Before You Start a Hospital Blog

This is a cross-post from 33charts, the excellent physician blog by Bryan Vartabedian, MD (aka Doctor_V on Twitter) The focus is on hospital blogs, but there’s good advice for any organization. – Ed Bennett

Before You Start a Hospital Blog

By Bryan Vartabedian, MD

I have a friend who works in marketing at a local hospital.  He asked me for a little input on what to think about when starting his hospital’s blog.

Over the past year I’ve served as a sounding board for a handful of hospital systems as they’ve struggled with the issue of how to position their blog presence.

Here are a few thoughts before you start a hospital blog:

Blog for show or blog for dough.  Most hospitals feel compelled to start a blog but many don’t know why.  Consequently, the world is full of dead hospital blogs.  Just like the world is full of dead broadcast Twitter feeds and empty, lifeless Facebook pages.   If you’re going to expend the resources on a blog, make it functional, make it memorable, make it noteworthy, make it work, or don’t make it at all.

What does a blog get you? While a blog can serve as a ‘platform for crisis communication’ and a ‘forum for public education,’ the best sites in the business serve as a window into a hospital’s human side.  Great blogs are an eclectic mix of multimedia activity that breaks down barriers and tells stories.  And, if properly set up, it will serve as a natural site for the discussion of uncomfortable hospital issues that make their way into the public light.

Your hospital blog might serve as your social home base.  Depending on how your online presence evolves, your blog can potentially serve as your hospital’s social home base.  Core stories, experiences, and community commentary can live there while Facebook and Twitter feed you traffic.  Your blog, in turn, can drive traffic to your more static properties dedicated to specific programs and initiatives.

What’s the ROI on a hospital blog? Just like no one knows the ROI on the hospital landscaping or the marketing VP’s cell phone, this question serves as the primal defense for those interested in keeping their heads squarely in the sand.  A better question might be how much it will cost you to remain alienated from your patient base?  You might call over to the Mayo Clinic and launch the question to social media director Lee Aase.  His stories of piano playin’ seniors and viral health videos filmed on $100 flip cams have landed his facility on Good Morning America and just about every other mainstream outlet I know.  I’m guessing that the Mayo Clinic is beyond the ROI question.

Deliver consistently or don’t deliver at all. When your hospital makes the commitment to show itself through a blog, you’ve got to be consistent.  You can argue about what represents consistent content but if you can’t deliver twice a week for the next 12 months you need to consider whether you have the proper resources to take the leap.

The most successful hospital blogs maintain limited editorial teams with a division of labor set along a rough editorial calendar.  Look for 6-8 key voices from your institution. Seek ambassadors within your facility who can message from the heart, operate professionally, and keep up what can be a challenging commitment.  Grow only as the most genuine voices emerge.

Don’t reinvent the blog. Most importantly, study other hospitals and look at their successes and failures.  Decide how you want your site to work based on what you see.  Be critical and look at your blog as an opportunity to show the part of your hospital and its staff that no one ever knew existed.

And just for fun take a peek at the blogs for Seattle Children’s Hospital and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.  See how different voices can make a hospital look completely different.

Tell me what I’ve missed.  What do hospitals need to keep in mind before taking the plunge?

(Join the conversation going on at the original post)

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