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Four Steps to the Next Step in Your Social Media Evolution

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, May 4, 2010

When hospitals first started experimenting with social media, the biggest challenges they faced was how to use it, whether or not it was worth the effort, and how to explain foreign concepts such as "tweeting" to senior leaders who insisted on referring to it as "twittering." Like it or not, those days are over—social media has arrived. Even if your organization isn't officially on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, your employees are. Enter the next social media hot topic: the employee social media policy.

Representatives from three organizations that have begun that process spoke at the annual Medseek eHealth Client Congress in San Diego yesterday. Here are some of the lessons they've learned and four steps to follow when creating your own social media policy.

Get off the block
IT wants to save bandwidth, managers want to control how employees spend their time, and the privacy team wants to protect, well, privacy. Many organizations have tried to accomplish these goals by blocking employee access to social media sites while at work. But it doesn't work.

"Don't think just because IT blocks access, social media efforts will be stymied," said Tommye Morrison, Web site development specialist at the four-hospital Moses Cone Health System in Greensboro, NC. You can monitor the Web for misinformation and to make sure employees are acting appropriately while online, she said, but there are some things you just can't control.

Like Moses Cone, Alegent Health, a 9-hospital system in Omaha, NE, blocks access to social media sites for most clinical employees, says Matt McCahill, eHealth marketing manager, but he knows they can—and do—access the sites at work on their smart phones.

Better to set clear rules and encourage employees to be ambassadors for your brand than to waste time trying to stop them from talking at all, the panelists agreed. Alegent's solution is to educate employees in a positive way. An online toolkit is in the works that will give examples of the dos and don'ts of online communication. The organization is working on allowing all employees access to Facebook. It's scary, but it has to happen, McCahill said.

Research, borrow, and steal
There's no sense trying to create a social media policy from scratch. Several organizations have already done some of the work already. The idea for Alegent's online toolkit, for example, came from a similar one created by Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Another good place to start: Your existing policies. For example, managers worry that employees will goof off if given access to social media sites at work. But existing policies already cover goofing off—you don't need a special one for goofing off online. Professional and personal standards of behavior apply regardless of the medium, Morrison noted. After all, you don't take away employee's access to phones because they might make a personal call while on the job or take away their paper and pens for fear they might write a personal letter. (Not that anyone writes letters anymore.)

Assemble the right team
Marketing, internal communications, HR, compliance, legal, Web development, and IT are among the groups and departments that must have a hand in developing social media policies, the panelists agreed. Legal and compliance, in particular, have helped identify potential problems at Alegent, McCahill said. The emergency management team, adept at thinking of worst-case scenarios, was a valuable member of the Moses Cone social media policy team, Morrison added.

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