This week a couple of us from Jennings have been attending the Annual Conference of the Carolinas Healthcare Public Relations and Marketing Society (www.chprms.com). The Conference is attended by approximately 400 healthcare marketing professionals who enjoy several days of seminars, panel discussions and interaction with colleagues. For me, it is one of my favorite events of the year. My goal is to leave each conference I attend with at least two great ideas that I can put into action for my business or for my clients. I’ve found that this is a great way to approach these times of professional learning and reflection.

One of the things I’ve noticed at this conference is that many of the speakers are focused on the world we live in today, rather than the world we are rapidly becoming – the world of empowered healthcare consumers, social media, social networking, blogging and podcasts, to name a few. In fact, this world has already arrived, and if we’re not thinking about it and acting upon it, we’re being left behind. This is a world where the consumer is creating the message and driving the conversation. If we are going to manage perceptions of our brands, we need to keep driving the conversation by embracing social media as a tool for telling our stories. The fact of the matter is, if we don’t tell our stories powerfully, compellingly and frequently, other people will do it for us. And they may not do it with the best interest of our institutions (and patients) in mind. That’s our job.

One easy place to start is to have your CEO or other top executive moderate a blog. This would provide a terrific forum for your leadership to speak to employees and other constituents about important issues of the day. Another idea is to start an employee recruitment blog where you use components of citizen journalism, providing prospects access to blog entries and video testimonials from current employees of your institution. Think of the credibility this content will bring to your recruitment website and your recruitment effort. Another option is to give patients a voice through a blog that you manage. Several years ago, working with the North Carolina Cancer Hospital, Jennings created a social networking site for cancer patients and survivors (www.nccancerstories.org). New cancer patients could go to the site and read the stories of other cancer patients, suddenly realizing that they aren’t alone in their battle against this disease. NCCancerStories.com gives them information and resources as they begin their treatment. The website has evolved over the years, and is still active and performing an important function for the Cancer Hospital and its patients.

My advice: If you aren’t up-to-speed on the current social networking trend, take an afternoon and visit MySpace, FaceBook, Ning, Hi5 and some of the other leading social networking venues. And be sure to Google your hospital frequently to find out what people are saying about their experiences with you. Spend some time in the blogosphere. I’ll see you there. I also encourage you to sign up for Google Alerts where you’ll get an email notifying you when new information has been posted on the Internet about your organization. You’ll find it to be a great tool for monitoring your company’s internet presence.

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