Hospital Crisis Communications and Social Media

There are many ways that social media tools can benefit a hospital. We’ve discussed several of them on this blog, but there’s a powerful use that sometimes gets overlooked – Crisis Communications

Innovis Health in Fargo, North Dakota is in the middle of a such crisis right now. For the past week Fargo has been threatened by flooding from the Red River. Water levels reached historic 40’+ levels, and large areas of the city are still affected.  For several days, Innovis was the only hospital fully open in Fargo and remains the site for Blackhawk helicopter evacuation landings, the Red Cross, a VA satellite office and more.

A US Coastguard helicopter arrives at Innovis Health, Fargo, bearing an evacuee.

A US Coastguard helicopter arrives at Innovis Health, Fargo, bearing an evacuee.

Carol Russell manages the social media program for Innovis. She is the CEO of Russell Herder, a firm based in Minneapolis, and – along with her partner Brian Herder and two senior staff – has handled outreach communications for Innovis since the crisis started. The team has worked 24/7, gathering information from Innovis staff, writing the blog updates at and handling the Twitter feed, @innovishealth. In addition, they release critical announcements to an extensive traditional and social media networks.

I spoke to Carol about the impact of these tools in an emergency situation. Here’s what she had to say:

“The crisis has clearly proved the value of Social Media in several areas.

First, it decreased demand from the media. Hospital phone lines need to remain open for emergency and family calls, and the blog cut down on many calls from local and national media. We point them to the blog with the promise that all announcements will be posted immediately.

Next, these tools make it easy for us to manage communications remotely. We’re based in Minneapolis and our client is in Fargo, but we’re able to fully assist them and not be in the way.

In addition, by creating this blog we are able to take control of the message. We don’t need to rely on the ability to reach preoccupied local media to publish updates, and there are no concerns about the message getting garbled.

Finally, these tools can be quickly implemented. We created the blog and had it live with the first update in one hour. When messages about service access and patient safety need to get out, it’s absolutely critical to establish a communication channel immediately.”

None of this would matter if no one read the updates, but that’s not the case. Since the blog went up on March 27, over 5,000 people have gone to it for news and updates. The Twitter feed has over 255 followers, and many are passing these updates along to others. In addition, there have been over 1,100 views by reporters of news releases pitched via social media distribution.  While the current crisis is far from over, thanks to a major blizzard that exacerbated the situation yesterday, the situation seems to have stabilized somewhat. But even after the flood waters subside, it’s clear that these newly established communication channels will continue to have value for Innovis Health.

Every hospital has a crisis communications plan. Does yours include social media as a tool?

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13 Responses to Hospital Crisis Communications and Social Media

  1. Gienna Shaw says:


    What a terrific article–thanks for sharing. It’s a great reminder to hospitals that crisis communications plans must be continually updated … and, preferably, before they need to put it into action. If a hospital last looked at its crisis communication plan a year ago, chances are it doesn’t say one word about the organization’s Twitter feed, blog, or other social media channels. I’d think Carol’s clear explanation of the benefits would prompt even skeptics to consider following Innovis’ lead.


  2. Nancy Cawley says:

    Ed – what a great article, which clearly exhibits that the benefits of utilizing social media extend so far beyond customer relations and branding. Thanks for this great example.

  3. stephanie saltzberg says:

    Ed, thanks for this timely information. I’ve been following their updates through Twitter, too. I’m curious if Innovis had considered using social media before the flood. Will they continue to use their blog once the crisis has passed? I think the part about decreasing the amount of calls to their hospital tying up phone lines is great. I never would have thought about that unless I was in their situation.

    Best of luck to everyone in Fargo.

  4. Ed Bennett says:

    Thanks for the feedback. I’ve emailed Carol and invited her to jump in and comment – but she’s a bit busy right now 🙂 It sounds like things are getting better for Fargo, but it will certainly be a while before they are back to normal.

  5. So glad you wrote and posted what looks like one for the books equal to and in some ways better than the Tylenol crisis communications case study from yesteryear.

  6. Interesting comments! Yes, social media is such an essential – and all too often overlooked – component in today’s crisis communication planning. I think an important point to mention is that the quick launch of this effort was helped tremendously by the highly trusting nature and strong partnering of our client. Being able to make decisions quickly and keep information flowing openly kept things moving when time was precious. While the essence of social media in a situation like this tends to be discussed in terms of its communications benefits, I also think it’s really about relationship building – with employees, patients and the community at large. We have been truly honored to work with Innovis on such an important effort.

  7. Kris Olson says:

    Greetings from the flood zone!
    Yes, Innovis Health was planning a social media campaign – but this disaster accelerated our process. We are lucky enough to have Carol Russell and her crew as a partner so we literally had it up and running with 8 hours of notifying her. This communication tool has proved to go beyond our initial goal of trying to reach the media –

  8. Pingback: How’s Your Crisis Communication Plan? « Wide Angle Communications’ Weblog

  9. Amy Dawson says:

    Great post, Ed. I’m sure this will help hospital mar/comm staff prove the value of HCSM to internal audience who might be skeptical. The flu epidemic is helping to reinforce the value of social media, too.

  10. Pingback: Social Networking in Healthcare | Healthcare Blog

  11. susan says:

    thanks for these valuable insights . Was wondering about the role of Innovis website during this time. Was it not able to broadcast sinilar updates and information or was this a tech limitation of their site to do ‘real – time’ communcations?

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