Making Marcom Work: Internal Collaboration and Communication

When it comes to healthcare, everyone’s talking about care team collaboration. But that’s not the only place where hospitals need to focus on team dynamics.

As my colleague Reed Smith has noted repeatedly, marcom departments have historically been distant from other groups within a health system. Marketers have been back in the corner, executing campaigns and measuring what they can while comms teams have huddled up with leadership dealing with a story or issue. Neither team has been deeply involved in strategy.

Best practices, however, put a good marcom team right in the mix, helping leadership set priorities and enabling other employees to use communications tools effectively.

We’re not the only ones thinking about this. There was a great deal of chatter about collaboration at the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network (MCSMN) conference a few weeks ago, and the conversation is continuing. Here’s what on our minds these days.

Making friends and aligning people

Marcom experts Jess Lewis and Jenn Shafer of TriHealth maintain that no team can accomplish much of substance in isolation. Teams within an organization must have a cohesive culture that will enable them to quickly and efficiently collaborate around communications to drive their organization’s goals forward. Doing so can take time, they say, and requires leadership to reduce barriers for interdisciplinary collaboration and encourage a shift in mindset at all levels of the organization.

Of course, marcom teams must first work well internally before they can really affect things in other areas of a health system. Lewis and Shafer advocate for creating an infrastructure in the department that promotes collaboration. How do you do this? Consider having an open office space. Ideally, consolidate the team to one building on one floor. Begin weekly team huddles to ensure everyone is aligned on strategy. (And if you don’t have a clear and aligned marketing and communications strategy, stop reading and run, don’t walk, to get that figured out!)

More standards, less annoyance

Assuming a solid strategy is in place, the next step is to create processes that can be applied across the system. Take social media as an example, since it applies to both marketing and communications functions.

Some 15 years after Facebook launched, social media is still not well-understood by many people, especially in professional contexts. They know that others are using it and finding success, so they want in on the prize. Marcom should have clear protocols and educational materials on various social media platforms available to everyone. This is also useful to help triage appropriate requests and to reduce interruptions for communications professionals in hospitals with smaller teams and a million competing priorities.

On any given day, marcom teams encounter colleagues who want nothing to do with social media as well as those seeking advice for how to set up a Twitter account. When that happens, process is your friend and will save you many a headache. Jen Rittenhouse of MultiCare Health System recommends that marcom teams create a social media briefing document to ensure that everything has been approved by leadership and to ensure employees are staying on a path that leads to — not diverges from — fulfilling the organization’s overall strategic goals. (And doesn’t accidentally walk you into a PR mess.) Rittenhouse suggests these documents address:

  • The situation — Why leaders or physicians want access to social media
  • Objectives — The goals leaders or physicians hope to achieve by having a social media account
  • Audience — Who the target is and whether social media is the best medium to reach them
  • Deliverables — What needs to be created to drive the strategy forward
  • Success — What success looks like and how will it be measured

Having documents, policies and processes in place to govern how people use various tools is necessary, but not the end of your work. Here’s where another layer of collaboration and communication comes into play. You must assess the needs of your organization’s employees and educate them on the tools available.

Educating and elevating, not eliminating

Let’s be honest: Every professional gets frustrated trying to explain her work to someone who isn’t in the field, sometimes even when explaining is part of her job. After all, doctors have to explain medical information. Accountants have to explain taxes. And marketers have to explain social media and metrics.

As healthcare colleagues – from physicians to nonclinical staff — start toying with social media while wearing their professional hats, marcom teams play a vital role in training and educating them to use social media effectively. That means helping them do it in a way that aligns with your mission and brand. What it doesn’t mean is having policies against the use of social media. Face it: They’re going to engage in social media anyway, and they represent your hospital in their daily lives. So show them how to do it in a way that elevates them and the organization.

Rittenhouse agrees that it’s wise to avoid trying to keep people away from various platforms. After developing a clear process for evaluating social media need and value for teams within her organization, Rittenhouse’s team led a social media roadshow to teach collages – including marcom folks – how to manage their online personas. Her team created systems, including a decision tree to help people discern (before reaching out to the marcom team) whether social media was right for them based on their need. And if so, what platform would likely be best.

“Find and love your internal sources,” Rittenhouse says. “By rewarding physicians and employees who do social media well, you make them want to do it well more.”

A Final Thought

After creating processes and guidelines, training and trusting your colleagues to do the right thing – keep an eye on things. Measure. Check results against expectations.

And finally, celebrate the success stories. Marcom teams have an army of advocates and brand ambassadors at their fingertips. With some planning and willingness to collaborate, those people can do remarkable things to elevate your organization.

Tana Watanabe
twatanabe@jarrardinc.com