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Why engage in social media?

Two recent examples of why it pays to engage in social media–even on a personal level:

* My post earlier this week, “Are you really engaging your fan base?” drew an email from my friend, Tom Snee, who works for the University of Iowa. We had some good banter about the issues facing academic institutions when it comes to engaging their alumni. However, in one of his emails, he mentinoed he went to school with Vince Flynn, the Minnesota-based author, and passed along some interesting nuggets about his experience with Vince. Why is this relevant? Because I’m a huge Vince Flynn fan. How did he know that? He obviously took a few minutes to look over my Facebook profile and check out my interests. Kudos, Tom.

Media relations pros could learn a thing or two from Tom’s approach when approaching non-traditional media outlets. Starting a blogger outreach campaign? Start by researching the blogger, finding out what interests him/her and reading his/her blog (you can frequently find most of this information right on their blog). You’d be surprised how much a little extra time and work can pay off.

* Earlier this week I sent an email to the marketing director at BlendTec in Utah–the makers of the wildly popular Will it Blend? series. My four-year-old son and I watch the videos virtually every night–it’s become somewhat of a bedtime ritual for us. My son’s a huge fan–to the point that he knows many of the videos by name and has actually become a Weezer fan as a result (those WIB fans out there know what I’m talking about). Anyway, I wrote this gentleman an email telling him we enjoyed the videos, to keep up the good work and to let me know if he’d ever be interested in featuring their youngest fan in a future video. Hey, it never hurts to ask, right? He responded the next day with a well-crafted email saying he appreciated the note and that he would find some WIB swag and personalize it for my son. Wow–a simple gesture that will surely pay off. OK, so my son may not run out and buy a BlendTec blender tomorrow, but I do tell anyone who will listen about BlendTec and its YouTube videos because of my experience with the company.

This example demonstrates the larger point of listening to your customers and taking even the smallest actions to make them happy. This gentleman could have easily ignored my email, but he knew from the content of my message that I was clearly an engaged WIB “fan” and that a little would go a long ways with me and my son. He was right. Can’t wait to see what he sends.

Random stories, I know. But they prove the larger point that social media can pay off–sometimes in unintended ways. And it can work for your company, too. But you have to engage in the tools and you have to be a savvy player.

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Are you really engaging your “fan base”?

I graduated from Winona State University in 1996. It’s not a big school, but I really enjoyed my time there. I played golf for a few years, graduated with a BA in mass communications and was involved with the student newspaper, AdFed and a handful of other student-led organizations. Point is, I was an engaged student.

Twelve years later, I’m still an engaged WSU fan. I follow the news and recent happenings from the University. I follow the football, basketball and golf teams. And every once in a while I even get the chance to head down for a game.

But, WSU is still missing a huge opportunity with me.

Aren’t I already an invested fan, you ask? Well, yes and no.

As an alumnus, the University depends on people like me for two things: money and referrals/word of mouth.

And quite honestly, despite my commitment to the school, they’re failing on both counts.

I don’t give back to the University. Not because I don’t support it or care. I just haven’t been approached in the right way. Every year, some anonymous student calls me from WSU asking for money. A cold call, in effect. It’s a blanket ask for money. Little context. And no relevancy. Why not customize the “ask” a little more–have someone from the mass comm dept reach out to me and encourage me to give $100 so they can purchase 25 new MacBooks next year. Or, someone from the golf team could call me and ask for $250 to buy new bags for the team in ’09. I can guarantee you right now if either of those calls is made, I’m plunking down the money. Now, you might say, maybe they are planning to use the money for those things? Well, yes, but it’s all about relevancy and catering your approach to your “customer”–in this case, alumni like me. Show me you care about me and what’s important to me and I’ll return the favor.

On the word of mouth side, I also have reservations. I would refer folks to Winona, but I just feel like I don’t “know” the school anymore. I don’t have the time to keep up with what’s going on with the mass comm program. What new facilities they’ve built. Or, what innovative technologies they’ve helped develop. What about a once a month email from the alumni office highlighting the most recent achievements of the school, new professors and results from the teams I follow (basketball, football and golf, in my case). Why not offer up more frequent information to those alumni who’ve signed up the WSU fan Facebook group, including photos from recent alumni events? Why not encourage current students to reach out to former students to ask them to speak at upcoming lectures or classes about how they’ve put the skills and knowledge they gained at WSU to good use in the workplace? Simple actions that would result in a big payoff–me referring family, friends and colleagues to my alma mater.

With a little extra effort, and a few additional resources, WSU (and other schools its size) could really make huge inroads with their alumni.

What about you? Do you feel engaged by your alumni organization? Why or why not? What could they do differently to draw you in?

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Five ways to start fixing the health care industry

I must start this post by telling you I am a Fairview employee and these remarks and comments in no way reflect the thoughts, opinions and policies of Fairview Health Systems, Inc. I should also tell you that my doc is part of the Allina Health System.

I think the health care system is broken. There, I said it. Obviously, I’m not alone. I say this because I had a health care “experience” earlier this week (physical). For the most part it went OK. I like my doc–he’s thoughtful, professional and takes extra time to make sure I understand the advice he’s giving. But, around that visit, were problems. Lack of organization. And poor customer service.

I’m not one to complain and not offer solutions, so here goes. Five ways we can start to fix the health care system:

1–Get rid of the gowns. Please. How can I feel comfortable in my clinic or hospital when my backside is hanging out of a gown? I know they give you robes in the hospital, but we just need to get rid of the gowns altogether. It carries a negative stigma and would be an easy fix. Why not give out nicer, warmer robes? Make it an advantage and an extra comfort instead of a negative takeaway for patients.

2–Make it easier to navigate hospitals and clinics. It’s getting borderline ridiculous with all the additions clinics and hospitals are making these days. Like navigating a maze. Over at United, I need a tour guide to get around the place. Admittedly, I am a little directionally challenged, but it shouldn’t be this hard. Why can’t each hospital have a customer service counter the minute you enter–from any entrance. Most hospitals have some form of this (Fairview and United do, but not from every entrance), but others do not. I shouldn’t have to spend 20 minutes searching for my clinic or provider.

3–Improve customer service. The health care industry could learn a thing or two from restaurants and retailers. Just simple customer service lessons, for example. Why not give patients pagers while they wait so they can walk around the clinic/hospital instead of being stuck in the waiting room (again, Abbott does do this in their cardiology department–great idea)? Why not incorporate customer service training into medical and nursing programs? After all, isn’t half the experience the degree to which you relate to the physician or nurse you’re dealing with? My wife and I have had numerous negative experiences with health care professionals–and it wasn’t because they didn’t know their health care xs and os. It was because of poor customer service and poor communication.

4–Make the insurance/cost side less complicated and more transparent. We’re getting there–just not fast enough. With HSAs becoming more popular every day, consumers need this information to make informed decisions. Now. As consumers, we don’t care how it happens, we just need it to happen. Why can’t providers and insurance companies get together and figure this out ? For example, I go in to see my doc for a chest pain issue. She recommends I head down to the cardio department to get a stress test. OK, how much does that cost? I have an HSA–this is coming out of my pocket. Are their other alternatives? How much do they cost? Do I really need to take this test? This is the kind of scenario that’s playing out across America. I know the information’s out there–it’s just hard to find. We need to make it easier for the consumer.

5–Make provider information more accessible. I’m not talking about their specialties or where they went to school, although that it helpful. I’m talking about how Joe in Minneapolis rated Dr. Matthew during his last visit. I’m talking about how many colon surgeries Dr. Hanson does in a given year and out of those, how many involve adverse health events? This is the information consumers want and expect in today’s world. More so than almost any other industry, health care operates on word of mouth. So, we know this information is out there–it just needs to be easier to get to. Some organizations are already heading down this road–healthcarescoop.com and carol.com. Again, we need to get their faster.

This is just a start. What are your thoughts and ideas?

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