Tuesday, January 20, 2009

PR Rock Stars: A conversation with Lee Aase


When you work in the close-knit Minnesota health care PR/communications community, it's almost impossible not to know Lee Aase. He's widely known as a strong advocate of social media (I initially met Lee at a Ragan conference on social media presented by Shel Holtz back in June) and a pro's pro in the media relations and public affairs arena.

As manager of social media and syndication at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., Lee's helped this world-class organization foster and grow a strong community of loyal Mayo patients across the world who are more than happy to share their stories. In fact, Mayo counts on it. More than any other medium or communications vehicle, Mayo relies heavily on its patients to spread their stories of the outstanding care they received to others across the globe.

Interestingly enough, Lee and Mayo took yet another step in their social media journey this morning when they launched their new blog, Sharing Mayo Clinic. Designed as a way for patients and employees to share their stories about what makes Mayo Clinic unique, the new blog is another addition to an already impressive social media lineup that Lee has helped engineer the last few years. A Mayo Clinic YouTube channel, a Twitter account and multiple blogs and podcasts.

The other interesting thing about Lee: he's a chancellor. That's right. A little over two years ago, Lee started Social Media University Global as a way to help PR and communications pros learn about the burgeoning world of Web 2.0. The site is set up like an online university, complete with a full curriculum, videos of the "campus" (read: Lee's home) and tuition and financial aid. Tongue-in-cheek references aside, the site has been a great way for Lee to help educate PR professionals on the ins and outs of social media.

Clearly, Lee is a PR Rock Star. He's also a member of the famed Blog Council, so pay attention folks. And if you're not following him, start now.

Historically, the health care industry has been slow to adopt new communications tools and technologies. Yet, Mayo Clinic is on Twitter, has its own YouTube channel, Facebook group page, and multiple podcasts and blogs. How did you go about educating your internal stakeholders and building consensus around the merits of social media to your overall communications plan?

Word of mouth has always been the most important way for people to find out about Mayo Clinic. So we've emphasized that social media are just the new way word of mouth happens. We also had two external consultants, Shel Holtz and Andy Sernovitz, come to Mayo to speak and hold workshops to engage our broader Public Affairs department and through that our leadership.

How are you using social media tools at Mayo Clinic to listen to your patients and their thoughts, concerns and ideas? Any examples of instances where you've taken action based on something you heard from a patient through one of your blogs, podcasts or videos?

With our Facebook page, it's been wide open for patients to share their thoughts, and we're launching a new blog this week (Thursday) called Sharing Mayo Clinic where we likewise will be giving patients the opportunity to share their stories and their feedback about their experiences. We had a blog last year for our employee patient population that was related to our Mayo ExpressCare service (a walk-in retail clinic), and through the blog we got feedback on some issues we needed to address...specifically, because the demand was so much stronger than we expected, we needed to add more staff, modify some procedures and accelerate the plans for a second clinic.


How has the social media landscape changed the way you work with the media? Do you still work with traditional media outlets? How are you interacting with bloggers? Are you eschewing traditional channels to tell you story directly to your patients and other key audiences?

Social media tools make it easier for us to provide audio and video resources to traditional media, as well as to bloggers. After the stories come off embargo, those same resources are made available directly to patients. Working with traditional media is still extremely important, but sometimes we do a post on our news blog instead of a full-scale news release because we can do it more quickly and still provide improved resources for journalists.

Physicians, by and large, are not individuals that have a lot of time on their hands. Yet we all know blogs, podcasts and video interviews require time and commitment from subject matter experts like them to succeed. How do you manage those competing demands and keep these key stakeholders engaged in the process?

Our main strategy is to use video blogs, so our physician experts can answer questions on camera. We prefer that our surgeons use their hands for operating instead of typing. By using video, they can talk about their research as they would to a patient instead of taking time to write. It becomes a 10-15 minute interview instead of a lengthy writing exercise. This also proves that the physician participation is genuine and not ghost-written, because the blog viewers see the experts speaking for themselves. The level of ongoing interaction in the comments varies among the physicians, with some choosing to engage directly and others preferring to do summary responses based on the general tone of comments.

You started with your Medical Edge podcast back in September 2005 and have grown your use of social media tools extensively the last three-plus years. Any key lessons you've learned along the way?

Starting with something that's already approved for distribution to radio stations made it less controversial; it was getting another use for the same product. Then we continued to find ways to produce content tailored to the medium (i.e. longer podcasts) in a cost-effective way, as part of our TV production process. It's also helpful to have outside experts share the state-of-the-art with leadership, to validate that other companies and organizations are getting into social media without having major problems. The worst fears are almost never realized; everyone has nightmare scenarios, but you shouldn't let them paralyze you and keep you from seizing the potential (and much more likely) benefits.

Now the tough question--how have these tools helped Mayo Clinic further its vision and achieve its organizational goals? How do you measure results?

We look at traffic to our sites, comments, appointment requests coming through our social media platforms, and also how having these electronic resources has helped us better serve journalists and get coverage in traditional media. The activities would be worthwhile based solely on the increase in traditional media coverage, but we see significant word-of-mouth benefit too.

4 comments:

RockstarJen said...

Thanks, Arik, for introducing Lee to those of us outside of MN. I can't wait to check out SMUG!

LeeAase said...

Thanks for the profile, Arik. It's been a pleasure getting to know you and interacting over these last several months.

nancypricer said...

I came across Lee though a Newswise listerv referral from Roger Johnson last November. Lee's SMUG site was just what I was looking for. Imagine my surprise when I found out that not only was he from my hometown in Austin, Minn., but he lives a few doors down from my cousin and plays basketball with her husband! Wow! The power of social media! I am a few years older than he is, but my mother says he has a reputation as being a very "smart" professional. I think he has proved that. The best thing about Lee is how he took something that could seem so complicated and broke it down. The Mayo Clinic blog he did is very well done.

nancypricer said...

I forgot to mention that I have live in Texas since 1979 and am Director of Public Information at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas.