Trying to Get Your Institution on the Twitter Train

A few weeks ago I was a part of the Technology Forum for the Midwest MLA Annual Conference in Columbus, OH.  I spoke on libraries using Twitter and Facebook.  Later I wrote a blog post linking to the slides as well more of my thoughts on the topic. 

Ever since then I have gotten a few emails from people asking how they can convince their IT departments to allow Facebook and Twitter so they can reach out to library users.  I have sat down and thought of a few good arguments for librarians to use with their IT people, however upon reflection I don’t think that will be very productive. 

The short of it is, the IT departments are not going to deal with security perceived issues because the librarian wants to use social networking tools.  We can plead and beg all we want but in the minds of the IT people Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. are either security risks or bandwidth hogs that have no real world use in the hospital world.  We are spinning our wheels to approach them on this, we would be better off trying to get them notify us when they mess with the IP ranges causing all sorts of havoc with the authentication systems of our online resources.  At least we can easily and directly show how that (IP ranges and the changing of them) impacts our work and that of the employees doing research at the hospital. 

Recently (within the last 4-6 months) my institution opened up Facebook after years of it being blocked.  The library had no part in Facebook being unblocked.  Facebook, Twitter, and few other social networking sites are being used by my institution and other institutions for marketing, public relations, patient relations, and alumni relations  purposes.  Often an institution’s head of marketing or the CEO is the driving force behind these sites magically being unblocked.  When the Chief of Public Relations and Marketing sees that a competitor’s hospital is using Facebook and Twitter to effectively communicate to patients and market the hospital, you better believe he/she is going to want their hospital get involved too. 

Who do you think IT is going to listen to, the librarian who wants to set up a Twitter feed from the catalog to the library website or the CEO who wants to use Twitter to help distribute institutional news and information?  If the CEO wants his/her institution to use these applications, IT has a little more reason to investigate and make sure these resources don’t pose a security or bandwidth threat to the institution than they do if the librarian asks. 

So what do you do if your hospital hasn’t adopted these social networking applications?  I guess it all depends on the size of your hospital and how well you know the big fish.  There are a lot of recent successful examples and articles of hospitals using these things.  Perhaps if you are in a small hospital and know the big wigs fairly well you might begin sending them some of these articles.  If you are in larger hospital or you don’t have a real working relationship with your CEOs then perhaps you can start by contacting someone in marketing.  That person in marketing may not have enough clout but they might know somebody else who does. 

While you as the librarian may not have the direct power to get your hospital to unblock social media sites, you might be able to influence those who do.  Social media hits many more areas than libraries.  It is a huge marketing and public relations tool that many hospitals and academic medical centers are persuing with specific marketing plans and goals. 

Here are just some articles that might be of interest to pass along to your marketing department or your CEO. 

Of course if they want examples of hospitals who are using social media one only needs to go on to Ed Bennett’s web site Found In Cache, who has compiled the most extensive list of U.S. Hospitals using social networking tools.  As of October 4, 2009 he lists 194 hospitals with YouTube Channels, 203 with Facebook pages, 284 with Twitter accounts and 44 with blogs for a total of 391 hospitals using some type of social networking application.  For some reason these 391 hospitals have found ways to use social media without any HIPAA problems.

Peruse the list and you will see big hitters like the Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, and Beth Israel (CEO writes his own blog here) all using social media.  If you or your marketing department or CEOs think social networking is just for the big guys, you will notice that smaller community and specialized hospitals have jumped into the fray as well.  Evergreen Healthcare in Kirkland, Washington (230 beds), Gritman Medical Center in Moscow, Idaho (25 beds), and Howard County General Hospital in Columbia, Maryland (203 beds) as well as many others are on the list.  Who knows, if you check out this list you may see your hospital’s main competitor on their already.

IT’s complaint that these resources pose a threat and may violate HIPAA may be valid, but if there are 391 hospitals out there doing it, I bet somebody might have found a way to make sure it doesn’t pose a HIPAA or any other security risk. Just wild speculation of course.

One thought on “Trying to Get Your Institution on the Twitter Train”

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