My first interview is with John Cass, director of blogging strategies for Backbone Media, Inc., a Waltham, Massachusetts-based Internet consultancy, where he provides Internet marketing, SEO (search engine optimization) and corporate blogging advice to clients.
He is also president of the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association and a research fellow with the Society for New Communications Research.
A: Blogs have not had much of an impact on healthcare companies yet. There are some software technology companies with healthcare blogs. For example, IBM has a blog, HealthNex that focuses on healthcare. There are a lot of consultants with technology solution companies blogging and discussing the industry. Some journalists also blog like Neil Versel.
What makes the healthcare blogging community most active are physician blogs. A great example of the leading physician blogs is Over! My! Med! Body! by Graham Walker, a medical student in the Bay area. Physician blogs provide a way for companies to learn more about customer opinions about products and techniques and drops some of the barriers between physicians and patients.
Q: What are the major benefits of blogging for healthcare organizations (pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, government etc.)?
A: I don’t think there are too many healthcare organizations blogging at the moment. One notable exception is Nick’s Blog. Nicholas Jacobs is the CEO of Windber Research Institute and Windber Medical Center. He is the first hospital CEO to blog.
But as his blog was started in July of 2005 I think this demonstrates something about the industry. Corporate blogging took off in the technology sector with companies like SUN, Microsoft and Macromedia/Adobe. In fact 21 of the 29 companies blogging in the Fortune 500 are technology or telecommunications related. I think the healthcare industry was late to the game with Internet search, and is also late with blogging. The same opportunities and benefits exist for healthcare organizations as they do for other organizations that are conducting corporate blogging. These include:
• Getting information out to their audience quickly
• Higher search engine rankings
• Thought and brand leadership opportunities
• More customers
However I also think this industry faces some unique challenges. The regulatory environment is more vigorous than many other industries. In general, most healthcare executives are concerned about the liability issues associated with too much transparency.
Q: Much has been made about the benefits of dark or internal blogs. How do you believe healthcare organizations can benefit from dark blogs? Are you aware of any organizations using blogging technology to improve collaboration and knowledge transfer?
A: Suw Charman wrote a good case study about this topic. You can find it via her blog by going here: http://strange.corante.com/archives/2005/06/13/dark_blogs_case_study_01_a_european_pharmaceutical_group.php
Q: Some have said that blogger backlash against Dell has significantly damaged the company. Do you see healthcare bloggers having a similar impact on healthcare companies (especially Big Pharma)?
A: Therein lies the rub with customer-generated media. If you are being criticized by customers and the blogging community, but have no voice in that community it is very difficult to manage a crisis. I cannot predict the future, but I’d advise any client to at the very least monitor their blogging audience and have a plan in place to act on a crisis communication events.
Q: Other than starting or monitoring blogs, what are the some of the ways large healthcare organizations can credibly engage the blogosphere?
A: I think you have to monitor your blogging community. But you don’t have to start a blog to engage that community, becoming an active participant by commenting on blogs is one way a company can make a difference.
Q: According to a Harris/Makovsky & Company survey, Fortune 1000 executives are not very keen on blogs. In fact, many of them don’t believe blogs are very credible. Do you think these results apply to healthcare blogs (specifically the data on blog credibility)?
A: I know the study, I wrote a blog post about it. http://blogsurvey.backbonemedia.com/archives/2006/05/blogging_credib_2.html.
I believe we are in the very early days of companies using blogs for corporate communications. There's not much understanding of consumer-generated media. For example, only 30% of survey respondents have a thorough understanding of what an Internet blog is. This means there's more room for educating executives on corporate blogging.
However, the survey results show that many executives think their company should write policies to manage blogs written by employees that are related or unrelated with their company. I think this finding indicates there is a lot of understanding of the power of consumer-generated media amongst Fortune 1000 executives. I just think that there's not a lot of understanding about how their companies can connect with audiences via it. This applies to healthcare blogs as well.
I think blogs are credible. I just don’t think many executives outside of the technology industry do at the moment.
Q: What are the best ways that healthcare organizations can connect with their stakeholders through consumer-generated media?
A: Develop a forum. Develop a blog. Start reading blogs and forums, and learn from what your audiences post on those websites.
Q: How can healthcare organizations avoid the plague of “synthetic transparency” while managing regulatory, legal and investor concerns?
A: Dr. Walter Carl would be very pleased with your question, as he coined the phrase, “synthetic transparency.” ☺ [Editor’s note: To learn more about synthetic transparency, please click here.] To answer, I would say companies have to be genuine in their efforts to connect with their blogging communities. And that it’s okay to clearly explain that as a company you cannot discuss a particular issue. If you set expectations, even if that means you don’t reveal everything, that means you are being transparent, not synthetic.
Q: Healthcare organizations are very risk-adverse. How do you think they can successfully “cross the cultural divide” and develop a vibrant, informative blog given this corporate/organizational culture?
A: From my research over the last three years I’ve realized that companies take baby steps into the blogosphere. What works for Microsoft and SUN may not work for healthcare companies because of culture and the level of cultural development within that community. I think that taking small steps to determine what works and what doesn't will produce a model for healthcare companies to follow over time. I also suggest to companies to set expectations with their audience and blogging pundits about what your company is willing to do and say at each stage of development. Early adopters had advantages as they could experiment when everyone was learning. I think we all have to remember as each company starts blogging it’s a new experience, especially for the healthcare industry, and internal and external stakeholders should give such projects time to work.
Q: What are your thoughts on the future of healthcare blogs, especially as they relate to healthcare organizations?
A: I think you will see more of them, but I think we are in very early days. Companies cannot ignore that market as a way to reach their audiences and stakeholders. I see growth ahead.