Lee Aase is the manager for syndication and social media for Mayo Clinic. This means he’s in charge of making in-depth health and medical news content available directly to patients and interested consumers in order to encourage feedback, dialog, and sharing of information. He is also the chancellor of Social Media University, Global (SMUG), an institution that provides training in social media. In this interview he explains how the Mayo Clinic uses social media as a marketing and communications tool.
1. Question: How did an old, established organization like Mayo Clinic get so involved in social media?
Answer: If you knew what made Mayo Clinic’s reputation for more than a century, you’ll see that social media is consistent with that tradition. At the turn of the twentieth century, when Dr. Will and Dr. Charles Mayo built what was to become Mayo Clinic through a collaboration with the Sisters of St. Francis, it was relatively unusual for patients to survive a hospital stay. Quite often they succumbed not to the underlying ailment but to an infection resulting from surgery. The Mayo brothers and the Franciscan sisters pioneered aseptic surgical techniques which meant that many more patients lived to tell their stories. And when they went home, they spread the word about their experience.
Even today word-of-mouth recommendations are the most important source of information that makes Mayo Clinic the top choice for diagnosis and treatment of serious diseases. Stories in the news media rank second in influence, and physician recommendation—another kind of word of mouth—is third. Social media combines the potential worldwide reach of news media stories with the personal touch of a friend’s recommendation. With over 90 percent of Mayo Clinic patients reporting that they say “good things” to their friends after a visit, using social media tools to amplify their impressions seemed reasonable.
That said, we didn’t just immediately jump into blogging, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. It was a natural, gradual progression that incorporated what I like to call, “The MacGyver Mindset.” creating new solutions out of resources we already had on hand. Mayo Clinic created its “Medical Edge” syndicated weekly TV news resource in 2000 and offered local stations trustworthy health and medical news content. In 2004, we established a similar daily program for radio stations.
Our first “new media” foray involved creating an RSS feed for the radio segments to publish a podcast and because of its early entry into the iTunes podcast directory and the Mayo Clinic brand, it was featured on the front page. This led to a significant increase in downloads, which provided impetus for further new media exploration.
Producing our Medical Edge TV segments typically involved interviewing physicians for 20 minutes or more, while only eight seconds or so actually made the air. Our next MacGyver step was to make the audio tracks from the complete interviews available as audio podcast segments and to categorize them as Heart, Cancer, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Children’s Health and Bones & Muscles podcast feeds.
Within the next year or so we established a Mayo Clinic Facebook page, YouTube channel, and Twitter account. Part of the goal for each was to keep others from “squatting” on the name and posing as Mayo Clinic. For the Twitter account, we started with an RSS feed. For the YouTube channel, we uploaded our Medical Edge segments. With the rapid growth of Facebook, we saw a “fan” page as a way for people to share their stories on our wall, and for their friends to see them. Again, this was consistent with our word-of-mouth tradition.
2. Question: What were the costs for such efforts?
Answer: The total out-of-pocket cost for Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube was $0. I’ve had several people say that’s misleading because maintaining these sites takes time, which is money. Granted, but we had a passion for the projects, so no one was getting any extra pay, and we didn’t add staff. If the sites had not grown to provide significant benefit, we could have continued maintaining them without additional staff. But we found that as we got more interactive with these platforms they also grew in popularity.
3. Question: What other tools were important?
Answer: Another key low-cost tool that greatly extended our social media presence is the Flip video camera which lets us shoot miniDV quality video, edit and upload to YouTube quickly and easily. We also can provide the raw video files to journalists for incorporation into their online stories. For subject experts who lack national TV experience, this video lets us show program producers how they perform in interviews, which has helped us secure national network placements.This video camera made blogging realistic for us because we want our blogs to be authentic, not ghost-written, but yet we don’t want to take time away from patient care. By shooting interviews with physicians we can take just fifteen minutes of their time and ask them to explain their studies as they would for a patient in the office. Then we lightly edit and upload that video, and this which provides patients all over the world exactly what they’re looking for: the perspective of a Mayo Clinic doctor on what the study practically means.
4. Question: Where does blogging come into play?
Answer: We have several blogs currently hosted on Wordpress.com—each of which has a specific place on our metaphorical “magazine rack:”
* Mayo Clinic News Blog (RSS Feed) provides pre-embargo resources for journalists and then makes that same information available directly to patients. It’s our “hard” news analog to Time, Newsweek or U.S. News & World Report.
* Mayo Clinic Podcasts (RSS Feed) provides evergreen health information and general medical news. It’s our version of Prevention.
* Sharing Mayo Clinic (RSS Feed) is our version of People.
* Physician Update (RSS Feed) is aimed at the physician audience but open to anyone.
* Advancing the Science (RSS Feed) is a medical version of Scientific American.
5. Question: How much does this cost you?
Answer: For less than $100 per blog per year, we can customize the look and feel, upload audio and video files and map to a subdomain of either mayoclinic.org—our patient site—or mayo.edu—our research/education site. MayoClinic.com, our consumer health information site, also has several blogs, but they’re published differently. You can see and subscribe to those blogs on MayoClinic.com.I understand there are additional true costs if you need someone edit the CSS, but if you’re a larger organization you likely have that capability. And if you’re operating on a shoestring as a start-up, you probably could use one of the existing Wordpress.com themes since you likely don’t have strong visual branding identity yet anyway. In any event, this CSS customization is a one-time expense, and not likely very expensive.
6. Question: What is your main blog in all of this action?
Answer: Sharing Mayo Clinic, which was launched in January, is our flagship blog. It’s the place where we feature employees in various roles, but mainly where patients can share their stories. And it provides a glimpse into what makes Mayo Clinic special.
7. Question: What kind of impact has this blog had?
Answer: One case study in how Sharing Mayo Clinic works is a video of Marlow and Fran Cowan, an octogenarian couple from Ankeny, Iowa (Mr. Cowan has since turned 90). Their impromptu performance on a piano in the atrium of our Gonda building was captured on video by a patient, Sharon Turner, and uploaded to YouTube by her daughter, Jodi Hume. You can read the story of how that video came to be in a Sharing Mayo Clinic post Jodi wrote. By the way, I connected with Jodi through Twitter.This video had 1,005 views in the six months leading up to April 7, when we embedded it on Sharing Mayo Clinic and then posted that link to the Mayo Clinic Facebook page and started tweeting. The subsequent slides chronicle the developments that led to its viral status including a posting to Fark.com and a story in the Des Moines Register.
As of this writing, the video has been seen more than 3.7 million times, and almost 1.4 million of those views have come from Sharing Mayo Clinic. This has led to significant traffic for other posts on our blog, too. The comments we’ve received have been wonderful. ABC flew the Cowans to New York for a live appearance on Good Morning America in late May, and Jay Leno even did a spoof of the video as part of his monologue.
8. Question: But this is the Mayo Clinic, after all—what will “mere mortal” organizations experience?
Answer: This is where the “your mileage may vary” disclaimer enters the picture. You can’t and shouldn’t start a blog or a YouTube channel with the expectation that you’ll have a viral video. Viral isn’t a strategy. But yet there is a sense in which having the vehicles in place makes it possible for a video to go viral. Without the blog, Facebook, and Twitter, the Cowan video had reached 1,000 people in six months. At it’s peak it was being seen by more than 5,000 people an hour.The video was terrific all along, and it captures a great story of a special couple married sixty-two years and still having fun. The social media platforms helped it get seen and more easily shared. The key to these platforms is that they enable us to connect with our community. The community creates and responds to the content. We sometimes use tools like the Flip video camera to facilitate their participation, but the stories come from volunteer contributors, whether they be employees or patients.
9. Question: What’s your advice to organizations that want to achieve this kind of success with social media.
Answer: It’s not an overnight process, so start by listening and taking advantage of the free or low-cost tools. By keeping your costs low, you will be able to create the breathing room you need to have time to achieve results. If you go in and ask for two FTEs right at the beginning, you will be expected to show more immediate traction, and that may be hard to achieve. But if you use the social tools with your existing staff as a way to accomplish your current work more effectively, you will get some wins that will enable you to expand your scope.I would also stress that a video with 3.7 million views is a nice bonus, but it’s not the goal. The real power is being able to create niche videos that may reach only a few thousand views, but they’re seen by the people who are most interested. That’s another reason for keeping the costs low, so that this niche content can show positive results through what Chris Anderson called “The Long Tail."
10. Question: And what’s SMUG?
Answer: SMUG started as my personal journey of social media exploration, and I highly recommend that path. If you get hands-on experience in social media with your own personal accounts, you will develop comfort with the tools, insights into potential work-related applications and confidence to champion their adoption. If you’re interested in step-by-step guidance on your own journey, I hope you’ll become a SMUGgle. You can get started by Googling “SMUG U.”
The bottom line is that if you have a compelling product or service, with a Flip, a few hundred bucks, and some hardworking, multiple-hat-wearing employees, your organization can succeed in social media too. To view the entire collection of Mayo Clinic blogs, click here, and you will go to MayoClinic.alltop.