I am often asked why social media is important or why someone should bother spending time with it … Mashable posted a great set of articles targeting the C-Suite specifically, and I wanted to pull some of the main points out that directly apply to hospital and health system CEOs and other C-Suite leaders.

First, there is one notion that has to be accepted – it has been discussed, written about, documented, debated – social media is not a fad. (Watch this “Social Media Revolution” video if you don’t believe me!)

More than 500 million people actively use Facebook and Americans alone spend a quarter of their online time on social networks and blogs (like this one!) – that statistic represents a 43 % increase from last year according to The Nielsen Company.

“Despite the almost unlimited nature of what you can do on the web, 40 percent of US online time is spent on just three activities – social networking, playing games and emailing leaving a whole lot of other sectors fighting for a declining share of the online pie,” said Nielsen analyst Dave Martin.
A new report by Experian Simmons found: about 66% of online Americans visit social media sites like Facebook and Twitter – up from 20% in 2007 – and 43% visit multiple times per day. More from the Information Week article:

“Social networking sites’ impact on business is growing. This year, 68% have become a fan or friend of a product, service, company, or group on a social networking site, compared with 57% last year, the study said … [and] Social networks are not only for the young: While almost 90% of connected 18 to 34-year-olds visit these sites today, 41% of online adults aged 50-plus make monthly visits to social networks, the study said.”
These stats are older, and the video editing isn’t great (goes a bit fast), but the point is made – social media and health care are a successful and growing match.

So back to my original point. Why should the C-Suite get into it?

If the majority of people in our world speak this “social media language,” then leadership needs to speak it, as well, in order to keep themselves and their companies relevant. Basically, “go where the people are” …

From Mashable (bolding by me):

Edelman Digital’s SVP, Director of Insights, Steve Rubel says that when it comes to social media, “It’s simple math. Executives understand that their time/financial investments need to go where people are spending time, and that’s social media.”

… “The average American consumes almost 12 hours of information per day in total (all formats) according to a study by the University of California at San Diego. However, social networks are increasingly directing these information flows. Nielsen reports that time spent on social networking sites averaged six hours per month globally.”

Rubel further breaks it down in terms executives can relate to by comparing social media platforms today to carrying the same power and reach as television networks.

“Basically marketers have always focused on generating maximum awareness and (now) engagement with the greatest efficiency. In the past this was TV. Now it’s social networks. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn [are] the new ABC, CBS, ABC and Fox. So my advice is to maximize these as best you can – but this requires surface area and thus not just a media buy.”
I would take this further – I would argue that social media is even more reliable than television (particularly in this age of DVR). We used to base advertisement pricing on price per eyeballs – and people would make grand assumptions about how many millions of people would see your television ad. With social media, you can track that number of eyeballs a lot more closely and see the exponential effects of information sharing online.

Social media also makes you a people person. These sites are all about engagement and relationship building. So by inviting people to converse with you and learn from you via Facebook, Twitter or a number of any other sites, you reinforce the idea that you care about the people side of the business – which is a major part of health care delivery. These interactions online help you and your brand build social equity and a more trusted presence.

Engaging online can also reinforce your position as a thought leader or expert in your field. People within the social media sphere regularly reference CEOs and other leadership folks from Paul Levy, President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, to Doug Ulman, CEO of LIVESTRONG, to Lee Aase – social media manager for the Mayo Clinic who credits Mayo’s CEO Dr. John Noseworthy for recognizing the growing importance of social media. Join them by making a name for yourself in this space!

Still need more reasons? One final note I will part with is the same as from the Mashable article – do not discount social media as a useful and inexpensive way to boost INTERNAL communications. Everything from Google Wave and Buzz to Facebook pages or a Posterous blog can help employees share valuable information. These tools are designed to facilitate real-time information sharing and responses to that information.

If you have questions about tools, how to use them or when to use them, do not hesitate to comment on this post or email me directly!