Don't invest in social media until you've taken the plunge into Web 2.0

Social media is all the rage with hospitals and healthcare systems. Everyone from the Mayo Clinic to Providence Alaska Medical Center have embraced blogging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even LinkedIn, with great success. At last count, some 600 hospitals are actively using social media to connect with patients and create a dialogue with their surrounding communities.

But before you jump on the social media bandwagon, it's wise to take a step back to assess whether your organization is ready. Keep in mind: The call to action for social media typically is to drive people to your website for more information. That's why, now more than ever, a hospital's first interaction with patients is through its website. And as you know, first impressions can make or break a relationship.

The problem is that while many hospitals have invested considerable funds to build their websites, many are already outdated and function merely as glorified online brochures that are text-heavy and hard to navigate.

So before you dip your toes into social media, make sure your hospital's website is ready to make a winning first impression. This means...