Understanding the new digital-social dynamic

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

Sex symbol Mae West was known for her risqué double-entendres. Among them: “When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better.”

It's obvious that Ms. West, who died in 1980, never had to contend with social media or the Internet. If she had, she might have amended her words to “ ... but when I'm bad, I get slaughtered.”

This is a lesson for long-term care operators.

News stories and anecdotal accounts of caregivers and providers disgraced over social media missteps have been plentiful lately. We've written about them, and so have others, much to the detriment of the profession's public image.

The media spotlight, in fact, has gotten so hot, federal lawmakers have begun investigating problems.

A little bad digital publicity can go a long way. A longer way than all other forms of messaging, as it turns out.

“Digital is the most dangerous for public image” announced social public relations firm Signal Leadership Communication on Tuesday.

It commissioned a poll by Nanos Research, which found 84% of respondents surveyed said social media “can do a great deal of damage to the image of an individual or organization.” Trailing on the damage-impact meter were online news and broadcast TV (both 71%), print newspapers (52%) and radio (48%).

The survey of 1,000 Canadians took place the first week of April, using both land and cell lines. Even when accounting for possible translation errors from the original Canadian, those are stark numbers.

The findings tells us that while many might believe Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other forms of social media are frivolous or “light” pursuits, they can actually inflict some of the heaviest damage when not done right.

“Corporate communicators — not just brand marketers — need to design social media presence” for people who experience and share a wide range of emotions with online communities “and invest the  necessary resources,” said Bob Pickard, a principal at PLS.

Granted, this is a lot like Harlan Sanders declaring fried chicken a good investment for the soul and body. Yet there is more than, well, a kernel of truth in such a declaration.

The raging popularity of a guest blog at mcknights.com this week about the legal risks in photos of nursing home residents on social media shows the message is starting to seep through to operators. But more awareness is needed.

“Good judgment and digital savvy are key to managing reputation,” SLC Principal Janice Mandel emphasized Wednesday. “There's far more risk for something to go wrong and explode virally.”

Ironically, that which social media can tear down so thoroughly, it cannot also return to grace so quickly. According to the Canadian study, people look most often to online news (71%) for “extremely timely” information. Next came radio (60%), broadcast TV (59%), social media (41%) and print newspapers (27%).

I'm going to assume the difference between Canadians' opinions and those of their brassier southern neighbors falls well within the acceptable ±3.1 percentage points margin-of-error range.

That means there is no reason for operators to wait for bad things to happen to them via social media. They must start educating staff immediately about what's allowed and what isn't — and make it clear that firings will take place if violations occur.

If providers don't do this, some very bad things can happen, and the fallout can last a very, very long time. And that's not good — in Mae West-speak, Canadian or any other language.

Follow James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.