The ECRI Institute recently published an excellent summary of key issues for hospitals concerning social media (registration required), a valuable read for any hospital administrator, risk manager or human resources director. ECRI reports that approximately 4,000 U.S. hospitals own social media sites and that number is sure to grow significantly. One of the reasons for this growth will likely be due in significant part to the increasing number of people looking to social media to research health decisions. According to a National Research Corporation survey cited in the summary, 41% of nearly 23,000 respondents said that they used social media for this purpose.

The summary discusses critical areas for healthcare organizations to consider concerning social media, which can be applied to most other industries:

  • Understand the medium – what is social media, what are the different venues (Facebook, LinkedIn, FourSquare etc.), what is the competition doing, what new media is coming.
  • Determine desired uses – promotion of services/sales, recruiting, reputation management, community involvement, education, and so on. 
  • Assess risks – privacy, network security, employment, reputation, regulatory, malpractice, and protecting the brand.
  • Develop policies and procedures – control company message and regulate employee activity.
  • Implement and train and reevaluate – limit the number of employees who can speak for the organization, train employees on legal risks (such as with HR looking up applicant/employee background information on line), determine whether social media plan is producing desired results

Businesses in all industries are "going social," and should be developing a comprehensive plan before doing so. The ECRI summary provides a good starting point for thinking through some of the issues, particularly for those in healthcare.