Word of mouth has new meaning online

These days, people are relying more and more on recommendations from friends and online rating systems to select everything from a new computer to a restaurant to a health care provider. Online word of mouth marketing encompasses everything you do to get your brand on the lips, or keystrokes, of potential consumers. This goes beyond merely setting up a web page. Social media means actively participating in the ever on-going online conversation.

Johns Hopkins Medicine has played an active role in social media for several years now. Our social media community includes centralized blogs, Facebook and Twitter pages, and activities on external sites such as Sharecare.

Internet Marketing Manager Stacy Poliseo works closely with members of Johns Hopkins Medicine everyday in the development and execution of comprehensive strategies to engage audiences on our web site, external sites, through social media and via search engines and e-mail marketing. Her role is increasingly important to anyone working with the web team to plan their online strategy.

Since joining the team in December 2010, she has worked with clients across the institution to create social media outlets that meet their strategic objectives, adhere to institutional social media guidelines, and most importantly -- create opportunities to form and join communities and actively engage people who are interested in what we do.

Social Media: A Quick Overview of the Most Popular Sites
Social media’s tools include blogs, including micro-blogs such as Twitter; social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn and Sermo; online chats and videos and Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

Blogs are basically quick content delivery systems: they allow their writer(s) to share opinions, news or updates with the click of a button. The key to blogs is timeliness; if you don’t have time to regularly update a blog (or micro-blog), its usefulness is greatly diminished. Regularly doesn’t have to mean everyday; but try to aim for once a week. Some good Hopkins examples include the blogs Cancer Matters, Reflections on Clinical Excellence, and PodBlog.

Twitter and other micro-blogging sites are even more fast-paced, as each post is limited to 140 characters and can be handy for posting links to interesting articles or comments on developing events that don’t have enough information for a full blog post. Stacy meets with anyone interested in posting via Twitter and plan out the first month of tweets. It's important to participate in Twitter everyday and to share messages that are relevant to the audiences you most want to reach.

Facebook and other social networks allow you to engage with your colleagues, friends and even strangers with common interests. Hopkins currently has 17 official Facebook sites, each with its own sets of posts, links and friends. Facebook participation, like Twitter, requires a daily commitment and it's important to consider how frequently and what type of information you'll share if you start a page.

Wikipedia is a different kind of social media tool in that entries in the online encyclopedia can be edited by anyone who has been vetted as a contributor. However, representatives of brands are not permitted to edit their own entries! This presumably maintains the authenticity and neutrality of the entries.

Social Media Guidelines
While all of these word of mouth tools are powerful, they must be approached with caution. Negative comments, false information and hearsay on blogs or social networking sites can quickly develop a life of their own online. In fact, traditional media outlets, such as newspapers and television, can use these same tools to report unsubstantiated rumors as a “developing story.”

To help you avoid these pitfalls, the Internet Strategy and Web Services website has posted Social Media Guidelines (JHED ID required), which should be read and followed before embarking on any Hopkins-associated social media. These guidelines outline best practices, rules for use of the Hopkins Medicine name and brand, and confidentiality and privacy rules.

If you are planning to represent Johns Hopkins Medicine in social media, contact web services. We'll be happy to help you find the best way to connect with people and to make sure you're aware of institutional policies and guidelines.