A Question Concerning the Ethics of Social Media Presence

Facebook Business Solutions
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Question: If, as CEO of a company, you personally and passionately oppose Facebook’s Privacy policies and methods, would you withhold having any presence on the site, regardless of what it may cost you?

I’m an advocate for intelligent adoption of emerging technologies and media for individuals, non-profits and businesses. I believe they can be useful, pliant and remarkable tools as part of larger internal and external strategies. But I also believe that the uses of these media need to be integrated in accordance with the specific needs and resources of an enterprise within the larger contexts of what it means to do business.

But one matter is often overlooked, which is what I raised in the question above. What if you believe that a particular medium is run by a company who – in your eyes – has questionable or no ethical standards? Would you shrug off the matter and ultimately decide that you need to reach your customers on Facebook or Twitter or on any other medium which you don’t own and have no say in?

After all, when you set up a Facebook Page, you’re effectively entering a business relationship with Facebook – even if you don’t run ads or otherwise cut a check. Just as any smart and ethical executive would question entering a partnership with an un-trustworthy vendor, shouldn’t executives similarly consider the trustworthiness of the companies who run media sites?

I won’t answer the question here. But I would suggest, that executive leaders (and agencies) fully understand not only the properties of the media companies they use but also the ethical values and practices those companies employ.

We are living in a time when leaders must possess a minimal understanding and proficiency of emerging media. That entails not only a technical understanding of them but also an ethical wisdom and awareness.

Given Facebook’s changing policies with respect to Privacy, Healthcare executives must especially be pondering this question. As my friend Faisal Qureshi aptly stated:

@PhilBaumann if you're a Healthcare CEO you need to be thinking long and hard about using #fb in your marketing mix. #hcsm

@PhilBaumann if you're a Healthcare CEO you need to be thinking long and hard about using #fb in your marketing mix. #hcsm

Companies, and the agencies that advise them, must never forget the fundamental dividing difference between traditional media (print, radio, TV) and emerging media (Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, Forums): the former are hardware while the later are software. Hardware is relatively static and straightforward. Software, on the other hand, is pliant, elusive and unpredictable. Facebook isn’t a as much a medium as it is software. Thus the ethical thinking on media like Facebook, must take this key difference in mind.

Of all of the technologies which¬† our species has brought forth into the world, perhaps it’s the Question Mark which is our crowning achievement. And with that, I repeat my question to you:

If, as CEO of a company, you personally and passionately oppose Facebook’s Privacy policies and methods, would you withhold having any presence on the site, regardless of what it may cost you?

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fPatient – Ethics and Mediocrity in Healthcare Marketing

I’m not a fan of buzzwords: not only do they tire with time but they also constrict discussion and usually end up being the object of unimaginative and disconnected marketing efforts. In recent years, we have seen the emergence of the ePatient. And sure enough, we can now see that the term is beginning to be usurped by marketers. Of course, the ethics and effectiveness of that kind of marketing depends on the quality of execution.

SAY HELLO TO THE fPATIENT

A new service – which I won’t give direct attention-traction to by linking to its website here – promises to deliver revenues to healthcare organizations wishing to market to so-called ePatients. This service employs the use of a fictive patient named Sara Baker who even has a fictive Facebook profile. The bio on her profile (Page actually) discloses that she isn’t real but “represents healthcare consumers like you and me”. She is an fPatient.

Is that ethical? Is it an acceptable marketing practice to build a fake composite social object in order to facilitate the push for a product or service? There are differing opinions on that – some of which were raised on the weekly healthcare social media Twitter chat hcsm.

In my opinion, I think that the ethical standards for marketing healthcare ideas and products and services must be above board. Why? Because healthcare is a continuum, a stream, and when one part of the industry is tainted by fakery – no matter how seemingly insignificant – there’s always the chance that such fakery can leach into the stream.

One could argue that faux patients have been heavily used in traditional marketing: from billboard ads to television commercials. We perhaps can understand that kind of use given the limited nature of traditional media.

But when it comes to emerging media, especially the kind that allows conversation, it becomes critical that those conversations are honest and sincere and free of sham. That’s the key difference here: Sara isn’t conversing with consumers (someone else or some thing is) – and in spite of the tiny disclosure in her profile, there’s nothing in her stream to indicate that she’s not real – other than the fact that her status updates are droll and mechanical.

MARKETING MEDIOCRITY AND CREATIVE ANEMIA

Which raises another question: Is the deployment of fake profiles in Healthcare Marketing even necessary? Marketing not only has to be effective, it also has to be respectable. Why create a fake social object when so much more social capital can be built by simply being honest and truthful and direct? Why not take advantage of direct interaction and feedback?

Marketing in the 21st Century is evolving. The properties of emerging media are different from the properties of the unilateral mass communications media of TV, print and radio. Marketers who fail to understand those differences and invest in the time and resources to acquire the skills and proficiency for remarkable healthcare communications will eventually suffer a creative anemia.

Sara Baker can fool some people and maybe she’ll help her creators deliver some revenues to their clients. But she’s a mediocre and fake substitute for the hard work required to be remarkable in healthcare communications.

Healthcare Marketers: if you want to have a well-paying career in ten years, know that the cost of Dreck is rising. Fakery is Dreck. In today’s world, Dreck isn’t just bad copy or ugly creative design: it’s in poor social design and mediocrity of voice. Do you honestly want your name associated with Dreck?

You can debate and justify the ethics of using the fPatient ad nauseum but you’re better off investing your time in becoming fluent and proficient in conversational media. Otherwise, forget about social media. You still have some time left to benefit from traditional marketing: most of your customers probably aren’t using social media that much right now anyway. But time is running out.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN ePATIENT

The fPatient raises one final point here about labels and it’s very pertinent to the fPatient marketing.

It’s convenient to have a simple label to convey a message and make distinctions. When it comes to health care, however, language matters because how we use words influences how we think and feel and behave.

Let’s take two sentences to illustrate:

  1. “Tom is a schizophrenic.”
  2. “Tom has schizophrenia.”

By referring to Tom as a schizophrenic, his disorder is overlayed on his person. But Tom is a human being who happens to have a brain disorder. Tom isn’t his disorder. Such labeling can potentially influence how providers and others interact with him.

But by saying that Tom has schizophrenia, we are clearer in our language and aren’t confusing Tom with his disorder. Make sense?

So let’s extend this reasoning to ePatient. By referring to patients as ePatients, we encounter a similar problem of confusing the person with an aspect of their behavior.

When we say “Tom is an ePatient” what does that mean to a nurse or a doctor? If Sally is also an ePatient, does that mean a nurse should treat Tom and Sally the same with regard to their ePatiency (how’s that for a neologism)?

For when it comes to Tom’s and Sally’s use of online media and the way they speak for themselves, they can have different empowerment styles:

  1. “Tom uses various social media to acquire health care information and communicate with his providers.”
  2. “Sally scours PubMed for her healthcare information, prefers to communicate face-to-face with her providers and actively participates in online diabetes forums.”

That added layer of information is more useful to a provider: she has a better understanding of her patient’s behaviors.

How much value is there in telling a nurse or a doctor that Tom and Sally are ePatients? Perhaps some. But ultimately, providers need to know the specific and relevant characteristics of their patients. A general label probably doesn’t help much.

I’m glad that there are movements like the ePatient movement to raise awareness of the need for empowering patients. Patient empowerment is vital to health care. Responsible providers understand this.

But if words become objects in themselves and result in a new filing system, then they lose their value. Healthcare Marketers need to understand this.

WRAP UP

As I said earlier: Marketing not only has to be effective: it has to be respectable.

When it comes to healthcare communications and marketing, anything less than professionalism and excellence and clarity is Dreck. Not only is it Dreck, it can be harmful: the farther away healthcare communicators are from patients, the easier it is to lose sight of the impact of their messages.

Language matters – no less in health care. Usurping words just because they’re in style may have some effect but in the long-run, marketing and communications require innovation and creativity, clarity and honesty.

Too often, Marketers opt for what appears to be the easy road. But in a world where people can talk back and retweet and take snapshots of your work, going down the easy road may turn out to be a nightmare journey.

If you use fakery to get your message out, don’t be surprised if your message gets drowned out by the sound of your competitor’s fans who adore and respect the real patients who love their products and services.

Let’s hear your thoughts!

Note: upcoming post will be on the uPatient: the Unempowered Patient. We need to have that conversation: there are more unempowered than empowered people in the world.

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Facebook’s Hidden Hate Button – h8

Perhaps the saddest thing about Facebook (note: I do think there are good things) is that most users seem utterly unaware of the way Facebook is changing things; unaware of FB’s ever-changing Privacy settings; little idea about how expansive the recent f8 announcements could be (in fact I’d say a huge percentage of users don’t even know what the heck f8 is or what its impact may have); and perhaps wholly unprepared when their profiles and their data are streaming out in the open publicly.

Most users are using Facebook strictly to post pictures and update their status in the literal way in which Facebook was designed – no sense of re-purposing the software in broader ways. On one hand, it’s great that we can all share our experiences with each other; on the other hand it’s worrying that more users aren’t educated enough about the fundamental nature of these media to make smart connections back to their own lives.

Furthermore, if Facebook becomes the primary place where people congregate, purchase, publish and share, it will become imensely important that users are proficient and savvy and creative in using it *for* their interests as citizens and not against them.

The smallest tweaks in any software can have major implications in their use. Imagine if Facebook had a Hate button. I agree with Scoble: I hope we never see something like that. …But I have a feeling, there’s a Hate button hidden deep within our collective social experience and dynamics just waiting to surface its ugly head in the not-too-distant future.

I hope Facebook’s Fate (f8) isn’t Hate (h8).

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