SAN DIEGO — There’s a case to be made for being more of a control freak at work. Particularly when it comes to building — and guarding — your facility’s reputation.

That’s what struck me Tuesday morning when I attended one of the most informative long-term care convention sessions I had been to in quite a while. The topic? Social media, how to get started and how to make the most of it.

Many providers have not even dipped a cyber toe in the fertile waters of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and their interconnected brethren. Many who have, are not capitalizing much on what’s available.

That’s what made Beth Martino’s talk so informative and worthwhile. The American Health Care Association’s Senior Vice President for Public Affairs laid out a roadmap to getting started, giving justification for creating a social media presence, and plenty of tips for how to be good at it.

In brief, using the likes of Facebook, Twitter, et. al. is about creating and controlling your own message. Plenty of successful people in business and politics do it.

So the question becomes: Why don’t you too? Or why don’t you do it better?

Your potential clients are using everything from to Yelp! to review you and make their choices. They find their news, shop for items (including nursing homes), scout for jobs and much more. Furthermore, your staff members overwhelmingly use it.

Social media, as Martino pointed out, is a wonderful way to showcase your brand (to any targeted or general audience you desire) or conduct crisis communications for staff and family members.

La Vita Bella in Dickinson, TX, is a prime example of the latter. First, the community was criticized around the globe last year after photos of residents sitting in flood waters up to their laps after Hurricane Harvey went viral.

The provider, however, went on the offensive and regained the high ground by quickly posting day-after Facebook photos of happy residents — and the explanation that authorities had told managers to shelter in place, leading to the earlier, swampy picture.

“What I like is it allows us to have some control over the response,” Martino explained. CNN and other national and local news outlets ate up the day-after positive story as much as the earlier angst-ridden narrative, bringing long-term care a much-needed media “win.”

Other highlights and tips from the notebook of Martino, who cut her teeth managing public relations for subjects as challenging as a pair of Kansas governors and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

  •      Challenge negative reviews of your facility. ALSO, respond to positive comments, to show a human element to your company, and that you are engaged. Have a few common answers ready for the cut-and-paste tools and the job becomes much easier, she confided.
  •      Post good comments you receive to your Facebook page, or other platforms, yourself if the complimenter is shy about doing so.
  •      Once you establish a presence online, no matter how big or small, remain aware of what’s being posted there by outsiders. Planting a garden without weeding it or watering it is senseless, notes this scribe.
  •      Be clear to employees as to what’s allowed and what isn’t. (Photos of residents by employees, or posting any information about them at all, for example, are always taboo unless part of a facility-sponsored, business-related and approved project.)
  •      Once you have a social media policy, post it where family members and staff can see it every day. Incorporate the policy in new employee orientation sessions.
  •      Make sure staff know consequences of rules transgressions, and then enforce them, promptly.

Realize that social media can be effective in many ways and ultimately reflects the organization’s image. For example, you can use it to: put a spotlight on key residents, highlight innovation; provide helpful consumer information; market your organization; recruit employees; or advocate for the profession, just to name a handful.

Once you have any sort of plan and platform, it then needs continual attention. This is where many social media hosts fall down.

“It’s kind of like a pet — it needs care and feeding,” Martino explained. “Having no one primarily responsible for posting [or monitoring] is a recipe for disaster, because it won’t get done.”

Have back-ups for each social media segment specialist: This stuff is best when administered steadily, not sporadically.

Secrets to success

The one word Martino emphasizes when trying to get providers to build social media presence is “relationships.”

“You want to be seen individually, not as a company,” Martino explained, urging the use of photos, relaxed language and brief, real-life examples. “We’re not selling widgets. We have stories that are compelling.”

Research shows posts of 150 to 200 characters — not words — “perform best,” but keep in mind that fewer than 100 characters bring one-fourth more readers, she added. This is especially helpful for attracting mobile users, the primary consumers of social media.

The real payday is with imagery. Photos receive five times more interaction, and videos get 10 times more interaction, Martino said.

Biggest worry

The top question she gets from providers is what to do if someone posts a negative review or comment about their organization. The solution is often simple.

Martino’s first tip: Stay calm. Next, respond to public criticism publicly, with an explanation that includes acknowledgement and thanks for writing. And then offer to take further conversation offline – to your phone or email, for example. Do not engage in numerous back-and-forth public messages.

This way, the public sees service, and the complainer is usually disarmed.

“Almost every time after we respond like that, we never hear back from them again, or you talk to them and things get worked out,” Martino explained. “Really, most times people just want to be heard.”

That, after all, is the goal of social media for everyone: being heard. If you don’t take part, you don’t get heard. And you hand all the control to others.

Follow Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.