Social marketing important for HIT, too

As a reader of FierceHealthIT, you're probably familiar with social media--the vast, amorphous web communications network including blogs, networks like MySpace and Facebook, and virtual worlds like Second Life. You might even have an ID or two on these networks. But have you considered whether these media play any role in supporting your company's IT efforts? If you're a typical tech type, probably not, but you should.

At the simplest level, you can use project blogs (combined, perhaps, with email updates), to keep people updated on the status of big implementations like an EMR rollout. Sounds like a no-brainer? Sure, but many organizations don't even go that far.

Bear in mind that blogs have many advantages over email blasts to your stakeholders, including: a) people can respond to announcements and debate issues publicly; b) blogs create an easily-accessible history of a project that can be helpful in the future; and c) if your blog is publicly available, you may get suggestions from strangers that help the project along.

If you're mostly interested in pumping out a message, don't forget podcasting and Internet radio. Vendor, for example, allows you to create your own call-in radio talk show (supported by commercials from their advertisers, natch), which might be particularly useful if your project is controversial in your organization or within the community. Meanwhile, as far as podcasts are concerned, don't underestimate their value. The research we've reviewed suggests that doctors, for one, frequently download podcasts and listen to them while they exercise or travel.

What about Facebook and MySpace? Despite the throngs of gossipy teens hanging around the margins, social media networks like these can also play a role in IT projects. Like blogs, they offer useful mechanisms for dialog and debate, and even more powerfully, allow users to access their "friend" networks to bring in outside wisdom to challenging questions.

Besides, there's now 100-odd vendors out there whose technology offers you the ability to build your own "private-label" social network. If you're rolling out, say, a $200 million clinical information system with a five to seven year timeline, it might be worth creating your own social media network to support it. Hosted externally or in-house, open-source or proprietary, there's probably a social-media network vendor out there to fit your needs these days.

Then, there's the pioneering organizations that are venturing into the virtual world to demo software, model networks or even, in one case, build out a model of an entire hospital before it gets built and let people wander through to test out the layout. For the time being, this is likely to be an unusual approach, but if I were you, I'd keep my eye on developments that might make such experiments easier (and cheaper) to implement.

Of course, there's no substitute for old-fashioned handholding, good planning and face-to-face meetings with key stakeholders to build success for your IT project. But these days, with such powerful, easy-to-use communications tools available, you'd be crazy not to give them some thought. Just get started... it's easier than you think!- Anne