Blogwell Conference – Kaiser Permanente’s Case Study

If nothing else, the Blogwell conference was one of those rare occasions when case studies are presented clearly and without hype. All of the presenters were focused on making a difference with their respective constituents.

Hilary Weber, Kaiser Permanente’s Director of Internet Marketing Services presented Kaiser Permanente’s social media strategies and tactics. Kaiser Permanente (KP) is one of the largest health care providers in the country with over 8 million members. They have an ongoing need to communicate with their constituency, but since they are in a very highly regulated industry, they have to choose their communication themes carefully.

For example, HIPPA regulations restrict them from revealing patient information. Another example they cited referred to suicidal postings on a member forum. If they are aware of it, they have to respond to it. Obviously the selection of the topics they blog about has to be done carefully.

That’s why much of their work online reinforces brand awareness rather than engagement in all of the issues that concern their community. Their experience with blogging has taught them several fundamental lessons about making your corporate brand work for you, not against you. They focus on their brand positioning as health advocates – proactively helping people to be as healthy as they can be. In other words, KP helps people to thrive. Lessons learned include:

1) How to begin blogging – Don’t go it alone. Find out who in your industry is blogging and reach out to them to find out what worked and what didn’t work. Don’t re-invent the wheel.

2) Recognize that we’re all in this together and much of it is “uncharted territory.”

3) Start out with a “safe” topic.

4) The best way to get a good resource is to be a good resource. Best practices

A corporate blog is simply another tactic when it comes to brand. KP had an internal homegrown newsletter that evolved into a branded weekly newsletter for members. It was a natural step to change the format to a blog. They’ve found that their best bloggers have the passion, creative talent and motivation to contribute on a regular basis. The very best are true brand advocates.

Know your audience – Much of KP’s view of social media is influenced by Charlene Li’s book, Groundswell. KP’s member research identified what their members do while online. They found that most users are viewers, collectors and critics. That lead them to create a mini site that satisfied their member’s need to view, collect and critique. The mini site is a hub for interactive components such as the Burn It Off fitness calculator. The calculator allows you to figure out how long it takes to burn off calories from the snacks you’ve consumed.

Contrast that with another idea, a recipe contest. KP found that the contest does not align well with user behavior because it takes too long. It was simply too much work for their members and they had very little uptake on the contest. On the other hand, an interactive poll saw lots of user attention because it meshed with their audience’s penchant for critiquing.

KP’s recently been working on sonic branding as a part of branded music initiative. Making the music available to the members satisfied another favorite user activity, collecting. KP does a similar thing with video files on their mini-site because it plugs into the desire to view. Future ideas include a daily brain teaser (for seniors), daily office yoga pose, more polls and a suite of blogs.

Their media relations team monitors blogosphere sentiment weekly. They note positive, neutral and negative sentiment that is relevant to their brand. They have guest bloggers posting on various sites to counter inaccuracies.

Their current focus is building an internal social networking capability using Jive Clearspace. That should prove interesting. That will be nothing short of a massive change management project for their organization. Maybe we’ll hear more at the next Blogwell event.


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