10 lessons learned from a hospital’s dual digital debuts

Communicators launched Sharp Health News and a customer and media engagement center within nine months of each other. Readers can benefit from their experiences.    

We addressed work flow, fun stories and far-flung teams.

We’ve learned what a fecal transplant is and how much people want to read about it as well. Our team at Sharp HealthCare in San Diego developed Sharp Health News and a customer and media engagement center in less than a year. Now, we reflect on 10 takeaways that other communicators might consider when taking on such projects: 1. Get buy-in from the top. Unless your project is an institutional priority, it might be difficult to garner consensus from even your most supportive peers. From the beginning, our executives saw the value of a newsroom and engagement center, and they continue to encourage participation from staff members who write stories and rotate in and out of monthly shifts in the engagement center. 2. Big projects bring far-flung teams closer together. Located in seven hospitals, two medical groups, a health plan and a corporate office, our teams don’t always have opportunities to work together. The collaboration required to staff our newsroom and engagement center not only brought our teams closer, but it encouraged even non-digital staff to think about online content and social media strategy.

3. Show, don’t tell. A recent survey from Isebox found that 54 percent of surveyed journalists complained that PR newsrooms lack images and video. We have learned that original photography,infographics and video drive users to our content, keep them on the site and entice them to share our material. In our engagement center, we track these successes—and act on them—in real time. 4. Make your content easy to access. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but no one wakes up wondering what fascinating content you’ve posted to your newsroom home page that day. Your stories must be where your readers are: in their email inbox, on their social networks (33 percent of our traffic) or on your corporate intranet (32 percent). We placed a link to Sharp Health News in our main site navigation, making it accessible from every page. 5. Go with the (work) flow. Since last September, we have produced more than 400 newsroom stories and logged hundreds of hours in the engagement center. It’s easy to become overwhelmed if you haven’t developed processes and procedures, nor documented team roles and responsibilities. Trello and Basecamp have been exceptional resources for us. 6. Everyone has a story. It’s cliché, but amazing things happen every day in hospitals and health systems. In the past six months, we’ve had two ICU weddings and countless “Sharp Experience” moments that we’ve identified through social media engagement. These stories have been shared with local journalists and our community through our newsroom and social media. 7. Know what you want your audience to do. Whether you want readers to share a story on social media, watch a video or sign up for a class, make it clear and make it easy. Website conversions aren’t always the end game, though. We’re happy to raise our profile in the community and participate in and lead conversations about health and wellness topics. 8. Use the news cycle to your advantage. In our engagement center, we follow and track what local reporters and producers are covering—and where their personal interests lie. We connect with them online, via email or with a phone call for a personal follow-up. 9. Employees are no different from customers. Our analytics show that workers are less interested in reading stories about their peers than they are about the everyday health and wellness tips we’re sharing with the outside world. 10. Don’t fear the fun. Working toward our first full year has required patience and flexibility, but it’s also been an awful lot of fun. Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of what you think a hospital “voice” should sound like. If you’d click on that snappy headline, your audience probably will, too.

Jennifer Balanky is the manager of digital content for Sharp HealthCare. Pam Hardy is managing editor of Sharp Health News.

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