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CIO 2.0

January 29, 2010
by Steve Garske
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Establishing a social media presence enabled one CIO to expand his organization's reach and realize a healthy ROI.

I see social networking as an extension of my IT department's wholesale efforts over the last two and a half years to improve our hospital's online presence.

During an executive leadership meeting about three years ago, our chief of surgery asked us to consider how we could increase marketing to give the hospital a global presence.

From his perspective, the hospital's Web site was the first spot we needed to target. So the IT department took complete control, dramatically improving the site's design, and a little over a year later, giving it another level of improvements.

When we began looking at social networking, it was with this same concept in mind - to increase the power of the hospital's online global presence. But we knew going in that there were potential barriers. First, we needed to convince hospital leaders that social networking could be a positive thing - that we wouldn't lose control of our brand and we weren't opening up the proverbial floodgates to negative comments. We also had to convince them that opening up the firewall to make social networking sites available to staff could be a positive thing. It helped that our CEO was on board with this plan from the beginning.

We were also able to demonstrate how our peer hospitals were already capitalizing on this functionality. In addition, our team worked closely with human resources to communicate facts like, “HIPAA rules still apply online as well as offline,” and provide some governance. It was very important, from my perspective, to have this in place before we opened up the network firewall to these sites.

To date, the improvements to our entire online presence, including social networking activities, have fundamentally changed the way that we reach out to the world. One place where we've realized a significant ROI is our fundraising department. Since the team upgraded our site more than two years ago, we've seen approximately $3 million in donations come in through the Web site.

I attribute this to the impact of having our information readily accessible online, and integrated with our social networking presence. Our purpose in this is to allow those who support us to feel like they are an integral part of our mission. For example, prior to the go-live of our new Web sites (and more recently, the launch of social networking), we didn't have a centralized online repository for personal accounts of how our hospital lives out its mission. A list was kept by our fundraisers, who would ask patients to share their stories at community events, but the stories weren't accessible to the average person. Now that we have improved our online presence, we can reach the entire globe with our story and connect everyone, both inside and outside of our hospital.

Being able to leverage social media compounds the impact we are able to have. For instance, prior to launching a dedicated YouTube channel, individuals in our community had to go to our site and search for our videos. Now, they can search YouTube or Google to find our videos - and not only can they watch them, they can embed them in their own Web sites to share with others. Through these capabilities, our reach has become phenomenally larger.

Another area where we've seen ROI is through recruiting of patients, nurses, doctors, and administrative staff. We've had individuals find us on Facebook and, without prompting, tell others that because we had become a preferred employer because of our social media sites. And several of these individuals live in other countries, which tells me that we are getting the international reach we want to have.

I can't foresee a time in the future where new media won't be an integral piece of any marketing push. I also can't foresee a time where we won't be reaching out to online communities just as strongly as we might reach out to our various audiences through traditional means.

Steve Garske is vice president and CIO at the 286-bed Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Healthcare Informatics 2010 February;27(2):57