Community Management in Healthcare


This guest blog is by Lauren Vargas as part of our themed content hosted the first week of each month, with October focusing on healthcare.

You can’t move so fast that you try to change the mores faster than people can accept it. That doesn’t mean you do nothing, but it means that you do the things that need to be done according to priority.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

If you are a military brat like me, you can relate to having an itch every so often in need of scratching. I have always thrived on change and the chance to adapt to new situations. Yet, change is not always welcomed with open arms. Each leap I make is preceded by long hours of analysis and nervous shuffling. In 2009, I turned my life upside down, left a Federal Government job, accepted a position with Radian6, moved across the country, married a man I met on Twitter, and welcomed my second daughter into the world. Change is a habit I just can’t break.

The culture shock of going from the Federal Government to working for a start-up company was extreme. I had to learn how to relax and be less formal in my online interactions. Now, leaving Radian6 to begin a position as a Community Management Strategist for Aetna, I am once again feeling the wave of culture shock wash over me. This time, however, I don’t find myself in the deep end. Prior experiences have prepared me for working in a highly regulated industry. The battle scars obtained by success and failure and the trailblazers already within the company will guide me along this new path.

Perhaps being neck deep in policy and guidelines creation, process mapping, and internal training curriculum development does not sound appealing to the average person, but to me it is a slice of heaven. A successful community team, community manager, or person with community management responsibilities cannot thrive and have successful community engagement without setting a solid foundation for what, when, and why these interactions take place. This is true for any organization, regulated or not. You need a roadmap to prepare your business for what may occur and outline your expectations for what you want from your community managers and community.

The majority of community managers (the good ones) feel very protective of their members. After all, isn’t it our job to set the tone of a comfortable and safe environment for community members to interact with each other? So why wouldn’t you want to make sure guardrails were in place to ensure you kept the heroes of your community in the limelight instead of a communications or privacy scandal that could have been prevented? We have a responsibility to protect the communities we serve, our organizations and ourselves. We have to continuously stay current about issues permeating all of these various environments. Our job is more than a tweet or responding to a Facebook status update. We have to know and understand the context and intent surrounding these conversations across a plethora of social networking and collaboration platforms.

Having a position in a highly regulated industry is not a hindrance. If anything, this job is shaping me to be a better communicator and community organizer because it requires designing, building and flying a plane in the middle of a hurricane…all at one time. Aetna is not tackling social business readiness questioning out of sheer curiosity, but because of a strong desire for preservation of the health and wellness of the communities it serves. After 160 years, this organization knows it cannot “wing” consumer engagement. The company is investing in building a social presence and response because it has seen the great successes of other organizations and learned from those who found the megaphone was not the best approach.

It is because Aetna was asking the right questions and thinking strategically about what was best for the company and the community, that I accepted the position. The opportunity and challenge to foster and nurture communities in such a challenging industry was too much to pass up. Change does not happen overnight. The community manager in a highly regulated industry learns how to establish a sense of urgency and prioritize steps needed to foster the change required for a scalable community management strategy. Take a page from those who are breaking through the red tape. These are the folks setting the foundation and building the scaffolding to weather whatever the future may bring.