Maybe that's why only 149 hospitals of the 5.700 registered hospitals in the U.S. have blogs, says this article, which cites fears about time-intensiveness, risk-taking and executive buy-in as the big barriers for hospitals and health institutions. At the same time, health care institutions have plenty of incentive to use social tools and blogs specifically: A recent PwC study found that 41 percent of consumers said that social tools influenced their choice of a hospital, doctor or medical facility. Last year, a YouGov Healthcare study found that 57 percent of consumers felt that a hospital's social media connections would strongly influence a decision to receive treatment there--and that consumers were going to blogs and review sites as often as they went to the hospital's primary website for information.
With that in mind, I spoke yesterday to the National Cancer Institute Public Affairs and Marketing Network (PAN) on the "Care and Feeding of Your Blog" at the group's annual meeting yesterday in Portland, Oregon. This post will serve as the resource list for the session and let you get a sense of what we discussed. Anyone who wants to dive deep into blogging for business, from content ideas to analytics, should do that on Problogger, which has a great series on 31 days to building a better blog--well worth your time.
Many organization's blog efforts look like Rube Goldberg machines, with convoluted processes behind them, or like Christmas trees, decked out with something for everyone. So my talk focused on 11 ways to make it easier to blog, including:
- Making your blog your social media basecamp -- the core of your social publishing -- so you can use other social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to share posts from the blog, build the discussion and elicit comments.
- Using ready-made platforms rather than over-customizing. One of the easiest ways to take the "easy" out of blogging is to over-customize existing platforms like Wordpress or Blogger. If you can fight the forces that want to overcomplicate your blog platform, you'll save lots of time and effort later.
- Using only willing bloggers. That means not forcing your CEO to blog if she doesn't want to or isn't any good at it. Both employees and CEOs can make great bloggers. But if your CEO is willing, you can make it easier for her to blog by getting past these barriers, and sharing some great examples of CEO blogs (here's one by CEO Michael Hyatt, urging other CEOs not to use ghostwriters for blogs and tweets). Another good example is former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt's blog, all done by himself. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, prefers to tweet, but says that CEOs should blog or tweet mainly to connect to the customer, and should start with email and the phone lines first. Don't be afraid to use CEO blogs from many sectors as inspiration.
- Varying the length of blog posts, and not fearing the short post. Nothing wrong with a long post if the subject matter warrants it, but you'll get more reads and engagement with a crisp, short post. So why not chop that long post into 3 posts, and make a series out of it? It's also smart to make sure that you're not writing such a comprehensive post that you leave the reader nothing to say...so don't include every fact, and ask the readers to add their tips and ideas. Short ideas and partial drafts prepared ahead of time are two things that help me to blog more without working too hard.
- Posting in the "sweet spot" of 3 times a week, minimum, with better results coming 5 times a week. Frequency signals readers that they should keep checking your blog for fresh reads, and it triggers search engines, too. I also urged the group not to ignore Saturdays, which are an important day for reader engagement.
- Building a content stash of ideas and sources for posts, using tools like ifttt.com and Evernote. Used together, these tools--both free--can automate much of your information-gathering activity.
- Waste nothing that could be the germ of an idea. Create blog posts that use comments as their basis, pull together three small news items to make one solid post, and use any reactions, kudos or interaction with your blog as content.
- Categorize your stash based on the types of post formats you expect to use. Will you have opinion pieces, Q&A interviews, photo posts, video posts? Make sure your stash includes evergreen topics that can be inserted in the blog at any time, as well as some recurring features that encourage readers to come back on a regular basis. To engage readers, make sure you include posts that answer questions from real people, always the most compelling content (cancer center staff should ask nurses and call centers for the questions they field routinely as a starting point). And cultivate tipsters for your blog by making it known that you seek questions, ideas and contributions.
- Encourage many contributors. Do your researchers and doctors know you want them to blog, and what the guidelines are for contributed posts? Don't assume they do. Hold competitions to choose bloggers, and feel free to field one team for a short-term, then ask for new contributors. (There's a good model of this from my clients at UMBC, which established a student blog about campus food with a team of student bloggers chosen by competition.)
- Look for your employees who are blogging elsewhere: Don't forget to look to your researchers and staff who are blogging elsewhere, on sites not related to your center, like KevinMD--Klout's pick for most influential health and medicine blog--or any of the scientist-driven blogs at Science Online, a great annual conference for research bloggers. You might reprint a researcher's post for an external blog, like this City of Hope research fellow who shared a letter to her 12-year-old self at the blog Science Club for Girls. I also mentioned the BlogHer conference for women-focused bloggers, and cancer centers will want to note the special HealthMinder day at BlogHer for health-related bloggers. Remember: Your future blogger may be blogging elsewhere because someone made it easier for him. But even if that's so, you can still use those posts as content on your center's blogs, with permission.
- Promote your blogs, using Google and Google+, Pinterest and Twitter--they're the most effective sites for driving blog traffic. Pinterest, the fastest-growing social site ever, is particularly good at driving web traffic, and you should look at these data and dashboards to help you use Pinterest to promote your blog and to make the use of Pinterest easier to manage. I'm working on an ebook on using Pinterest to promote your blog, so if you want to get on the heads-up list when it's ready, sign up here.
- Look to your partners: Some foundations are helping grantees tell stories online on their blogs, like the Colorado Health Foundation, which offers technical assistance and financial help to its grantees for this purpose. NSF-funded researchers can request additional support to interpret and share research with broad public audiences, using tools like blogs.
And I welcome NCI PAN members' additional questions or links to their blogs-in-progress. Plenty of participants shared with me their plans for great blogs, so I'm looking forward to hearing more good examples to share on this blog.