Thursday, May 17, 2007

Healthcare PR and Social Media

Recently, I sat on a panel for PRSA Healthcare on social media. I brought along the PR blogger perspective, and sat on it with the VP at Technorati and Amy Tenderich, from Diabetes Mine.

Healthcare is different from other practices in PR. You have the whole direct-to-consumer guidelines from the FDA, and then you have a ton of other issues in dealing with the press and social media.

But, it's beyond that. When you are working in social media, you are entering a community. Too many PR people don't get that - they view social media - or just blogs - as another media venue, that can be pitched. Just today, I was sent a press release from a firm in Los Angeles - no pitch letter, no garnering my interest on the subject, just the press release. And, that does not work.

When explaining social media, I use a Town Hall analogy. From a conversation with a friend, she wrote it out like this: Imagine a small New England town with a highly civically-active community. On a regular basis this tightly-knit community hosts Town Hall meetings to discuss current events, areas of concern, etc. Now imagine someone wholly unconnected to community coming in, raising a topic of concern and just leaving. Town Hall meeting members have every reason to be annoyed, incensed and even hostile.

Now take that Town Hall scenario, multiply it exponentially, and stick it online - where anyone and everyone can see it. The quaint little Town Hall is now a blog. And the outside, rude intruders are PR people - those that neither seem to care or understand the community, but are just following orders to get "ink" no matter what.

Me and Amy

For healthcare, take that Town Hall scenario, and put it in the hospital ward. With some health blogs, you are either talking to the patient, or the patient's relative.

Now, unless you have ever been sick, you cannot truly empathize with that scenario. So, imagine some asshat barging into your hospital room to talk to you about new medicines, or a new treatment. That's the PR person trying to pitch you on something - or just imagine them not even saying hello, but just dropping off a press kit / press release. That, essentially, happened to me today.

Okay, going to take it personal here - something, I rarely do on the blog. I was a relatively sick kid - surgery at 9, surgery at 21, surgery at 21. So, when I hear PR people saying "let's pitch this community or that community," I want to scream. Just because you do outreach for one type of client within a healthcare community does not give you carte blanch to reach out to the group for another client. These are relationships that you have built, but you are a guest in that community. To treat it otherwise is being exploitive.

Here's a perfect example: because of my surgery at 21, I have side effects that occur once a year. I take some pills for one week, and it is over. But, I do check Google Blog Search and Technorati (when it works :P) and look to see if there are any advances or new medicines on the horizon. Last time I did this, I found a 25 year old guy in Los Angeles that was going to have the same surgery as I did at 21. I wrote to him, told him how the surgery went for me, and we have been in email correspondence since then.

Yes, I became a part of a community. Am I going to pitch him some product now, because I have built a relationship there? Not at all - it's tacky, it's exploitive, it's just wrong.

Put yourself in his shoes - or any other healthcare blogger that is a patient. You have to be smart in reaching out to any blogger, but hypersensitive in reaching out to healthcare bloggers. Pitch things that are relevant - new medicines (yes, that can work), new procedures or needles, new fundraising efforts - but don't pitch vertical products that can be view as just, well, insulting.

For the podcast, and to see what else was discussed, check it out here.

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