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Franciscan Health Throws Its Social Media Plan ‘Out the Window’ During Pandemic

Franciscan Health had a carefully laid out plan for its social media channels in 2020, but all of that “went out the window” once COVID-19 arrived in Illinois and Indiana.

Social Media Manager Robbie Schneider knew she could not tweet about spring break or elective surgeries with routine essentially halted for the foreseeable future. So, she decided to pivot, venturing on what she called a “social listening tour,” scouring the 12-hospital system’s many online channels and local social media chatter to pinpoint concerns arising in its communities.

With many stuck at home battling aches and pains from makeshift workspaces, she shared content related to ergonomics, for instance. And Schneider has posted dietary content for others who may have put on the “Quarantine 15” while their life has been upended by the pandemic.

“We have tried to stay very in tune with what people are saying on social media and the themes that are resonating. We’re constantly watching the personal chatter and using the insights to inform our social media content,” she said. For example, as the school year approaches in a few weeks, the team is looking at topics such as talking to your child about resuming classes and helping those with sensory processing disorder acclimate to wearing masks.

The strategy paid off in the initial stages of the pandemic. In April, Indiana-based Franciscan produced more than 400 pieces of content to push across its channels. Clicks jumped to nearly nine times the levels seen pre-COVID in early 2020, while shares quintupled during that time.

As governors lift restrictions on elective surgeries and routine cancer screenings, Schneider’s latest challenge is convincing consumers who have stayed away from health care facilities for months that it’s safe to return for care. 

“Our marketing teams are working on how to address this new reality,” Schneider said. “I think it's really important for us to share that message and make sure that people are seeking out emergency care when they need it, as well as keeping up with preventative services.”

Lessons Learned

Schneider has learned a few valuable lessons from her COVID-19 journey. She leads a team tasked with maintaining an enterprise-wide social media presence that stretches from Chicago to Indianapolis and in rural communities and a college town in between.

Stay flexible: The pandemic can change things on a daily basis, and it’s important for communicators to not stay chained to what worked previously. Now is a good time to experiment and try new ideas, she said.

“I think it's very important to remember, especially with social media, that the rules have changed overnight,” Schneider said. “While we always knew that social media is flexible, with folks at home all hours and having very different needs, you're not beholden to the old rules.”

Tap the experts: Franciscan has worked to highlight its many experts. The health system has put its infectious disease and pulmonology specialists out front in interviews with the news media and in content it has pushed out through its various communications channels. But it has also called upon everyone from dieticians to help viewers soup up old items in their pantry to bereavement coordinators to provide support for those who have lost loved ones.

“One of the unique opportunities I have found with this crisis — and I encourage everybody to take advantage — is the ability to tap into a wide variety of your experts when developing content, and not necessarily just the ones who you traditionally think about,” she said. “It's really easy to look to infectious disease or pulmonology in a pandemic of this nature, but also consider the many other ways this is touching folks’ lives." 

Come to them: As mentioned previously, Schneider said her team has worked hard to find out what’s on the minds of their community members, rather than assuming they know. What’s relevant to one reader in Indianapolis might not matter to another in a rural geography two counties over.

Schneider also noticed a greater appetite for pictures and video focusing on visual storytelling, so her team has increased visual content. Franciscan’s use of Facebook content has also gone up “considerably,” and her team is posting on Instagram more frequently too. Whereas in the past they may have posted on Instagram every few days, the team is disregarding old notions during the COVID-19 crisis and posting at least daily. The strategy is paying off, with much of the engagement coming organically.

“Occasionally we'll boost a well-performing piece, but really we haven't had to,” she said. “We've been highly blessed from an outpouring of support and great information. It's done well not only with our communities, but it's really helped lift up our employee population as well.”

Take care of yourself: That said, social media managers must not lose sight of self-care while tending to their many audiences. She urged peers never to feel guilty about stepping away for 30 minutes to take a walk or a quiet lunch break.

“That is truly one the 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,” Schneider said. “I wasn’t sleeping and was online all the time, and it started impacting me not only mentally, but physically as well.” 

This article features an interview with:

Robbie Schneider
Manager, Social Media Strategy
Franciscan Health
Mishawaka, Indiana

 Image credits: | Seisa


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