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5 things the Netflix fiasco taught hospitals

October 20th, 2011

by Nancy Cawley Jean

The Netflix/Qwikster debacle (if you haven't heard, get the story here) taught us many things that we as hospital communicators can certainly use, whether it be in social media or more traditional forms of communication.

Stick with your brand: If you've got something that works, don't fix what isn't broken! You've established a brand, you've built a community, you have loyal customers. Keep doing what you're doing. If it's not working, by all means, tweak it! But don't do like Netflix and just go ahead and change everything just to confuse people.

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Communicate clearly: When you need to communicate to your healthcare community on anything--good or bad--do it clearly, concisely, and in a timely manner. Remember the 5Ws (who, what, where, when, why ) because that's what people want to know. Don't copy Netflix, who issued one bad message, followed by another on its heels, with no clear reasoning explained.

Make sense, all the time: You know your mission and your vision. You have clear goals and a strategy -- so stick with them. That will help you make sense, and give you a framework for all of your communications, no matter who your intended audience might be. Take a tip from Netflix: If there's a change to your mission, then let it be known, clearly.

Listen to your community: Don't let it be too little too late. If you're hearing negative feedback, recognize, address it, and explain what your hospital is doing to fix it. Or you can do it all wrong like Netflix by just ignoring sentiment, and not doing your research before making a major change.

Apologize, honestly: Netflix's CEO sent an email that had many less-than-heartfelt apologies. And when it's not heartfelt, readers know it. Netflix's message was basically, "Yes, I'm sorry, but that doesn't mean I will address any of your concerns and I'll also confuse the living daylights out of people who have remained loyal customers." An apology can go a long way in repairing sentiment and building brand loyalty.

No matter what the message, hospital communicators need to follow the basic rules of communication: Know your audience, be honest, apologize when necessary, and always put your best foot forward. These rules are the best medicine for communicating with our staff, patients, and the public. What did you learn from the Netflix fiasco?

Nancy (Cawley) Jean is a senior media relations officer for Lifespan. She is a communications and media relations specialist, focused on national media relations for research at Rhode Island Hospital and its Hasbro Children's Hospital, and managing social media for the hospitals within the Lifespan health system.

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