June 7-10, 2009  |  Colorado Springs, Colorado
Published: June 09, 2009
Where social media and healthcare intersect

Kaiser Permanente has made use of nearly every digital channel currently available. Here's how the company makes things stick.

Although she admits it takes a village to do it, Hilary Weber is charged with leading digital marketing efforts for Kaiser Permanente into the next frontier. This self-described "farm girl raised in rural Ohio" has spent more than a decade in the online marketing space and made her foray into not-for-profit healthcare at Kaiser Permanente.

That's not all that makes her tick, though. Read how Weber breaks the mold with her work at Kaiser Permanente, and where she finds the energy to keep up with such a loaded plate.

iMedia Connection: What are the challenges a conservative brand faces when trying to get a message across in the digital arena?

Hilary Weber: I personally don't think of Kaiser Permanente as a conservative brand per se -- I think because we are in a highly regulated industry, and we deal with people's health issues, we have certain responsibilities when communicating digitally that we all take very seriously. That being said, nearly all digital channels can and do work for us on some level: email, search marketing, banner ads, social media, mobile, etc. The challenge is to think creatively and clearly about who we are communicating with, what format suits the recipient and the message, and how it all maps to our mission and goals.

iMedia: How does your brand break the mold to put out such original content?

Weber: Our physicians, health educators, and many others in the organization are very passionate about what they do, and they are eager to share information to keep people healthy. Perhaps our unique model of healthcare -- being proactive about people's wellness versus the more traditional approach of providing services to those who are sick -- attracts people who naturally want to share their expertise in this way. Dr. Preston Maring, the "father of our farmers' markets," is a good example of someone whose unique original content (recipes based on what's in season at our farmers' markets) springs from his enthusiasm about the importance of healthy eating and locally grown, natural food.

iMedia: What is Kaiser Permanente doing in the social media sphere? What aren't you doing and why?

Weber: Our entree into social media began with our first blog, written by the aforementioned Dr. Maring, who posts his updates from the farmers' markets that he visits each week along with recipes for produce that is in season, all of which he tries before writing about them. You can check it out at KaiserPermanente.org/farmersmarketrecipes. We then launched a series of three widgets: a fitness calculator, a daily office yoga pose, and a daily brain teaser (see them at KaiserPermanente.org/widgets). More blogs are in the works, particularly ones targeting sports fitness and medicine. Kaiser Permanente's media relations team is also very involved with social media. They handle a lot of the broad social media monitoring, as well as responding to individuals' posts on the blogosphere and maintaining a constant presence on Twitter. They also recently started a fan page on Facebook and manage our video content on YouTube. I would say that our social media participation is fairly robust at this point.

iMedia: What do marketers need from social media?

Weber: Marketers need a few things from social media:

  1. A constant reminder that it's not just a new channel to do a one-way blast (no matter how tempting) -- it's always a two-way conversation.
  2. A second constant reminder that a two-way conversation has to be engaging and relevant to both parties; we really need to have something of high perceived value to share.
  3. More consistent ways to measure success (I think we all want this).

iMedia: Do you have a close relationship with your traditional department or is it separate? How do you translate creative success online?

Weber: Our traditional department has become very engaged with us over time -- in fact, we have several big offline/online integration initiatives already completed and more underway. One way to translate creative success from offline to online is to exploit online tools such as Webex and wikis for continuous education and training (especially in cases like ours where we are spread out all over the country), internal social networking tools for increased collaboration, and online digital asset management/document sharing for brand consistency.

iMedia: What's the expectation for you to maintain a healthcare brand's presence online?

Weber: The expectation for me to maintain our brand's presence online is quite high, although "it takes a village" to do it -- I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the many internal partners (including my own fabulous team!) that I rely on to make this happen. I primarily focus on new and emerging ways of sharing our brand online -- it's a form of "R&D" really, with a healthy dose of "brand protection" thrown in. But since digital marketing is relatively new to our organization compared to traditional marketing, I am also expected to be aware of and advise on virtually all types of online promotion and projects, so it's a big job.

iMedia: Finally, what's the typical pace of your day? Where do you find and harness your energy for this position?
Weber: My day is never, ever the same -- the only constant is the crazy pace I'm always on. So the bright side is that I have no chance of being bored! I find that I "re-energize" by reaching out to my peers in other organizations (including colleagues from iMedia, Blog Council, Marketing Science Institute, etc.), and also by making sure that I take a step back when things get really hectic so that I have the space to think strategically about the challenge of the day. My office overlooks Lake Merritt here in Oakland, and lately a brisk, once-around-the-lake walk at lunchtime has worked wonders for clearing my head. Keeping things in balance (mind/body/spirit) is key.

Matt Kapko is the deputy editor at iMedia Connection.

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