Kaiser Permanente 's noble fight and social media

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This is the fourth and final presentation which I have  been able to attend(*) at the blogwell event, which was organised by the blog  council in San Jose, CA on October 28, 2008. After Cisco, Intel, Andy Sernovitz's presentation on disclosure and Wells  Fargo, the fourth presentation was that of Kaiser Permanente. Kaiser Permanente  is a very large organisation, made of 152,000 employees (as of dec 2008). It is a not for profit  organisation in the health sector, and it has 9 million members across the USA.  The history of Kaiser Permanente can be found at (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaiser_Permanente)  Kaiser Permanente was presented by Hilary Weber, who is Kaiser Permanente's Director of Internet Marketing Services, in charge of Internet  and social media within the organisation. Hilary's presentation was entitled  "corporate blogging, working for your brand".

One of the few introductory tips, which were given to  us by Hilary are the following:

  • first, building the right network of  people is what can make your life easier for you to get started with corporate  blogging,
  • second, no one has made it work  entirely, so don't be afraid to get started, and don't be put off by best  practices, however impressive,
  • thirdly, if you want to get started,  start with a "safe" topic will (as opposed to a more dodgy or  controversial topic).

Hilary also recommended the strategic groundswell  blog by Forrester at http://blogs.Forrester.com/groundswell.  The groundswell blog is indeed packed with good advice, and hosts important  editors like Laura Ramos and Josh Bernoff. An account of Josh's report on  corporate blogging is made available on the blog council blog at this address: http://blogcouncil.org/blog/.

According to Hilary, research can help you find out  where the customers are. Kaiser Permanente launched a 4-year campaign, which led  to the creation of: http://kp.org/thrive.  The idea behind that is to spread the word, and provide health advice, and to  make people fitter. As you all know, the question of healthier lifestyles is a  serious issue not only in the United States but across the world. Possibly, the  UK, of all European countries, is one in which obesity is one of the biggest  threats, but strangely enough, one of the most endangered European countries is  one where the so-called Mediterranean diet springs from: Greece. Hilary's role  within Kaiser Permanente, is to use social media to help spread this  information, and she uses such means as the fitness calculator, which is a  widget, which Kaiser Permanente developed in order to help people understand  better what they have to do to improve their health. It must be said that  Hilary is also a vegetarian, so that her fight for healthier lifestyles and  eating more vegetables is not just a daytime job, but a true passion and noble  course (caution: I have nothing against meat eaters, I'm one of them, and  besides I have friends on both sides. I am merely insisting on the need to eat  more vegetables).

One of Kaiser Permanente's initiatives was about  "putting a face on a Doctor". Hilary recruited Doctor Preston Maring  (http://www.permanente.net/homepage/kaiser/pages/c5645-top.html),  a passionate doctor who gave the human touch to this social media initiative of  the not for profit organisation. Doctor Maring is so passionate that Kaiser  Permanente turned his work into a branded newsletter. His day job is as a  physician, but he actually works on the blog to talk about his work and  passion. At the beginning, it wasn't so easy. The first five months he blogged  with comments turned off. Then comments were turned on, as soon as he felt more  comfortable with it. 200,000 unique visitors, according to Hilary's numbers  have actually visited the blog. Real-time polling works well too, and it boosted  the activity on the blog. Hilary also experimented with sound with what she  called "sonic branding", that is to say adding music (Michelle  shocked) to the blog.

But Hilary warns: "there are things that we  won't blog about". For instance, there are regulatory issues such as an  environmental health. Quality of (medical) service is also another no-go area  what with breast cancer, heart health etc. It is not allowed to "let  people give each other advice" (This is a regulatory issue as well).  Hilary set up a Web 2.0 steering committee, and also some sort of internal  Facebook which is a "good way of letting people find each other".

There are more items on Hilary's agenda for the  future: new widgets such as the one about the brain teaser, and planned suite  of blogs (with new doctors), focused on exercising both the mind, body and  spirit. And also more music will be brought in at a later stage.

What I found particularly compelling in Hilary's presentation is the fact that Kaiser Permanente is not just blogging away for blogging sake. They - and Hilary herself - have a vested interest in the noble and just cause that they are defending. As a result, their social media exercise is a lot more credible than if it just were another corporation jumping on the band-waggon. This is rule 6 of my 15 golden rules for Web 2.0.

A few of the questions posed during the Questions and  Answer sessions:

  • environmental issues: Hilary said that  Kaiser Permanente is doing loads of things but that image is a problem;  perception, not being on par with the effort being produced,
  • what kind of approval is required?  Hilary's answers was that it's not a legal problem. It all has to  go through doctors,
  • internal blogs? They helped she  said, but "it hasn't percolated as yet",
  • the fear factor? Hilary's advice is  to find something safe to start with. One has to choose a topic (dairy products  had to be excluded for instance). One also has to find something that resonates  with the public,
  • how do you compare with competition?  On the social media standpoint Hilary describes Kaiser Permanente's experience  as unique.

(*) there were 8 presentations in total at that event,  but they were run in pairs, I was only able to attend 4 of them.  The other 4 presentations were those of the following blog council members:

  • Graco
  • The Home Depot
  • UPS
  • Walmart
Yann Gourvennec

I specialize in information systems, HighTech marketing and Web marketing. I am author and contributor to numerous books and the CEO of Visionary Marketing. As such, I contribute regularly on this blog for Orange Business account on cloud computing and cloud storage topics.