The Social Patient: Tips for Healthcare image

Social Patient: Social Media Tips for Healthcare – Scenttrail

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Note: May 27th, 2015
I wrote this post at the end of 2012. I was frustrated. My doctors, hospitals and healthcare providers don’t understand “social me”. Convinced recognizing my links, likes and loves in social media is an important part of helping me feel better I wrote Martin’s Hug for Healthcare – the 1,000 word rant below just before Christmas 2012.

Writing a thousand word rant helps me feel better (lol), but it didn’t feel as if anything changed until today. I had lunch with my friend Janet Kennedy today. Janet runs a great social heath site called

Inspiration and hope came from Janet’s podcast interview with social media pioneer Lee Aase (@LeeAase), Director The Mayo Clinic’s  Center for Social Media. The Mayo Clinic is having their annual social media summit in June. Exciting and inspirational to hear Lee discuss training healthcare professional on social media marketing with Janet asking great questions on her Mayo Clinic Social Media Summit podcast link.

Mayo Social Media Summit image

The usual suspects for a social media & healthcare summit are HIPPA and how to use tools such as Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook and G+. I would add a NEW conversation. When I go to the James Cancer Center in Columbus for leukemia treatments (now once every three months) I create content.


I take pictures, post to Facebook, tweet and add content to G+. How many follow backs, Retweets or thanks have I received from the James? ZERO. How frustrated does this lack of “listening” and support make me as patient, donor and supporter of Dr. John Byrd’s research into curing cancer? Answer: VERY frustrated.

Marty At James Cancer Center with Team & Cure Cancer Socks picture

Amazing team at James Cancer Center with my tiny present – Cure Cancer Socks. They save my life & get socks for Christmas :). M

I’ve raised over $60,000 for cancer research and am scheduled to give close to a million not long after my last blog post (Good lord willing and the creeks don’t rise i.e. I’m dead but there is still an “estate” to share :). I never had children. I’m divorced for more than 10 years. I’m glad my “estate” will make a small contribution to curing cancer.

I live frugally to maximize my gift to doctors and people I will never meet.

But it frustrates me to NO END that I am HERE now, sharing, talking and trying to help and there is no recognition of ME as equal collaborator. I have 50,000+ followers across 8 social nets and 2 blogs. Here is a network to network comparison of followers for Martin Marty Smith (me) vs. The James Cancer Center:

Martin Marty Smith vs James Cancer Center Social Following chart image
That’s right, I have more followers than the James Cancer Center at Ohio State, lots more. I don’t share those numbers to elevate me. I share them to point out how POOR social media is managed at the James Cancer Center and other similar institutions.

Why does little ole me have 334% more followers than the James?

Because I CARE, follow back and LISTEN DIGITALLY. The James does NONE OF THOSE. Online they don’t appear to care, listen, support or want to engage with patients AT ALL…EVER. Even when it is GOOD NEWS about THEM.

No cure for STUPID, but my CARE suffers.

And that is the radical idea I want to share with healthcare providers at Lee’s summit. Ignoring me on social networks when I’m your patient AND 334% BIGGER is a double slap. The James is slapping ME and social media best practices hard and at the same time.

The James cares FOR me while I’m in their facility. They think of their online world as something apart from me (patients) and THAT, in a nutshell, is why I have more followers than the James and why my CARE is not as good as it could be. Their indifference is a barrier to my getting better. Indifference is also a barrier to continuing to share content about how great they are, donate money or encourage my friends to do the same (all things I would think a cancer center who just built a new billion dollar building might need / want).

And that is why the James treatment of me on social is FRUSTRATING.

One of the first “rules of social media” is FOLLOW and LISTEN to those BIGGER than you. Bigger is not always an indication of “better”, but I have almost 60,000 followers because I listen to, learn from and support those BIGGER than me (and still do every damn day lol). Interesting to note in the 2012 post below I talk about having 10,000 followers. The 40,000 difference comes from WORKING at social for at least a few hours EVERY DAY, caring and listening.

My friend and fellow cancer survivor @MarkTraphagen‘s following dwarfs mine and he doesn’t get followed by cancer centers, doctors and researchers either (though he could teach them a lot). @UNC_Lineberger and @DukeCancer follow me, but I split $60K between them and they KNOW ME. They know how important social media is to ME and I POUNDED on them to get those follows (lol). Why doesn’t the James Cancer Center KNOW SOCIAL ME? Let’s put aside the donations and focus on treatment.

Cancer centers don’t UNDERSTAND social media marketing’s unwritten CODA – follow back, listen and ReTweet rinse and repeat. Look at “Follow Back” numbers for cancer centers to confirm the point:

Twitter Cancer Center table image
In Social Media: It’s a CONVERSATION Stupid on Haiku Deck I shared our rule of 50% or more follow-backs for Curagami ecommerce clients. Cancer Centers should follow back 80% or more of their followers BECAUSE the purpose of their social media is NOT to tell other docs and institutions how cool they are. The purpose of a cancer center’s social media is to HELP PEOPLE FEEL BETTER.

I have leukemia and the James is saving my life. So why am I ranting? The James wants to save my PHYSICAL life without realizing how important my PSYCHOLOGICAL life is too. They don’t understand how important social media is in HELPING ME FEEL BETTER.

What does a follow-back cost the James? Answer: NOTHING.

What does a follow-back or a ReTweet give the social patient? Joy and a desire to do what ever I just did again and again. And there is the RUB for the James Cancer Center and other healthcare social media users. By NOT recognizing my engagement and attempts to say THANKS they LOWER my desire to continue to help them and I FEEL WORSE. MUCH WORSE. Mad in fact.

I studied enough psychology in college to postulate mad doesn’t equal feel better.

I feel ignored on an important support system (social media). Granted if I can only have one the James should focus on saving my life, but WHY am I forced to only have one? It is so EASY,costs nothing and means so much to listen, follow and engage on social media.

I don’t know why most healthcare providers don’t understand social patients, but kudos to Lee and the Mayo Clinic for holding a social summit. If you are lucky enough to attend the Mayo Clinic’s Social Media Summit as my friend and social health advocate Janet Kennedy Get Social Health’s Founder PLEASE mention there is an army of social patients out here looking for a hug :). Marty

May, 2015 Postscript
Connected Book imageNot long after finishing the 2015 rant added to a 2012 post I realized Connected: The Surprising Power of our Social Networks and How They Shape our Lives by Christakis and Fowler supports my assertion. If people quit smoking, gain or lose weight and change other behaviors due to immediate (some known, some not) social groups as Connected proves then following back on social media IS directly related to feeling better. Not following back = frustration and anger and that is related to NOT feeling better. Since most healthcare providers are in the “feeling better” biz we suggest following, listening too and learning from your social networks no matter who or what your brand is. No brand is “too big” or “all powerful” they shouldn’t be listening to customers on social media these days.

Martin’s Hug For Healthcare (posted 12/2112)

Since this post shares lessons from an evolving Internet marketing world without pulling punches; I want to do what a boss taught me. “Martin,” this great boss taught, “Hug more than you smack”.

I can write about The Social Patient because exceptional people dedicate their lives to saving mine. Doctors, nurses and administrators have saved my.

I am a cancer survivor.

I’ve come to know. Dr. Hank van Deventer, my UNC Lineberger oncologist. Dr. Hank is about my age. He is more than my doctor. Hammering Hank is a one of the people who’ve saved my life. Dr. Hank works in a special place. The more I climb behind the scenes at UNC’s Lineberger Cancer Center the more impressed with their entrepreneurial spirit, openness to change and desire to help becomes.

This ScentTrail Marketing piece on how social media marketing is changing healthcare is not about a place. The Social Patient is about an attitude, a dangerous attitude. It is NOT an attitude healthcare providers don’t know about. What most healthcare providers are unaware of is the size and speed of The Social Patient tsunami hitting now.

After 12 years in Internet marketing and 20 years as a consumer packaged goods brand marketer I’m familiar with the size and speed of large waves. This wave, no matter how big, can be surfed. Surfing the social media marketing wave in healthcare, surfing The Social Patient, requires dedicated effort by heroes to break a mold generations in the making.

The goal for this post is to share how healthcare providers can wax up their social media marketing boards and surf something I love like life itself.

How Social Media Is Changing Healthcare

My friend and one of the best bosses ever Mary Kay O’Connor created a company called Starting Point. Her company has been working with healthcare providers for years. Mary Kay, one of the best quantitative and qualitative researchers I know, explained how survey based and slow moving the healthcare industry has become in a recent call.

She explained how surveys were/are created in order to play for government ratings. Surveys are the way the healthcare game was/is played. Most healthcare providers survey, summarize, analyze and respond with 2% change every five years. This post is about how global competition, social media marketing and the era of Social Patients is creating a new healthcare.

The Social Patient: Patient Stories

Someone thanked me for sharing my “Patient story” recently. After my diagnosis with cancer I made a decision to share my journey. I’m an Internet marketer and so I am more gregarious online than in person (lol). The first wave that hit after hearing, “Martin you have cancer,” was powerlessness.

I felt like one of Martin Seligman’s subjects. Seligman studied “learned helplessness”, the tendency for subjects to give up. After reaching a breaking point his subjects, usually dogs, would STOP. No matter what Seligman did helplessness was complete and systematic.

Helplessness is  anathema to getting better. I studied Kubler-Ross is college too:

Kubler-Ross On Death And Dying:

  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

I took an immediate deep dive into every K-R stage (lol). Turns out these stages aren’t as pretty and sequential as they appear in a book. Life gets pretty chaotic and crazy after hearing “cancer” and “Martin” in the same sentence.

One of reason I SHARE anything and everything about having cancer in a “damned the torpedoes full speed ahead” way is sharing = POWER. POWER = feel better. I chronicle, share and create plans. I am not helpless in the face of the Big C.

The Social “Patient”

I HATE the word “patient’. Patient is not I would describe myself. I write “cancer patient” in some context and get mad at myself. I’m a “cancer survivor”. I’m an Internet marketer. I’m a cyclist. I’m an entrepreneur. I’m anything but a PATIENT (lol).

I’ve never had any patience, so “patient” is double insult. There is no POWER in “patient” . The word doesn’t describe me. I may have cancer and MS, but I’m HERE and NOW. I collaborate, share, Tweet, blog, Instagram and Pinterest my treatment HIPPA be damned.

I don’t passively consume anything. I watch TV with Twitter running. I take pictures or video with an iPhone to support one of 4 blogs, 5 Twitter accounts, Pinterest, and Facebook. I mash, combine, link, share and move content all day, every day. Thanksgiving and Christmas too :).

I’m still junior in social media marketing, but even I can touch 10,000 people in an instant (note growth from 10K in 2012 to almost 60K now). My friends can touch millions. Do a six degrees of separation calculation on these numbers and we have the ability to reach more than 5 million people with the right Tweet, post or story. Try buying 5M TV viewers and you will spend MILLIONS.

Welcome to the world of The Social Patient.

Healthcare and The Social Patient

Many healthcare practices are and will be impacted, changed and revolutionized by The Social Patient. Here is a sampling of practices sure to change:

  • Death of Doctor Knows best.
  • Collaboration Rules vs paternal instruction.
  • Healthcare happens in REAL TIME and is shared not long after.
  • Your marketing is now only as good as your Online Reputation Management (ORM).
  • Only as strong as weakest piece in social tapestry.
  • Healthcare providers should create Platforms not websites.
  • Match WALK and TALK or a dissonant rain falls.
  • Speed is always FASTER. You always need MORE content.
  • The Web only has one time = NOW (2015 Note watch Joi Ito’s TED Talk on Nowism).

Social Patient: Dr. Knows Best

I remember TV shows like Marcus Welby, MD (ABC, 1969 – 1976) or Doctor Knows Best. In these ordered, black and white worlds life was simple. Each week helpless patients handed themselves over to the God-like father figure who explained complicated things the patient (and by extension the viewers) were helpless to understand on their own. Patients didn’t go to medical school. Then magically before the hour was up a life would be saved.

And then there was Google and a social / mobile web that is ubiquitous and becoming more so.

Marcus Welby was an actor named Robert Young who died in 1998. A lot of things died in 1998. The web was cooking Moore’s law (power of transistors doubles even as costs decrease) and on September 4th Google was born I launched (now RIP) in 1999, bought my first URL in 1993. And then everything changed faster, better and more.

Social Patient: Collaboration

In a connected social world where what any patient knows, feels or experiences reaches 5M people in an instant something significant has changed. Patronize patients, talk over their heads, make them feel small and they will level the field. First they will reach for the most immediate empowering tool – social media. God help the healthcare provider who ignores angry tweets, blog posts and other attempts at connection, engagement and contact.

The healthcare provider on the wrong end of this social storm is in trouble. A hard rain will fall. Collaborate NOW and your tribe, those loyal advocates who love and support your healthcare brand, will stop the rain. Here are ways a healthcare provider can collaborate to quell the brewing storms:

  • Follow the complainer (or Friend them).
  • Respond with appreciation.
  • Be empathetic.
  • Don’t have to agree to be empathetic.
  • Listen carefully; mirror some of the language back.
  • Recognize the forming tribe.
  • Move the conversation to a less damaging place (your blog, or the phone).

These moves don’t de-escalate. They set the stage to de-escalate. Once a healthcare provider moves a negative conversation where they want then listen and find ways to be helpful. Listening pops the anger balloon.

“Listening” online is different.

Listening in a social world means healthcare providers signal with “listening” actions such as FOLLOWING BACK. Ever notice how few nonprofits follow back their followers? What is up with that?

When a powerful nonprofit decides to not follow they miss a huge engagement opportunity.

Nonprofits who don’t follow don’t understand the magical social marketing exemption nonprofits and healthcare providers get – they can follow more people than follow them and it sends a, “WE CARE,” signal. Following can  cut off a storm before a drop of rain. Healthcare providers should FOLLOW and FRIEND EVERYONE.

My life is online.

My connectedness may be an exception (not for long), but 90% of the people a healthcare provider treats have LinkedIn profiles. The first healthcare provider that looks at my LI profile visits ScentTrail Marketing, or our softwre development company Curagami and/or asks a question about something I shared on social wins advocacy and loyalty forever.

(2015 Note: Dr. Byrd wins this race. He was the first to mention something about me and social media when he noted how a piece I wrote about him showed him when he was randomly Googling. Kudos to Doc Byrd :). 

“We don’t have the time to know and treat patients,” I can hear the objection. To treat me a healthcare provider MUST know me, and I get better faster, something we both want, when mind and spirit are treated. Half of my spirit lives on social media.

Social Patient: In Real Time

As healthcare providers treat patients those patients can communicate what is happening to an army capable of communicating to another army in NEAR REAL TIME. Authentic, honest and real healthcare providers will prosper. They are aligned with The Social Patient.

It does mean if healthcare providers have someone in their system who shouldn’t be dealing with people the potential brand damage is considerable. I’ve been to cancer centers where receptionists are angry, mean people who MUST have tenure or why are they still greeting with such contempt and anger?

Surveys don’t cut it In the world of the Social Patient.

I don’t fill out surveys. I tweet, blog and pin. Increasingly the only people who fill out a healthcare survey will say nice things because the sample has shrunk to people who are willing to answer written surveys (i.e. my grandmother god rest her soul).

Social Patient: ORM

Healthcare providers who don’t have Online Reputation Management (ORM) tools dance with the devil. Healthcare provider MUST know about conversations happening on Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and a million blogs in real time.

The most powerful ORM tools and tactics to go on the offense. Learn the language and sentiment customers use to describe your healthcare marketing. Listen to the real-world conversations patients have. The LAST thing I want to see after a long day at the hospital is a white coat on a website (no offense to those working so hard to save my life). I want to interact with other social patients, patients like me.

Healthcare providers don’t need expensive toodl such as Radian6. Topsy or Google alerts can be great ORM tools. Find ways to LISTEN and join the conversation. Don’t join in defensive ways. Join to say thanks for the feedback, learn, listen and change.

User Generated Content, in any form, is so RARE value feedback no matter what words are used. In my business we discuss the 1:9:90 Rule. 1% of a site’s traffic will contribute valuable content, 9% will share content especially when it comes from the 1%ers and 90% read. NOW do you see why following back your followers is beyond important? 10% or less of your site’s visitors become your advocates – people willing to sacrifice time, energy and money to HELP YOU.

Social Patient: Tapestry

I don’t envy healthcare providers. Healthcare is a business that MUST use every social tool almost the minute a tool is born. To be absent is an unpardonable sin, so Facebook, Twitter, Scoop.itPinterest and several blogs is the current cost of healthcare social poker.

Social tapestry any healthcare provider builds is only as strong as their weakest link.

No marketing team can be equally adroit at all social platforms nor should they. Healthcare marketing teams need to be strategic about social media tool selection.

Watch social analytics like hawks on wires looking for dinner. Move emphasis when a tribe of supporters moves. If a practice is 90% breast cancer then Pinterest and Facebook with their women majorities are important. If your research lab is curing cancer Twitter may be the most important. If you are HIP, HAPPENING and ADVANCED Periscope or Vine may work great.

Don’t get hung up in tool-mania. Share, share more, listen and then share again.

Social Patient: Platforms

Almost two years ago I wrote what became a “tent pole” piece (a viral piece of content). Platforms vs. Websites was about the death of the closed loop, nonsocial website. Healthcare providers are in the platform business now. Platforms are different than website in these ways:

  • More social.
  • Generate more User Generated content.
  • Multi-author.
  • Store and solicit OPC (Other People’s Content).
  • Incorporates feeds.
  • Curate 90% more content than is being created.
  • Be mobile friendly.

I can hear my General Practitioner thinking, “Marty isn’t talking about our 10 doctor practice.” Sorry Lisa I am talking about your practice. Platform or risk not being found because your young son and daughter will manage their entire life online via mobile. If your practice isn’t a content marketing platform your son and daughter may never know it is there.

Word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing, the way a doctor’s practice has always been built, is still important but social media amps WOM. Social media amplifies the good and the bad. Only platforms have the muscle needed to keep good and bad in check. Only platforms can win enough space in the largest content network ever created (the web) to do the job of helping a practice find the next generation of patients.

Social Patient: WALK and TALK

My companies can generate some dissonance and survive. The web is a huge lie-detecting amplifier. If an ecommerce website or brand makes a mistake, but honestly admits the mistake and works hard to reinforce core positive values they survive and may thrive.

Healthcare is different.

Healthcare is about saving people’s lives and that is the good and bad news. If healthcare providers make a mistake and create harm the least of their worries will be lawsuits. Lawsuits will feel small and feeble compared to the hard rain sure to fall in social media after even an honest mistake.

Brand advocates are any healthcare providers best defense (2015 Note: That is why it is so frustrating to be IGNORED by the James Cancer Center when we try to help).

We recognize the idea THEY (customers and patients) are in control is a TOUGH concept for healthcare providers. . Any healthcare provider’s online presence is AT LEAST AS IMPORTANT in a social / mobile world as the care they provide.

Social Patient: Speed = FASTER

Hospital time is the slowest unit of time on planet earth. Internet time is the fastest unit of time on earth. One of these two TIMES is going to win. Guess? If a healthcare provider is reading this post thinking, “These social media things are fine, but they don’t apply to us” they may right today. Tomorrow they will be wrong.

Everything is in constant motion all the time now.

When a healthcare provider joins the social “battle” they become smarter faster. Healthcare providers should tear down and reassemble preconceived brand notions and business processes to accommodate, listen to and learn from their social patients.

Even as I write this I recognize few health care providers will believe or care about The Social Patient. I know a group who will. Between 200 and 500 people read ScentTrail Marketing daily and 50 and 100 are from India.

As I write smart fast techies in India are taking notes. By tomorrow they will have the first pieces of a healthcare Social Patient Platform built. By next year that platform will have scale and three years from now healthcare tourism, will be a flood.

Stay In Touch, Share Your Ideas

Hope The Social Patient becomes a movement. What about you? What “Social Patient” or other healthcare experiences do you want to share? e: martin(at)

Follow @ScentTrail


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