Cleveland Clinic's Eileen Sheil: 5 tips for integrating social media into comms

Patients used to call the customer relations department with a complaint. Today, a single Tweet can influence how the public views your brand - good or bad

Public relations professionals have an increasing responsibility to engage on social media to better reach journalists and the public. Social strategies for media relations efforts can no longer be an afterthought. As media continues to evolve and the majority of people receive their news on their tablet or mobile device, we need to reach audiences where they are getting their news.

Consumers want engagement
Consumers want to be engaged, co-create content, and share experiences. They want to participate with you socially and contribute to the discussion. Messages have to be delivered in a simple, clear way to catch their attention.

Customer complaints rise to a new level
In healthcare, patients used to call the customer relations department with a complaint. Today, a single tweet can influence how the public views your brand—good or bad. Instead of filing a complaint with the ombudsman's office, the customer showcases discontent by streaming live on Facebook to share a bad experience with a broad audience. It creates a requirement for organizations to respond more quickly to avoid embarrassment and retain a happy customer. 

PR pros have to be where the journalists are
PR pros also need to use social media to build engaging relationships with journalists, understand what they write about, and know what resources they need and when. Bloggers and some "citizen journalists" have evolved and developed credibility and have a powerful voice that cannot be ignored.

Recruit the right talent
Recruit top talent, with a variety of experiences and skills, to bring the best to your PR team. Fresh ideas from outside of your industry could prove helpful in a big way. Planning your social strategy for key communications in advance of PR efforts will significantly amplify your results and outcomes.

Have a plan and a strategy
Social media is a tool for PR professionals that is critical for doing their job. A social plan should be integrated and have the right message for the right audience at the right time and place. Social strategies should be seamlessly built into your overarching PR strategies and support your key campaigns, as well. As always, efforts should be measured to be sure your strategy is right and engaging your target audiences to the highest level.

The use of social media needs to have balance in building brand recognition while enhancing and protecting reputation by engaging your audiences, telling stories they want to hear, and feeling a connection to your customer—in our case, our patients. We're in the midst of an information-delivery revolution. Adopting those technologies is essential for public relations.

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications at Cleveland Clinic. She can be reached at

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