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COVID-19 Conversations: Managing Social Media During a Pandemic

Date: April 30, 2020
Robbie Schneider discusses managing social media during a pandemic.
COVID-19 Conversations: Managing Social Media During a Pandemic
Robbie Schneider
Robbie Schneider oversees social media strategy for Franciscan Health’s 12 hospitals in Indiana and Illinois.
Robbie has held several roles in Catholic healthcare and medical school online marketing for more than two decades and established the social media presence for Franciscan’s Indianapolis area hospitals.
Following a rebrand of the Franciscan Health system in 2016, Robbie has led a team responsible for developing and nurturing an enterprise-wide social media presence. She is also a past member of SHSMD’s Digital Engagement Task Force. "It’s been fascinating to watch online communications evolve in a way that can help people where they’re at," she said.

Introduction: The following SHSMD Podcast is a production of

Bill Klaproth: On this edition of the SHSMD Podcast, we talk COVID-19 and managing social media during a pandemic with Robbie Schneider of Franciscan Health. That and more coming up right now. This is the SHSMD Podcast, Rapid Insights for Healthcare Strategy Professionals in Planning, Business Development, Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations. I'm your host, Bill Klaproth, and in this episode we talk with Robbie Schneider who oversee Social Media Strategy for Franciscan Health, 12 hospitals in Indiana and Illinois. She discusses how her team shifted amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, managing and executing social media. Robbie, welcome to the SHSMD Podcast. As you know, we start every episode of the SHSMD Podcast with Rapid Insights. One quick tip someone can use to make their marketing communications better today. Robbie, give us your rapid insight.

Robbie Schneider: I think it's very important to remember, especially with social media, that the rules have changed overnight. And while we always know that social media is flexible, but now with folks being at home at all hours and having different needs, you're not beholding to the old rules out there. And so I think this is a great time for experimentation and trying out new ideas and just be aware that it's a great time to be flexible.

Host: And that is a great Rapid Insight. Robbie, thank you so much. So happy to talk to you to talk about social media during this pandemic or as I like to call it pan dammit. And we are recording this on April 30th. We are right in the middle of this just so everyone knows. So this has just upended all of American life and all of what us marketers do as well. At this point, what has been most challenging for you managing social media during this pandemic?

Robbie Schneider: All right, well at Franciscan we actually started talking about the Coronavirus via social media as early as in January. So we've been really following this all along, but it has really taken a rapid shift over the last, I would say six to seven weeks as we started having actual cases confirmed in Indiana and Illinois where our patients are. And at the same time, not only are we dealing with this rapid growth of cases, everybody's lives have been upended. We have employees and families and schools who are shutting down. We've got people in different roles. It really is a rapid time of change. And one of the most challenging things I think is really making sure that we are staying on message. But it's also that we are allowing ourselves to breathe as social media marketers.

Host: That's a good point. You got to do that, right? Cause social media as you know, the beast that constantly has to be fed. So that's a good point. So you're saying you can really get caught up in that, but you have to take a few minutes for yourself. Is that right?

Robbie Schneider: That is truly one of those lessons that I had to learn the hard way. I think it was about three or four weeks in when I realized I hadn't had a day off in I don't know how long and was at home trying to homeschool/e-learn to students and manage social media for 12 hospitals and was not sleeping and was online all the time. And it started impacting, not only me mentally, but with my health. And I think it's okay for us as communicators to say, you know what, it's all right for us to say I need a half an hour to go take a walk. I need a half an hour on my calendar to take a lunch or whatever you need to do to physically and mentally care for yourself because this is a crisis unlike any crisis that we have ever seen. Most crises we know it may be a weather related or situational related and maybe resolved in a few days or a few weeks, but you know, we are on week six, seven, eight, nine at this point and there's no slowing down and it's still rapidly evolving for each and every one of us and impacting us not only from a communicator and an healthcare organization perspective, but each of us on our own very unique individual level as well.

Host: That's such a good point that you just brought up. Usually when we're in these crisis modes, it's because of a weather related event or God forbid a shooting or something. But you're right, this has been ongoing for weeks and is going to continue to be ongoing for weeks to come. So when you shifted into COVID-19 mode, what was your original strategy for social media for your 12 hospitals?

Robbie Schneider: Sure. Well our hospital system involves the Indianapolis Market, which was one of the hotspots as far as Indiana goes, as well as in the Chicago region. And then we also have some rural systems and a college town that we serve. So we're trying to make relevant content for people on all of these populations was very key. And immediately we had to throw out our blog and social media calendar out the window. So it may have been very simple as, Hey, you know, you're prepping for your spring break cruise. All of a sudden you're not going anywhere for spring break except for your living room. So, you know, trying to find content that's very relevant to where they are, whether it is you know, how to talk to your kids or how to help them burn the energy out so you can get through your conference calls or you know, how do you take care of your personal health, whether it is making sure that you're having medications on hand or taking care of your high blood pressure or just managing stress you know, making sure that people are doing what they need to do to care for themselves so they don't inadvertently make things worse in their health physically or mentally.

Host: Right. How did you come up with content then? Because you have urban and rural, how did you come up with a content strategy or plan to address these different audiences in Illinois and Indiana?

Robbie Schneider: We had the luxury I guess at first and the fact that nobody really knew and understood what this disease was about. So there was a lot of fear, there was a lot of questions and that is universal no matter where you lived. And so we spent a lot of time with educational pieces of that first and as this crisis evolved, then it became more about, you know, how do you handle it as a healthcare provider with the PPE question or how do we, you know, protect our patients. And those became again, those more universal driving questions that drove some of our narratives. And then we were also very in tune with what people were doing on social media as far as personal chatter. You know, what sort of themes are resonating with people? Was it the stress of e-learning? Was it the worry about I don't have a job and how am I going to, you know, feed my kids? Is it the question of I've been sitting on my couch for three weeks working and now all of a sudden I am hurting like you've never believed. And that's a great way to talk about ergonomics. And so, you know, we're constantly watching chatter and watching you know, how things are going.

And one of the unique opportunities I have found with this, and I encourage everybody to take advantage of that is really tap into your experts and not necessarily the ones that you always think about. It's really easy to say, Oh yes, infectious disease or pulmonary in a pandemic of this nature. But look at the different ways and this is touching folks lives. So it may be dietary and how do you, you know, amp up your Mac and Cheese and Ramen that's stuck in your pantry or it is, you know, we are talking to a bereavement coordinator about how do you deal with this virtual grieving? And how do you support somebody when there's shelter in place? And they've lost a loved one. Another one we're working on, I have a colleague and she's stretching out of her comfort zone and is writing a blog for us about supporting new mothers at home. And because she was having one of those questions late at night rocking her child. And while this is kind of overwhelming and what do you, what do you do when you don't have that usual support and you can't lean on mom or a good friend. So you know, it's really affording a lot of opportunities and in ways that maybe we don't traditionally think about as well.

Host: So you expanded into things you might not normally post about. As you said, the rule book has been thrown out the window. So I'm curious about this. Our friends at revive health did a recent survey of consumers and it says consumers want to hear more from their hospitals right now, not less, and some wanting to hear daily from their hospitals. So have you changed the frequency of your posting?

Robbie Schneider: That actually has changed, again, I had mentioned earlier that the old rules had gone out the window, you know, whereas we have posted something on Instagram maybe once a day or once every few days. Now it's a daily basis. It's really taken a very large shift towards visual storytelling. Our Facebook content has gone up considerably and we'd actually pulled a report for some of our leaders who had asked, Hey, what are we doing about COVID on social media? And we were able to say, you know, we presented almost 400 unique pieces of content focusing on COVID related items such as, you know, we're really trying to find people where they are. And the interesting thing is that people are resonating with it. And again, it doesn't have to matter what time of day. Our shares have gone up five times since the beginning of the year. Our clickers have gone up nine times since the beginning of the year. So the frequency hasn't seemed to hurt us even.

Host: So it certainly sounds like it. Your engagement is up.

Robbie Schneider: And not just from the traditional employer patient stories that we tend to lean on and tend to see more engagement on, it's really across the board.

Host: Well speaking personally, you know, my wife and I were home here sheltering in place, trying to do our part to flatten the curve. And I know my wife is on social media more often. I'm on social media more often as we're trying to stay connected. And for a lot of people they do get news through social media. So that would only make sense that engagement is up and 400 pieces of content, Robbie. Yes. Gee, you do need to take a walk around the block and 400 pieces of content. Holy cow!

Robbie Schneider: You know, we've been so blessed. I've got a terrific colleague who's been able to help me out. Our media relations team has been phenomenal in all of this, and you know, you're talking about local content. Their media requests are probably three to four times the given volume on any day and they are some of the hardest working people on our team and they've been able to support us as well. And I really couldn't do half the job I did without them. It really is a team effort.

Host: That's amazing. So what types of posts are performing best for you?

Robbie Schneider: Okay, well, there's a couple of them. One because we were fortunate to be ahead of the curve on this. Our most popular posts actually has to deal with Coronavirus symptoms and prevention. That was something we actually originally released in January and there was a lot of discussion at the time. Should we go ahead and dive into that or not, but we noticed with our health library sources and everything that there wasn't much out there. So we took that leap. We've had more than 60,000 page views on that particular piece to date, which is phenomenal. It's, I think it's a top five most visited page for the entire year. And that's something that we continually monitor and keep updated. We've also had, you know, questions on, you know, do we wear gloves or, you know, how do you keep your children, you know, that energy out. So it really, you know, it's really about meeting people where they are on the questions that they've had.

Host: Okay. And are you paying it all? Are you doing any boosted posts on Facebook? Are you doing anything like that or is this all organic?

Robbie Schneider: This is primarily organic. In Indiana and Illinois, our Governors had put a moratorium on elective procedures. So like many hospitals advertising for traditional procedures or your traditional marketing campaigns really took a screeching halt when this all occurred. So we've done, the vast majority of our content is organic. Occasionally we'll boost a well-performing piece, but really we haven't had to. We've been highly blessed from an outpouring of support from our communities and great information and I think it's, it's done well not only with our communities, but it's really helped lift up our employee population as well.

Host: Yeah. Which is really important. Right. That's good to hear. So let's talk about what's next. Illinois is in a stay home order until May 30th. I'm not sure about Indiana. I think it's the middle of May. But as we hit those milestones, it's going to be time to open up again. How will that change or shift your strategy as far as social media goes?

Robbie Schneider: Sure. Well, you mentioned about Illinois, in Indiana we are actually waiting for the Governor's anticipating an announcement tomorrow on whether or not he'll extend the shelter in place. But he has started to allow more elective procedures. So that is something that we're having to renegotiate from an organizational level. So those employees who have been moved into different roles, we need to not only support those existing roles, think of, you know, your visitation stations or what have you, or call centers, you know, where do they need to go, how do we support those efforts while moving them back to their primary roles. So we're working on navigating that, navigating infection control as we open up those items. But at the same time, what's really concerning to me, the issue of people being fearful to get care. We want to make sure that people feel comfortable coming back to the hospital because they've heard so much about the risk of the spread of the Coronavirus and no visitation and that kind of thing. And that can actually have a detrimental effect in that people are almost scared to come to the hospitals for care. We've heard people are avoiding care for things like heart attack and stroke and those truly emergency cases that really need to have care right now. And the risk of them from not receiving care for heart attack or stroke. When we have very strong infection control procedures in place, I think that message really needs to come out.

Host: So let's talk about that message. You're open for elective surgeries. You don't want people to delay care anymore, at the same time, they may be reticent to come see you. So how do you address that? What is your messaging?

Robbie Schneider: Well, our marketing teams are definitely working on how to address this new reality and I think it's really important for us to keep that message out of making sure that you seek care emergency as well as keeping it preventative care. We really are blessed now to live in a world where there's a lot of telemedicine services out there. Everything from primary care physicians to follow up with the cardiologists to we're opening up outpatient rehab via telehealth. So there's a lot of ways for people to seek care right now, and keep themselves at the healthiest. But if there's something that happens where they're not, we want them and encourage them to seek medical care.

Host: That's a great, great message. So overall, Robbie, at this point, what do you think you've learned from all of this? Is there an Oh wow moment you can share with us?

Robbie Schneider: You know I think the most important thing to remember is that we are in such, in certain times and we haven't ever managed social media or healthcare marketing and a pandemic before, and hopefully it will be the first and last to have to do this. I think it's important for us to remain flexible, to remain open to, as healthcare providers, to not only work to take care of our communities, but take care of ourselves so we can be responsive to the needs of our healthcare systems and the concerns that our public needs answered.

Host: And that's a great thought and a perfect way to wrap up this podcast. Robbie, thank you so much for your time and sharing your insight with us today. We appreciate it. Thank you.

Robbie Schneider: Alright, thank you.

Host: That's Robbie Schneider from Franciscan Health. And if you want to learn more about SHSMD please visit you can also find out about all the great education events that we have had And if you found this podcast helpful, please share it on your social channels. This has been a production of Dr. Podcasting. I'm Bill Klaproth, see ya.