PR Flubs, Missed Opportunities, and the Human Touch

Did HMA miss a PR opportunity by not having a presence on social media?
Image from Flickr: Some rights reserved by nffcnnr

If you haven’t heard of Health Management Associates (HMA), that’s ok, few would probably know who they are. That is unless you watched the 60 Minutes segment this past Sunday on how they are allegedly encouraging administrators and physicians at hospitals they own to admit as many patients as possible, in order to boost profits. The public company, headquartered in Naples, FL and whose shares are traded on the NYSE, “through its subsidiaries owns and operates (15) general acute care hospitals and other health care facilities in non-urban communities, as reported on their Wall Street Journal company profile.

If you did see the segment and immediately wondered about a company response to the allegations, then one of your first instincts may have been to see what it was, and maybe (like me) you hopped on Facebook to see what they were posting, damage control, community engagement, etc. Here is a $5.1 billion company I thought, with a gigantic network and hundreds of thousands of patients moving in and out of their facilities every year. Surely they are on social media by now, taking advantages of its potential to reach out, interact, inform, and entertain their community. Instead, I found nothing. No social media presence at all. Zip.

If you click around their Web site it looks clean, informative, professional, and…missing something. The absence of social media channels for a company who clearly now has a crisis on their hands makes you wonder why they decided to forgo participation when the channel could have served them well in the wake of the 60 Minutes report. Not to mention the sub-conscious consumer brand image positives that can come over time from building, cultivating, and leveraging a community through social media. That also would have made an otherwise sticky crisis for HMA a little easier to bear because the community may feel a deeper connection with them and may be less susceptible to judge before hearing the official company response.

Their response includes videos from the CEO and other employees, but up until Monday afternoon when I finished this post after starting it shortly after the 60 Minutes segment aired, the only video they had posted was the third party auditors (Opera Solutions) showing charts and graphs and talking about the hospitals admission rates being in line with the national norm. In the lightning quick world of social media changing consumer perception, that seems like light years for a well calibrated crisis response team but recognition does go to HMA for choosing a human face to explain the importance of their focus on patient care and defending policies on admission rates.

HMA is a reputable, respectable, important company for healthcare. Considering that every company has the right to defend itself in the face of media allegations, could they have been better served by offering more than their videos and a short public letter? Meaning, if they had built a community through social media channels, would this be an opportune time to turn to them and ask their opinion, run a poll, or offer yet another medium to engage? Isn’t the appropriate human touch crisis response in today’s modern world more than a few scripted videos and a short note considering the severity of the allegations?

What are your thoughts on HMA?

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