Social Media: An Ounce of Prevention – in 500 words

This week, I spoke at a conference of senior executives responsible for healthcare infrastructure projects. Projects such as new hospitals and expansions or relocations of existing institutions are important to their communities. And they are frequently caught up in controversy as they work their way through approval processes.

After my presentation, the conference organizers asked me to prepare a 500 word summary of my presentation for inclusion in the conference proceedings. I’m sharing this summary here in the hope that it might be useful to you.


Social Media: An Ounce of Prevention

Social media has given voice to every citizen with an Internet connection. It also has enabled them to find others who share their interests and to form online communities that they can use to organize real world activities and events. This happens in real time and transcends geography.

Tomorrow’s opinion leaders on any given topic may be unknown to us today. But if they use social media to say something that rings true with others, it can be shared instantly among new social circles, reaching far beyond the immediate followers of the initial writers. The Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament Facebook group is a prime example of this. A page created by a university student, Christopher White, attracted 225,000 fans, inspired others and, ultimately, led to thousands of Canadians attending anti-prorogation rallies in cities across Canada.

What can organizations do to protect themselves against social media-driven crises? Participate. Earn trust as a member of the community that shares your interests.

Six steps to social media success

So, you’re the leader of an organization. What should you do?

  1. Designate a senior executive as champion of the organization’s exploration of social media. This executive must ensure that the organization’s culture is ready for social media. Mistakes should be treated as learning experiences, not causes for dismissal. The opinions of the community must be valued. The organization must be prepared to act on what they hear, even if it isn’t what it wanted to hear.
  2. Define objectives, clearly stating what the organization hopes to achieve through participation in social media.
  3. Develop and publish social media guidelines to provide employees with parameters for their social media activity.
  4. Simultaneous with this internal preparation, begin to listen to the online conversations relevant to your organization. What subjects are being discussed and what is being said? By whom? Which social media are being used?
  5. Participate in the social media conversation. Never come with empty hands or with a “now that I’ve arrived the party can begin” attitude. Like a good guest or a new friend, it’s always best to enter the conversation where it already exists, introducing oneself and offering a new perspective or additional information. Over time, part of what you contribute may be new tools and gathering places for the community. But at the outset, earn trust through participation, transparency, authenticity and generosity.
  6. Measure progress against the objectives established at the outset. Without this, internal support for the program may dissipate.

You will find your community

With this preparation, you will be ready for any crisis.

You will know where discussions are occurring, what is being said and who is saying it.

You will be able to respond instantly. Your employees will be empowered to exercise their judgment and act within parameters established in advance.

Finally, you will not be alone. You will have earned the trust of a community that shares your interests. And that community will include people who will speak out on your behalf.