Creating a story that generates viral buzz and international interest is a once in a lifetime opportunity for any public relations professional. Now imagine 50 million plus impressions, a BuzzFeed article and 900 Facebook likes, and you just got insight into the career of Gina Czark, Director of Social Media at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Gina’s background in PR and journalism is one of the reasons she landed the job at the academic medical behemoth. She said to her bosses, “I’m a journalist at heart and I’m going to use these platforms to build our community and tell our story.”
Gina knew at the heart of social media is engagement with readers, the community and reporters. Her last 1.5 years at New York-Presbyterian has proven to be groundbreaking and innovative—not just for her wins, but for her ability to break down silos and create an environment of sharing information to create robust, quality interaction.
How to Become a Healthcare Social Media Powerhouse
Gina was always interested in communications and focused on journalism. She graduated from Indiana University’s School of Journalism and became a print and magazine reporter. After working for a few years in the industry, she saw where journalism was going as a profession and decided to move to public relations. Her first job was with a PR firm in Chicago and her client was the University of Chicago Medical Center, where, “I wanted to build on my healthcare knowledge and have a client I believed in.”
Gina spent six years in public relations and ran newsrooms at three or so international annual medical meetings a year, working with national healthcare reporters and learning the social media ropes. As she observed, “I saw this shift to social media and a different way that people were communicating with each other. People were asking, ‘What’s the hashtag? Which reporters are attending who are active on Twitter?’” Knowing that that was the future, she started writing to NY area hospitals after a move to the East Coast, asking them if they needed a social media professional.
Changing How We Tell Stories
Gina acknowledges the inherent challenges of working for and within an academic medical center affiliated with two Ivy League medical colleges spread across six campuses. “All of our communications teams are in different departments—PR, marketing, web, internal. My challenge is to bridge social into all of these things, push the envelope for how our different teams work together, and break down silos.”
Gina has accomplished this with two great examples below—but not without lessons learned. As she points out, “We can’t work in these insulated departments where people don’t talk to each other. It’s always going to be a work in progress, but it’s worth it. ” Breaking down silos is critical, but social media directors and managers are primed to do so. Because they sit at the center of a story, they can help cross-pollinate and share information so content becomes a shared asset in an organization.
Gina demonstrated how she breaks down silos by describing a campaign she ran this past April. The hospital created a Facebook app in honor of Donate Life monthhighlighting how one organ donor can save up to eight lives. Gina and her team (her and Jessica Fillinger, NYP’s Community Manager—yup, just a team of two) used Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to share information about the campaign.
The Facebook app multiplied a person’s Facebook friends by eight so they could see how many lives could be saved if they registered to become organ donors. Watching the numbers add up proved addictive for others, as they shared like crazy on social media platforms. The internal communications team pushed the app on its intranet and the public relations team included it in a press release and internal hospital magazine.
Preparing for Viral
Now to the story of a lifetime: NYP’s Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital recently invested in a low-dose Pirate CT scanner—the first of a kind for the hospital. NYP President Dr. Robert Kelly is active on Twitter and he took a picture of it and tweeted it to his followers. The social team saw this and immediately shared it on the hospital’s Twitter and Facebook page where it performed amazingly well—garnering nearly 900 likes on Facebook and 215 shares. More importantly, someone randomly posted it to Reddit, where it continued to gain unusual traction.
Gina used that success to pitch the story to BuzzFeed who published a full story that went viral, garnering comments from people in Russia, Egypt and the UK to name a few. Once that happened, traditional media like The New York Daily News, ABC and the local NPR outlet, covered it. As Gina points out, “This is a nice combination of how marketing, social media and PR can work together, and proves that social can drive a story. Social also can be used as a test to see if there’s a story there.” And, this entire media (50+ million impressions) was FREE.
One missed opportunity was the lack of a call to action, but Gina says it’s an important lesson learned. “Now when we run a campaign, we make sure we think about web pages to drive traffic to, so that people have a place to go to make an appointment and in the near future, donate money.. It’s hard when things move so quickly, and go viral, and we don’t have plans in place. Now we know, so we’re going to have a plan in place.”
For her amazing work with just a small team of two, Gina Czark deserves a place in the Social Media Healthcare Rockstar Hall of Fame.