“The Doctor Will Skype You Now . . .”

healthcare-marketing2-300x199In this month’s edition of the McKinsey Quarterly is an insightful article: Six social-media skills every leader needs.  If you are either currently – or aspiring to be – in a position of managerial leadership at any level of your organization and plan to work for more than a few more years, this is an article you need to read.

And if you are working in healthcare, I think you will find the personal and organizational ramifications of the Six Dimensions of Social-Media-Literate Leadership model presented in the article to be particularly exciting – and troubling.  Because of the inherent nature of the industry’s product (i.e., human health), the potential benefits and threats presented by social media are accordingly heightened.  When messaging distribution spins out of control and goes viral at a manufacturing concern someone could lose face.  When messaging gets convoluted in a hospital someone could lose their life.

The opportunities for creating organizational value through social media are vast and still largely untapped.  For example, the ability to engage and capture a broad spectrum of individual thinking; the ability to facilitate collaboration and engagement across social and cultural barriers; the ability to build brand loyalty through direct communication; the ability to accelerate innovation.

The other side of the social media sword is just a sharp – and even more so in healthcare.  Risks of individual privacy are at the forefront.  But there are also tremendous risks associated with distribution of disinformation, as well as the misuse and/or misunderstanding of credible information.

As the article points out, “the leader’s task is to marry vertical accountability with networked horizontal collaboration in a way that is not mutually destructive.”  How is this done? I have highlighted below the key points I took out of the article.

Accept Reality
Whether appreciated or not, social-media is a transformative disruption that is changing the way organizations operate (their structure, their strategic positioning, their business models).  The article describes McKinsey’s work with General Electric’s leadership in their social-media-transformation.  It is not a fad of the entertainment-minded pre-Baby Boomer generations.  Ignore its implications on the future at your own peril.

Learn to Let Go
The days of being able to carefully plan, construct and deliver your message via traditional forms of media (i.e., whether through print, e-mail or video) are quickly waning.  Today’s distribution network has been turned upside down: the message often starts with social communication and then gets crafted, molded and morphed into new meaning as it cascades upward through organizational hierarchies.  Recognize sooner rather than later what this means for your ability to control messaging.

Embrace – and Learn – Media Technology
In social-media risk mitigation, the best offense is a good defense.  The sheer volume of information bits from e-mail distribution, networking and news aggregation is overwhelming for most of us.  Being able to use tools that help navigate and focus your attention on highest priorities is essential.  Also being able to understand when, how and in what context your messaging will be received should help guide your communication style.  There are some wonderful software applications to increase your abilities in this area.

Stay Tuned In
Part of GE’s Leadership Explorations program includes reverse mentoring, where senior leadership is able to engage with media-savvy millennials to accelerate their knowledge and understanding of emerging social-media technology and applications.  Staying on top of the social-media evolution takes precious time that has to be diverted from more meaningful endeavors.  In other words, time has to be made to stay on top of it.

Be Cognizant and Be Careful
If you are familiar with the old adage, Some things are better left unsaid, then internalize that phrase and broaden its application to any potential means of sharing a thought via social media.  I have been personally mindful of the line from Kipling’s poem, If: “If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools . . .”  Unfortunately, that
is an inherent risk that comes with raw and transparent communication. 

Healthcare organizations – and their leadership teams – that “get” the socially and culturally transformative implications of social-media will note in the model presented by McKinsey aspects that reflect their own evolution.  They will be able to recognize and identify with the opportunities and challenges presented because they have already begun to experience both firsthand.

For those who don’t get social-media, well as was written in a Western Union internal memo in 1876, “this ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.  The device is inherently of no value to us.”



  1. clever

  2. Haha, I really like the quote at the end… definitely have to share this with certain colleagues who haven’t *quite* embraced the potential that social media has for the health care industry. Good article!

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