Five Tips to Guide Your Hospital's Social Media Policy

Gienna Shaw, May 11, 2010

Hospitals are increasingly pulling their heads out of the sand when it comes to the social media activity of their employees, recognizing that they're active on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube regardless of whether the IT department blocks access to them from work computers. Time to face facts: Employees post online comments from their computers at home and use their smart phones to update their Facebook status while at work. And yes, they're talking about your hospital online.

In last week's column, I offered up four steps to take when crafting a social media policy, including borrowing ideas from hospitals that have already begun the process. This week I'll show you some examples of policies with language worth borrowing.

1. Keep It Short
As I mentioned last week, your social media policy should be short—about one page—and should be written in the simplest possible language. Sure, legal is going to make you put some jargon in there; just try to keep it to a minimum.

Examples of policies that are downright unreadable abound. However one facility that got it right is Danbury (CT) Hospital. The introduction sets up clearly the difference between personal and professional online activities:

  • "Personal blogging is not a business-related activity and should be done during personal (non-work) time only.
  • "Company-sponsored blogging may only be done after express authorization of public relations/marketing."

Other bullet points are just as straightforward. One that I particularly like: "Since your site is a public space, we require that you will be respectful to the company, our employees, our customers, our partners and affiliates, and others (including our competitors)."

Read more of Danbury Hospital's social media policy online.

Similar language can be found in other hospitals' policies, suggesting this is one area where smart hospitals are already borrowing from each other. Mayo Clinic's policy, for example, reads in part: "Be respectful and professional to fellow employees, business partners, competitors and patients."

2. Keep It Simple
Mayo, a pioneer among hospitals in developing social media best practices, also drills down into some of the nitty-gritty of posting online—yet still manages to put it in easy-to-understand terms. Take this list, for example:

  • "Mayo Clinic blog posts and comments will be accurate and factual.
  • "Mayo Clinic will acknowledge and correct mistakes promptly.
  • "When corrections are made, Mayo Clinic will preserve the original post, showing by strikethrough what corrections have been made, to maintain integrity.
  • "Mayo Clinic will delete spam and/or comments that are off-topic.
  • "Mayo Clinic will reply to emails and comments when appropriate.
  • "Mayo Clinic will link directly to online references and original source materials.
  • "Mayo Clinic staff will disclose conflicts of interest and will not attempt to conceal their identity or that they work for Mayo Clinic."

The full Mayo Clinic social media policy is also available online.

3. Keep It Encouraging
I like policies that don't just tell employees what not to do, but give them guidance on best practices, as well. Vanderbilt University Medical Center's online "social media toolkit" avoids the finger-wagging tone that some policies take on and manages to make social media sound (gasp!) fun.

It asks its employees to think about their purpose in blogging and other forms of online communication with questions such as "Who are you trying to engage?" and "What would you like to accomplish?" and "What is your message?" The answer to that last question is a useful one: "Social Media is all about connecting, not pushing a message. To be a good participant, you must first be a good listener. Your online community will tell you what they want to hear from you."

There's more good advice—and encouragement—under the heading "Do you have what it takes?"

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