February 22, 2011 – Lee Aase, director of the center for social media at Mayo Clinic, asked attendees at a recent HIMSS session how many of their organizations restricted employee access to Facebook and Twitter.

A sizeable chunk of the audience raised its hand, which prompted Aase to pull out an iPhone and show a Twitter icon.

“You simply can’t stop social media, and the conversation about your organization is happening whether you like it or not. You have all the risks, why not get the benefits?”

Aase notes that air was the first social medium, and not utilizing emerging social media such as Facebook and Twitter is like trying to control verbal comunication. Mayo’s research shows that patients’ preference for Mayo is created most frequently by word of mouth, followed by stories in the media and physician recommendations.

Mayo’s social media efforts are focused on recognizing social media as this century’s word of mouth. “We took a quick survey at Mayo and found that 5,500 people working here already had a presence on Facebook. It’s not optional for your organization to be on social media, and debating that is like debating the law of gravity.”

For organizations worried about the having a difficult time launching a social media presence, Aase notes that 500 million people use Facebook on a regular basis. “So it’s obviously not too technologically difficult to get started.”

Mayo’s first real foray into social media was podcasts. The media group at Mayo regularly taped interviews with Mayo physicians and researchers and posted those audio files on its Web site. Aaase asked a colleague to convert them into an MP3 format, and he then loaded them onto the Apple iTunes store under clusters for specific diseases and medical conditions.

Very soon, Mayo podcasts were being downloaded on average 74,000 times a month. Since then they health system has established Facebook and Twitter sites, and used opens ource software from Wordpress.com to create an interactive blog page and a pay-per-view media site. It also has a YouTube channel that is loaded with videos created by $150 Flip cameras.

“That’s an important lesson … use whatever tools you have on hand. The idea of using inexpensive Flip cameras to record videos for a prestigious brand didn’t sound right to many people here, but it works. And many organizations already have multimedia information they’ve created but haven’t found a use for it yet in social media.”

This story originally appeared on Health Data Management.

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