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Turn bad weather into healthcare social media success

February 13th, 2013

by Nancy Cawley Jean

The recent Blizzard of 2013 was an eye-opener, especially for people who didn't remember the Blizzard of '78. The difference between then and now? Better weather forecasts and social media!

Social media is changing the way hospitals can communicate with the public. Even during a power outage, people turn to their smartphones for information. So when meteorologists predicted Winter Storm Nemo for our area, I felt the hospital accounts I manage should be a source of all kinds of storm-related information.

When blizzard watches became actual warnings, it was time to develop a storm content calendar for communicating with our social communities. With the storm predicted to last about 24 hours, it was important to stay up to date on the latest news to share the most important and helpful information with our friends and followers.

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Our content calendar focused on keeping people informed with regular updates on the forecast, tips on preparing for the storm, safe driving tips, what to do in power outages, and of course, safety tips for cleaning up afterward, like shoveling and using generators and snowblowers.

It also included key information that was coming from the Governor's office and the Mayor's office, including the declaration of a state of emergency, parking bans, road closures, reminders to shovel sidewalks and check on the elderly, and so on.

Beginning Thursday, the day before the storm, we provided the latest information on the weather predictions and how to prepare for a blizzard. We shared the information via our six Twitter, six Facebook and two Pinterest accounts. This continued into Friday, the day the storm was starting, and then wrapped up on Saturday with more posts on both Twitter and Facebook.

So how did I keep up with what to tweet and post on Facebook? Simple--I created a Twitter list that I called "Emergency Agencies." My list of Twitter accounts included local and federal FEMA offices, our local media outlets, CNN Breaking News, the Weather Channel Breaking News, the state of Rhode Island Governor's Office , and our local health department, among other key accounts.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover some of our media outlets had twitter feeds you could subscribe to that would include the feeds from all of their reporters. This proved to be incredibly helpful when trying to keep up with the latest news and impact from the storm, and on power outages.

Creating that list resulted in a continuously changing and up-to-date stream of what was happening in the area, and it became a source of what to post out for our own community. It worked perfectly for us, and is something we will continue to rely on in the future.

Our on-call media relations officer also was checking in regularly with each of our emergency departments so we could provide the latest information on accidents and injuries that we were treating. She also was scheduling regular phone interviews with ED physicians to speak with the local media.

This helped to position our emergency medicine physicians as experts by giving safety tips throughout the storm. Also, when the doctors were doing live interviews, I was tuned into the news to tweet out the key information they were sharing.

Those techniques helped keep our streams up to date, as well as keep our local public informed. If you used social media during a weather emergency, what did you do? Share your tips!

Nancy Cawley Jean is a senior media relations officer for the Lifespan health system in Rhode Island, managing social media for five hospitals and a women's medicine practice.

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