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Cynthia Manley: Healthcare Social Media Rockstar

Cynthia Manley and I met on Twitter many years ago. Both active in hashtags like #hcsm and #hcmktg, Cynthia and I would retweet each other’s stuff and sometimes have side conversations.

Cynthia is one of the pioneers in hospitals and social media. She was one of the first to promote her hospital using Facebook. Cynthia recognized early on the need for policies and systems for this new exciting set of communication tools. What’s fascinating to me, is that the main thing chasing Cynthia today what’s been chasing all of us since this started: How do we stay relevant and at the leading edge and keep evolving as technology evolves and user behavior evolves?

For this Healthcare Social Media Rockstars, Cynthia and I talked about her background, her current position as Director, Content Marketing and Social Engagement at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and tips on how you can improve your social media activities at your hospital or healthcare organization.

AL: Cynthia, how did you get started in this field?

CM: “I started out as a newspaper reporter and editor. Then there was an opportunity to cover the medical beat; it was a very vibrant medical news time. There were two daily newspapers in town andhealth reporters at four TV stations. There was a lot of competition, and I found that I was really fascinated by the subject matter and the people that I met, the doctors and the researchers.

In 1993, newspapers were still doing well, and I loved what I was doing but I needed to make a personal change. A job opened up at Vanderbilt in the public affairs office and I made the leap. My first responsibilities were doing media relations and managing the Medical Center’s weekly newspaper and medical school alumni magazine.

In 1999, I focused my media relations and publications work on the cancer center and in 2005 took over all responsibility for all communications there. Social media was just starting then and I had started using MySpace because my daughter had a MySpace and I wanted to monitor her. But I resisted using social media professionally because I was working with cancer—cancer by and large is a disease of aging and I didn’t think my target audience was using social media. At that time, my biggest challenge was getting the graphic designers making the font bigger on a magazine article.

But then in 2008, I read an article that said that Facebook was growing fastest in my target audience—healthcare decision makers, 45-65. My boss is great at spotting trends—she was watching social media carefully too—and she was behind us going in that direction. She encouraged the development of policies, which was important for us: In 2010 we implemented one of the first social media policies for a hospital or health system. It was posted online in our social media toolkit and we got a lot of calls about that for a while. So I feel proud that we put a stake in the ground early on.

That’s how I got into social media—I found out that I loved it and being able to connect to people, that conversation, that learning, all the time. I still take my turn in the on-call rotation because I still love it to make that human connection.”

AL: Tell me about some daily challenges you manage?

CM: “We have a number of daily and long-term challenges. I would say:

  1. Innovation: How do we say on that leading edge?
  2. Quality: How do we make sure we’ve covered everything we can in the best way that we can?
  3. Clarifying our goals in the most disciplined way: We need to put more structure to our measurement program. For a long time, we were able to fly under the radar internally and were able to truly innovate and do things according to best practices. But now people are paying attention: Doctors are coming back from conferences and asking for Facebook pages for their clinic. So we realize it’s time now to be more transparent with the organization and socialize the tactics. That means having clearly articulated goals and metrics behind it is really important.
  4. Bandwidth: How do we keep up with what we need to keep up with and also keep learning and innovating? So what we’re doing July 2015 may not work in December 2015—how do we keep up with that learning curve and also keep the trains running on time?
  5. Listening: We stay so focused on create and publish—what did you put it out on social, how many likes? But we leave out so much of the magic on social by not listening and dedicating that time to listen and gather information.
  6. ROI: How do we tie what we do back to business metrics in a tangible way?

AL: It sounds to me like staying ahead of the curve is a big priority for you. What are some of the sources you use to keep on top of what’s going on?

CM: I’m a big fan of Content Marketing Institute. I also like:

  1. Jay Baer
  2. Shel Holtz
  3. Tech Crunch
  4. Mashable
  5. McKinsey—They help put everything into the business context
  6. Forrester
  7. Pew Research Center—they present evidence informed decision making. What’s great about Pew is that I can pull out the statistics myself. Knowing stats helps you make the case for how to use these social media tools most effectively—for example the people who come to you for colon cancer surgery aren’t necessarily on Twitter. Having those stats helps make your case when doctors want to use tools that may not be effective toward accomplishing their goals.

AL: What tools do you use to keep on top of what’s happening?

CM: “We struggle with technology platforms to monitor and measure. We do use free things, but we have some paid accounts. No tool is perfect because of API limitations and it’s hard to get everything in one place.

There are big tools out there but you must really think through—it’s not the tool, it’s the people. If you don’t have time to become a power user of the tool, you may not be able to wring out the value of what you’re paying for.”

AL: Thank you, Cynthia!

Now, tell us your daily challenges managing social media in healthcare. Is one of them content?

You might find these other Healthcare Social Media Rockstars interesting:


About Ahava Leibtag

Ahava Leibtag, MA

Ahava R. Leibtag has more than 15 years of experience in writing, messaging and marketing. She is a well-recognized content expert and writes thought leadership about content strategy and content marketing. Ahava is the President and owner of Aha Media Group, a content strategy and content marketing consultancy founded in October 2005. She... More >