"You have to get leadership on board." That's the first thing everybody tells you about every single marketing initiative, effort, or project, from improving internal communications to launching a patient experience initiative to trying out a new kind of marketing tactic.
But you know what? People rarely explain just how you're supposed to get those leaders on board. Sometimes it feels like C-suite leaders are gurus sitting atop a mountain in the Himalayas. You climb and climb and climb to get to them, but once you arrive you're not sure what to ask them.
Plus, these particular gurus are very skeptical.
They think open forums and relative anonymity will lead to negative comments. They think it drains resources. They don't see the potential for return on investment. And a lot of folks—including (perhaps especially) healthcare decision-makers—just don't get it, or think social media is a passing fad.
"A lot of facilities are not sure what the reward is, but they know the risk is pretty great," Reed Smith, director of project management at the Texas Hospital Association in Austin told me for an article in this month's issue of HealthLeaders magazine, "Marketing: Are Social Media's Rewards Worth the Risks?"
When it came time to convince the leaders at his organization to get on board with social media efforts, Marc Needham, director of Web technology at Scripps Health in San Diego, took action. He walked into a meeting with a stack of papers the size of a phone book that contained printouts from all the Web sites where people were talking about Scripps—including reviews on sites such as Yelp.com, blog posts, videos, news stories, and reader comments about the four-hospital system.
"Here are some examples of the conversations that are happening," he told the room. "And we need to be a part of it."
Today, Scripps is a leader in using social media effectively, with a presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media sites.
Perhaps the trick is not to ask the gurus to tell you the meaning of life—but to show and tell the guru the meaning of life.
There are more pros, cons, and evidence in the article from those who are doing social media well. So if you're looking for concrete ways to "get leaders on board" at your organization, you might borrow from the advice of others.
Just don't forget to pack it along with your climbing gear.