Reputation and Crisis Management in Healthcare Social Media

Welcome back to the final installment in my three part series on healthcare social media strategy and implementation. Part one, “How to create a Healthcare Social Media Strategy and Policy,” discussed important questions to consider before taking your healthcare organization online.  Part two, “Online Content Strategies and Paid Promotions in Healthcare Social Media,” was a deeper dive into real world applications and how to’s for brand managers. I’m excited to report that Part two was featured on two of LinkedIn’s pulse channels, the Social Media channel and Healthcare channel! We had a fantastic discussion in the comments, which I would recommend you head on over to read.

Digital engagement in healthcare remains particularly interesting, due to its perceived and real risks to organizations. Today we will discuss reputation and crisis management on social media: how to mitigate, respond and fix online.

healthcare social media policy crisis management

When it comes to “fixing” many people may think of Olivia Pope.  In healthcare, I’m here to tell you that bullying and ultimatums will not work. (Unless you’re an insurance company, in which case, bullying physicians seems to be status quo. That however, is a conversation for another day.) Let’s take a look at what will work when it comes to social media crisis management in healthcare.

Consumers have high expectations about what they can expect from brands and organizations, and this holds true in healthcare, as well.  Patients increasingly seek and share medical information on social platforms.  As such, it is important to have a strong plan in place for the “who, what, why, when, where and how” of social media crisis management. This plan should strive to avoid crisis, slow escalation and provide guidance for addressing concerns.   Unfortunately, avoiding crisis is essentially impossible, so planning for “when,” not “if,” is important.


  1. BUILD YOUR CRISIS MANAGEMENT TEAM– In order to manage a social media crisis, it is crucial that you have a previously designated team that owns the play by play.  This team should be comprised of cross-functional team members, preferably from marketing, communications/PR, and legal.  These team members should have fluid communication. Have this team meet at least quarterly, but more preferably, monthly.
  2. DETERMINE KEY DECISION MAKERS– Who has the ultimate say for no or no-go on the plan? Will they provide provide updates in addition to other methods selected?
  3. HOW TO PROCEED IF KEY DECISION MAKER IS UNAVAILABLE? In the case that the key decision maker is not available, pre-determine the next steps that should be taken.  Refer to your organization’s guidelines for response time from part two for guidance.
  4. MAP OUT POSSIBLE RISKS– Have crisis management team list out all possible known risks to the organization.
  5.  MAP OUT COMMUNICATION FLOW– Create a chart that classifies possible risks by level of impact (e.g., organizational threat, regional threat, local threat, minimal threat) and category (e.g., patient adverse event, recall, safety at organization, information breach, etc.).  Assign communication process for each level so that it is clear to all team members how to proceed. Practice crisis run throughs a few times a year, like a fire drill, so it is not everyone’s first time when it really happens.
  6. MONITOR SOCIAL CHANNELS– I’ve written numerous times about the importance of listening to what patients have to say online. It is one of the most important steps a brand can take to mitigate online risk.  By joining in the conversation purposefully, healthcare organizations can proactively manage their brands. Regardless of what marketing message an organization pushes out, the real world experience of a brand is the marketing message that is received by patients and the public. If you need recommendations for social media management tools, you can find a wealth of information from the social media expert panel I was a part of last year.
  7. RESPOND IN A TIMELY MANNER– Stick to your predetermined goals for response time based on your organization’s capabilities and the type of post.  Keep all responses compliant with HIPAA and FDA social media draft guidelines for industry. Your response should be genuine, empathetic and thoughtful or you risk further damage to your brand. Never lose your cool, regardless of what a poster may say. Remember, you will never please everyone. During a social media crisis, all auto posts should be suspended, so as not to post something that could now be perceived as distasteful.
  8. PUBLISH COMMUNITY GUIDELINES– Posting public community guidelines for your organization can help to set boundaries about what is allowed and not allowed on your organization’s page.  Guidelines can include what types of posts will not be allowed, what type of behavior is and is not allowed and your organization’s policies for comments.  Organizations can require that all comments are moderated, delete comments that are in violation of the guidelines etc. It is important not to completely censor the conversation, deleting every negative comment is unnecessary, but managing your online community appropriately is important.
  9. HIRE AN EXPERIENCED SOCIAL MEDIA COMMUNITY MANAGER–  Managing your online communities should never be left as an after thought or to the newest intern.  The person managing your communities should be knowledgable about your company, its strategic initiatives, weaknesses, strengths, and someone you would take in with you to an important meeting with your most important customer.  Why? It’s quite simple.  This person is the public voice of your brand. This person is the link that connects your patients to your brand. Your community manager should be passionate about both the product/service you provide and also the patients you serve.
  10. DETERMINE RESPONSE CHANNEL– Before responding, it is imperative that your crisis team understands the best way to respond. It may be necessary to respond on more than one channel, depending on the level and type of the crisis an perceived risk to the organization.  For example, a negative patient comment online may only need referral to the patient’s physician. However, a data breach of a hospital’s records may require a dedicated website that addresses the breach, a press release and comments from the hospital’s CEO. Response channels may include, social media, corporate website, email to clients, press releases, making a new compliant dedicated website, hard copy snail mail written responses.


I hope you have found this three part series on healthcare social media strategy helpful and informative. You can download my social media strategy & policy template for free.

Understanding your organization’s full capability, how much social you can really take on, is crucial to your organization’s success online. Getting started with one or two platforms the right way is better than spreading your organization too thinly over numerous channels.  Once your team is adept and savvy, and your leadership is comfortable, expanding can help build a well rounded online presence.  Creating a crisis management team and crisis strategy will help your healthcare organization to plan for the worst.  It also may help in gaining buy-in from senior leadership when pitching new social media ideas.  As we truly embrace the age of patient engagement and consumer driven healthcare, healthcare organizations must develop digital strategies that build brands patients can identify with.


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One thought on “Reputation and Crisis Management in Healthcare Social Media

  1. Awesome! Question, for Social Media Management, do you have a preferred system for Managing accounts for others or do you use what the Client is already using? Same for “Social Listening” platform, do you bring in your own or use what they have?


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