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Silence is the Virtue of Fools

By Lisa Kersey, @LKersey1

According to Sir Francis Bacon, silence is the virtue of fools. Judging by the record spending on campaign ads –particularly for swing states— President Obama and Governor Romney certainly took that to heart during the recent presidential campaign.

While partisanship in Congress remains a concern for most Americans, our democracy thrives on dialogue –on engaging with your supporters and your opposition –on seeking to understand the positions of others as much as seeking to articulate your own. That’s true not only during elections or on a national scale, but during any given week on a regional and local level as well. And it’s not just true in politics –it’s true of for-profit and nonprofit organizations wanting to protect their reputation and strengthen their brand.

When New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city’s Department of Health took a vote earlier this Fall to impose the now infamous “soda ban,” he probably expected some resistance from the beverage industry but also some pats on the back for taking a step against the obesity epidemic in our country. What he probably did not anticipate was for Coca-Cola to feature a story about the ban on its own website. Seem counterintuitive?

Well, maybe so, but it’s also an effective public relations strategy. While many organizations prefer to take the ostrich approach –if we just ignore the bad stuff, it will go away –strong brands, like Coca-Cola, address issues that impact their reputation head on.

Most hospitals and health systems would do well to follow Coca-Cola’s example. But for most, that will require a culture shift.

Despite the fact that technology has dramatically changed the way we communicate as a society, and even within the healthcare industry, many hospitals and health systems are still struggling to shift from the “push era” to the “pull era” in ways that more effectively engage with patients and communities in their health care. Like Mayor Bloomberg’s ban, no matter how well meaning a hospital’s health-related messages are, real change occurs when you truly engage with people where they are already are –the web.

In fact, according to a recent  infographic describing online health consumer behavior, 23% of people use social media to follow the health experiences of friends;  80% look for health information online; and, health-related searches on Google are up nearly 50% over last year.

Coca-Cola understands the power of story-telling. So rather than simply push out their message via a predictable Facebook post or tweet,  sharing their disagreement with Mayor Bloomberg and belief in consumer choice, they crafted a story and featured it on their own website.

Now imagine that a mayor in Anytown, USA issued a ban on a health procedure believed to contribute to the rising cost of healthcare. Most hospitals would be outraged and craft key messages about how those decisions would negatively impact the hospital, interfere with the patient/doctor relationship, and do little to put a dent in rising costs. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with these tactics, they’re just not enough anymore.

Does your hospital want to “A.C.E.” it like Coca-Cola did? Here are three ways to help you avoid the pitfall of silence:

  1. Acknowledge. Don’t be a scaredy cat. It’s okay to acknowledge your opposition’s claim. Whether it’s a mayor imposing a ban or a reporter outing your readmission rates, acknowledge the issue. Then, use it as a platform to tell your story. While you don’t want to dwell on your opposition’s claims, you do want to provide your perspective and resolve any misinformation that may exist.
  2. Create. While proactive pitching to the media, and media responsiveness are important elements of a solid communications and reputation strategy, in this age of digital communications, it’s critical to create your own content. Whether you choose to develop a blog, write your own news article, create an infographic, or post a video, make sure you are creating and promoting your content in interesting ways using mutliple platforms. But that’s not enough…
  3. Engage. Developing and promoting communications in ways that reflect an understanding of your target audience –their expressed needs, their unexpressed wishes, and their behaviors is vital. Most hospitals focus on only the first of these three imperatives –that leaves two-thirds of the engagement opportunity on the table. Use data about consumer online behavior, information about your current and potential patients, and best practices from other hospitals and even other industries.  Together, these tools can help you achieve meaningful engagement to support your business goals and strengthen your brand.

Do you know of a hospital that’s effectively broken through the silence and engaged people around their own message? What other tips would you add?

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About Lisa Kersey:

VP, Health PR @PadillaCRT. Have lived in Virginia, North Carolina, Utah and Hawaii. Inspired by nature, good books and good wine. Enjoy singer/songwriters and art shows. #UVA and #UNC alum.

2 Comments on “Silence is the Virtue of Fools

  1.  by  Rachael Seda
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    When threatened it’s human nature to want to react, and reacting from an emotional trigger isn’t the best approach. The other thing that’s easy to do is to ignore it and hide behind a shell until everyone has forgotten. Not a good approach either. People want the truth and people are going to talk about you whether you joing the conversation or not. By joining and facing something head on and having a diplomatic approach, you’re able to provide your organization’s view and the truth. These are great points Lisa. Often I think organizations make things harder than they need to be. Successful strategies of different industries can always be applied and tweaked to meet the needs of perhaps a more complicated organization like that of a health system.

  2.  by  Lisa Kersey
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    So true, Rachael. The fight or flight response is how we are wired. But engaging in honest diaglogue is much more productive!

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