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One Person Can Make a Difference – Interview with Healthcare Marketing Professional Dana Lewis

This is the second of a series of interviews Bizzuka is conducting with thought leaders in healthcare marketing. The first was with Reed Smith, Founder, Social Health Institute. This week, we speak with Dana Lewis, Manager of Digital Marketing and Internal Communications at Swedish, a non-profit health system located in Seattle, WA.

Dana Lewis is, without a doubt, an amazing young lady. In 2009, as an undergraduate student at the University of Alabama, she started something that not only impacted the healthcare industry from a marketing perspective, but which has helped literally thousands of patients who suffer from chronic diseases.

What did this college student do that has proven to be so phenomenal? She started a Twitter chat called #hcsm.

Before we dive into the interview, it may be a good idea to first explain the Twitter chat concept. Basically, Twitter chats – also known as “Tweet chats” or “hashtag chats” – employ the use of a Twitter hashtag, which is a keyword or, in this case, acronym that is used for the purpose of collating conversations around a given topic. The chat Dana started – #hcsm – stands for “Healthcare Social Media.”

Dana’s chat quickly grew to encompass healthcare marketers (and others within the industry) from across the US. It then “jumped the pond” to become international, spawning similar chats as far away as Europe and New Zealand. And, some four years later, the concept continues to grow.

Chats that follow the #hcsm model have started among other disciplines within healthcare such as human resources and legal. Similar chats have also been started for patients suffering from chronic illnesses such diabetes and breast cancer. Each week, thousands participate in regularly scheduled discussions.

With that rather lengthy introduction out of the way, here is what Dana had to say about HCSM and other healthcare marketing trends.

BI: What motivated you to start the #hcsm Twitter chat?

DL: I started the chat based on a desire to have a conversation about what was happening in the healthcare industry around the topic of social media. As an undergraduate student, I was talking with industry professionals such as Lee Aase, social media director at Mayo Clinic. Many I spoke with were asking the same kinds of questions, so a lot of the conversations were duplicates of others.

I figured there had to be a way to have a conversation among many professionals all at one time. Twitter hashtags were just becoming popular, so I latched on to the idea of using that as a medium to track the conversation and get others to join in.

The idea wasn’t born to be large community, but simply a group of people interested in exploring what issues related to health care and social media.

BI: How has #hcsm evolved over the years?

DL: The chat now spans the breadth of the healthcare industry and include doctors, members of pharma, patients, lawyers, medical device companies, non-profits, hospitals and, of course, healthcare marketers from all over the world. Every perspective of healthcare joins in to talk about how social media is used. And anyone is welcome to participate no matter where they come from in healthcare.

Out of the first healthcare chat, we have seen similar groups emerge in Europe, Canada, New Zealand and other countries. It then grew to include patient communities with chats for diabetes (#dsma – diabetes social media advocacy) and breast cancer (#bcsm – breast cancer social media). Now, hundreds of healthcare-related chats have been modeled off the same format.

BI: How can you explain its growth? Did you do something to promote HCSM?

DL: The interesting part is that it grew 100% organically. There was no promotion whatsoever. It’s exciting to see how something as simple as a Twitter hashtag could have such impact.

One of the things that is so enlightening about social media is how it breaks down barriers. Otherwise, how could I have met Lee Aase, the director of social media at Mayo Clinic?

But it’s not who you are or what you do that matters. It’s about your perspective no matter where you come from; about how to improve healthcare, make changes and bring new ideas to the table. These Twitter chats enable conversation without barriers. They level the playing field and create common ground.

BI: Based on your experience, what would you say are some Twitter chat best practices?

DL: First, we don’t allow shameless self-promotion. People should feel welcome, but realize that the focus is on the topic rather than promotion. As such, we place a strong emphasis on staying on topic.

We also encourage participants to be courteous and welcoming of other’s perspectives, even when they disagree. It is a community made up of people with thoughts, feelings, and ideas. We encourage an atmosphere of freedom to openly discuss topics.

We also make clear what the rules are and, in a courteous way, remind people of the rules if they are stepping outside them. After a period of time, the community bought into the rules and self-moderates discussions. There are very few times when I, as a moderator, have to step in.

We recommend that groups set aside a specified date and time to have chats. For HCSM, it’s always Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. central, but you’re never going to have a time that works for everyone. Some groups hold chats during daytime hours, as well as evening chats to accommodate people’s schedules.

What you’re going to find, however, is that activity takes place all the time. There is a constant flow of discussion day-in and day-out with participants sharing resources, sometimes 24/7. Having a good hashtag certainly helps. But, it’s best to have a dedicated time in order to have focused discussions. Lastly, we encourage groups to have a specific topic at each discussion.

BI: What benefits have come from HCSM?

DL: You find out about hot topics and trends as it relates to healthcare and social media. Members also submit topics and get a “focus group” from all areas of healthcare who share expert insights and opinions.

You get the feeling of being part of large community where you know you’ll get good answers to questions. Not only that, along the way you develop personal friendships and professional relationships. In fact, that’s how I got my job at Swedish – a person in the company was a HCSM participant.

BI: You mentioned that participants come from all corners of the healthcare industry. Can you expound on that?

Some people are present at every Sunday evening discussion. We have a mix of veterans, some who are brand new, and others who cycle in and out.

We also see a good mix of providers from larger organizations, as well as marketing and PR people from different size practices and hospitals. Several from each perspective are normally represented. Some come representing the organization, but most represent themselves as individuals.

BI: What technology tools do you use to host the chat?

DL: When I started I just used Twitter search. Now, I use a combination of an application called Tweetchat, Twitter search, and a blogging platform called Cover It Live, where I can archive the chats for later reference.

BI: Changing the subject just a bit, from your perspective, what do you see on the horizon in terms of healthcare marketing trends?

DL: Social media is certainly a trend, but most healthcare marketers still look at it as a promotional tool. It’s much better to look at social as an educational tool, however. Education becomes marketing. Education should be the root work, from which marketing becomes an outcome.

Content creation and curation is a growing trend. It’s important for healthcare marketers to gather, capture, curate and share pertinent information. The reason we use social media is because it helps us share information and resources.

BI: Do you have any other advice for healthcare marketers?

DL: Even if organizations aren’t putting out their own content, there is no reason they can’t have searches and different threads where they are getting information and insights. Everyone should be listening online.

BI: And HCSM is a great place to start, right?

DL: Right!

If you would like to talk with Dana, she can most often be found on Twitter. Her handle is @danamlewis.

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