

As a customer, I’m probably more interested in where you can take me – is it to a better place (physically or otherwise)?

Where you are tells me about what you do which tells me more about who you are.

Where are you?


Why do you do what you do?

Trust is about what I think of your intentions.

What motivates you? What makes you tick? Does passion or caring explain why you do things?

If you’re a for-profit enterprise, I know money motivates you, so you don’t need to tell me that – and you certainly better not deny it.

But that knowledge doesn’t gain you trust. Something else does: whatever it is, you should know what it is.

You see: who you are, what you do, when and where you are and do will tell me things about why you do what you do – whether or not you actually tell me.

You can and should tell me why you do things – either explicitly or implicitly through your actions and your storyshowing.

More importantly – and this is where your social media placementmes start to come together – you need to show me with Who, What, Where, When and How.


How you do what you do reveals so much about who you are.

How do you make molecules that go into my body?

How do you perform surgery?

How do you invest in the future?

How do you create happy moments for me or my sick friend?

The FDA doesn’t prevent Life Sciences from telling me how clinical trials work.

The SEC doesn’t prevent Financial Services from telling me how to calculate the present value of future cash flows.

How do you prevent obesity, depression or cancer?

Where can you tell the right people how you do things? What media make the most sense for that?


With the Web everybody and anybody can tell your story.

The Web itself is a never ending story.

The Web is: Mother of all media; Mother of all storytelling: Mother of all storyshowing. Much of the story is nonsense but you can be a hero of sensibility.

You now get to tell your story, show your value, lead your audience, listen to other stories and speak with the characters in your story.

It’s more important that you figure out yourself how best to tell and show your story. But here’s a little tip:

  1. Know your story: Who – What – When – Where – Why – How.
  2. Understand the various media.
  3. Match your story with the medium
  4. Weave 1, 2 and 3 together.

It’s your story, it’s your voice, it’s your choice.

I might not know who you are, but I suspect you have a great story.



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  • Storyshowing – love it. It is so important that people practice what they preach. TY for the continued inspiration.

    @aurorahealthpr ^NC

    • Phil Baumann

      It may be that in the age of Twitter, Hemingway’s Iceberg theory may be very apt to follow. 🙂

      These media – because they do best through a long-term lens – now allow for deeper connections to be made. Deeper, richer stories too.


  • So many great points here. I’ve often said (and I’m not the only one) that PR needs to do less pitching and tell more relevant stories, but I can see how everyone needs to do that more. Storytelling is essential to this new(er) medium. Thanks for laying out your thoughts like this – so helpful!

    • Phil Baumann

      Thanks, Shannon

      It’s easy to get lost – especially as orgs get more deeply involved. Nice to have a simple scheme to keep things oriented.



  • “With the web, anyone and everyone can tell your story.”

    I’m not sure if you meant it this way, but my take is that whether or not the health care provider or institution is engaging online, their health care consumers may be writing about their own experiences with that provider. So there is real value both in initiating new content as well as monitoring other content where you name comes up so you can, if needed, provide more accurate information.

    Unlike in other media, where the story dies down, content on the web is here to stay. Whether a story goes viral or not, you never know when someone might find it in a search, even years later, and consider it to be the definitive answer to their question or concern.

    This is a great piece on how to make that content meaningful. Thanks!

    • Phil Baumann

      Hi Lisa

      Yes: even if providers or institutions aren’t doing or saying anything online (or off), people will tell their stories.

      So, the Web offers a chance to (appropriately & within the limits of regulation) to create ongoing content – either with original material or through engagement, feedback, etc.

      As a matter of practice, however, it’s easy to get lost in the many places conversations can take place – which is why having some orienting guide helps a lot.


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