Social Media Strategy: Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles

Post by Frank Barry - 6.9.2009 - Follow me on Twitter

Are you struggling with how to use social media? Or are you just beginning to explore how this new channel can help your nonprofit organization? Maybe you don’t even know what social media is yet? We can help you.

Over the past few months we’ve been talking about how social media can be used effectively in the nonprofit space and how social media tools can be leveraged to improve your web site so we thought to ourselves – what better way to help you see the value of social media for nonprofits than to give you the stage here at NetWits Think Tank.

Childrens Hospital of LA LogoHere at Blackbaud we work with organizations using social media in various ways to extend their reach – helping them to continue doing incredible things in the world.

Special thanks go out to Deborah Braidic from Childrens Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) who spent some time with us and shared a few social media insights for nonprofits. CHLA launched a new site on June 1st where they began integrating a newly designed social media strategy. If you want to know more about Childrens Hospital Los Angeles check them out on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Or let them teach you “FIND OUT HOW TO GET SOCIAL WITH CHLA

Let’s jump right into the interview …

Why did you decide to jump into using Social media?

In our case, we were pretty lucky. Our team was doing early-stage research on social media and we believed that our organization would benefit immensely from helping our supporters in the community spread the word about us on these channels. Right when we were working out a plan for how we might approach this topic with our leadership, we heard that our CEO was interested in knowing more about how we could leverage social networking for the hospital. When we heard the good news, we jumped in with both feet and put a plan together.

What process did you employ to get to your current social media strategy?

Our process ultimately came down to answering the following questions:

  1. Who is our primary audience?
  2. What Social networking outlet is our primary audience using?
  3. What are the popularity levels of each outlet?
  4. Which channels would be most appropriate for leveraging media our organization already produces?
  5. How many outlets can our team realistically manage well?

Can you give others some advice on how to get started?

Everybody always says “just get started,” so it is already becoming a cliché, but in reality this is exactly what our team did. 

Long before we ever proposed our social media plan to our hospital leadership, each of our team members signed up for accounts with Facebook and Twitter and began using them, like it or not, just to see what it was all about and how it worked. 

Using the tools ourselves gave us significantly more credibility, not only did we walk into the room and say, “Hey we know how it works,” but we put together a plan that provided real, concrete strategies for how these channels could be used to engage our supporters.  Had we not used the channels ourselves, there would have been no way for us to see their true value and convey that value convincingly to our leaders.

What obstacles/challenges did you have to overcome in ‘selling’ social media to your internal stakeholders?

Hurdle 1Employees won’t get any work done if we open up Facebook and YouTube to the entire in-house network. 

To overcome this hurdle, our team took responsibility for drafting an internal policy specifically to cover the use of social networking outlets that basically, in so many words, says “we can see you online” and “Google is forever.” Even though the policy was later championed and owned by the Human Resources Department, we partnered with our Manager of Information Security and took responsibility for hashing through what the policy should cover, drafting of the document, and helping to bird-dog it past the right people for review and approval. We also drafted an email for the CEO to send out to the house after our launch that treated this topic humorously but still got the point across that, our first priority is to accomplish our mission, but in your spare time, it would be great if you could be our fans and spread the word online.

Hurdle 2Employees might release proprietary or patient health information online.

The above policy covered this area as well. Now that we have launched our new site and we have notified everyone in the organization about our online presences, our Policy Officer will likely regularly remind people that proprietary and patient information should not be placed on social networking channels.

Hurdle 3Aren’t we going to lose control of our brand?

To overcome this hurdle, we really had to do our research. 

  • First, we overwhelmed them with statistics 
    Jeremiah Owyang’s data on the differences in online channel metrics between the Obama and McCain campaigns is stunning, even to our own team. We paired these stats with a few great quotes from Fraser & Dutta’s book “Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom” for good measure.

  • Second, we did our homework
    We scoured social websites to see what people were already saying about us and what we found was pretty awesome. We had 17 Facebook groups already related to us in some way. We had some pretty great posts on Yelp both from employees and from users of our services. We loaded all of this information up as proof that, others already have control of our brand, and they were, by all accounts, doing a pretty good job with it. The best part was that, since it wasn’t “us” saying it, it was even better than what we might say about ourselves.

  • Third, we used peer pressure
    When we looked at what our peers were doing, it turned out that the organizations we aspired to be like were already in the very spaces we were suggesting we enter.

How about some advice on how to sustain?

Right now we are in more of a “listen and learn” mode, so we are excited to see how our fans interact with us. Once we have been out there for a few more months, we’ll have more concrete plans for care and feeding of our fan base.

We anticipate that the key will most likely be in using our existing network of individuals who already feed us content items for our hospital’s website for updates. Once we get responses to our updates, part of our team’s job will be galvanizing others in the organization to respond to and engage with our fans. 

In addition, we are already shifting our own thinking so that, each time we receive a new item for our main website, we ask ourselves how it can be leveraged from a fan perspective.

What’s the most important thing to remember when using social media?

Finding a pace that works well for your organization is critical. Although it’s tempting to go into these spaces like gangbusters and flood people with information, it’s important to start out slow enough that you can listen and learn from your fan base. 

It has been painful for us to watch high-profile organizations using Facebook like its Twitter or treating their Fan Page like a website. These types of activities have been repaid with a complete lack of user participation in the spaces. 

The other thing we are finding is that it takes work to be engaging. An update is of no value if no one participates or “cares” about your update. Taking an extra moment to think about how to shift your message from a broadcast update to an interesting question or a mystery that the user gets to solve by taking some sort of action or clicking a link has turned out to be time well spent. 

We were delighted to see that a member of another health system gave us a public thumbs up on our Facebook page while we were technically in the silent phase of our social media efforts. It wasn’t that our organization was interesting to them, so much as they were impressed by the fact that our fans were engaging with us online and they wanted to know more.

What are some of the most common misconceptions you’ve had to overcome?

The question that keeps coming up, oddly enough from the worker bees and not from the hospital leaders, is . . . “But isn’t this just the next big thing and tomorrow it will be gone and something else will be the next big thing?” 

Our advice on this one is . . . see if you can get this question out onto the table as quickly as possible. Once you’ve got this question on the table, you can answer it with a spin that appeals to that person.

For instance, this question came up from a customer service perspective. We were able to respond that, yes, these channels may not last forever . . . but at the end of the day, it’s not the channel that is important . . . it’s the fact that people may be asking for help from us on these channels that is important. If we ignore their questions, we lose. 

How do you measure success with social media, the infamous ROI?

Right now, we are in the earliest possible stage, so success for us is seeing that people actually care . . . that they have joined our fan base (to the tune of 800 fans without active marketing of our Facebook Page), that they are engaging with us on Twitter and retweeting our messages. 

Success is also seeing that others within our organization see the value and want to find out how to get onboard, how to be included, how to be involved. 

I think the tough part will come in the next six months, once we’ve built our base, actively listened to our fans for a few months, and begun testing the waters with some asks for help. We have some big things planned, but until we launch them, we won’t be able to measure our success. In the meantime, we are watching others closely to see what is working well for other organizations like ours. It’s exciting to watch these channels evolve and mature.


Speak up! What challenges have you faced? What successes have you had? How are you using social media as a nonprofit organization? Please share your story with us here in the comments.

Related info:

A critical piece of information for anyone getting started (or those that are still wondering) - Know and Master Your Social Media Data Flow by Louis Gray


A few more nonprofit interview posts:


Posted in: nonprofit, fundraising, nptech, socialmedia, socialnetworking

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