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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  1. Thanks Jeremy. I appreciated the stats, and the examples both you and Amy gave specifically to health care communities. Question for you: I wonder if there are any stats on the shift from getting health information on line from "publishers" to bloggers and private health communities. In this whitepaper, communispace does a nice job of comparing and contrasting the two - and i think it's an imporant distinction, especially in healthcare.

    All the best,

  2. Great post, Jeremy.

    I agree that it is all about community, or - even more specifically - people. And, in the healthcare and nonprofit worlds, it may be even more true than others.

    It is one thing to hold strong and close feelings about a product or service. It is another, altogether, when we're talking about a personal issue, a family member or a friend.

    In those worlds, the typical PR approach comes off even more tacky and crass. I wrote about it over at infOpinions.

  3. Excellent post. I've been counseling a new dentist friend of mine who want to use social media as an out reach program to promote better dental health.

    My advice and explanation about blogging was much the same as yours -- same concept anyway. I used a small group of friends at a party illustration.

    check out my blog:

  4. I'd love to hear ideas about using social media to communicate with elderly folks on Medicare--that's part of what our non-profit organization does, and we're gearing up a campaign to help more Medicare patients know about the resources available to them. Thinking of targeting their kids, boomer generation; what do others think?

  5. Hi Jeremy,

    I so agree with what you say, social media is much more personal and if at all PR people want to use it, it should be to ignite discussion/debate on certain healthcare issues and not sell products. Certainly you can't send press releases to bloggers, intelligent point of view ofcourse.

    Ramnika Jain