It all started out when Mark Miller, the hospital's director of philanthropic marketing and communication, started a personal account in July to see how it worked.
The hospital has been on Facebook for four years and on Twitter for three years. When Google+ launched, Miller knew the hospital should get involved—even if brand pages weren't allowed in the beginning stages.
"I developed a network of people who care about children's health and hospitals, along with our employees," Miller says.
He posted a mix of personal and work-related material on his page. "When the brand pages were launched, I already was thinking about how we could use the content," Miller says.
When the official account launched Nov. 7 (the first day that brand pages were allowed), Miller already had a handful of blog posts to use, along with pictures to post. Getting content prepared was important, to gain more followers even more quickly. There was no switchover of followers from his personal to brand page. Miller still maintains his personal page.
How the hospital uses Google+
Miller says Google+ is where the hospital puts its "cream of the crop content," such as the story about a boy whose heart was born outside his chest. Another featured article detailed a complicated birth, including a diagram that showed where all 32 specialists were standing in the operating room.
Here is an example of a fundraising-styled post:
"My name is Jaiwen. I'm 12 years old and I have osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. In October of last year, x-rays and an MRI showed that I had a malignant tumor in my leg. I had 10 weeks of chemo and then surgery to remove the tumor. A part of my bone was removed and replaced with a prosthesis, and I'm just getting strong enough to ride my bike again.
"Through it all, the nurses and doctors at Children's National Medical Center have been there for me and my mom. My chemo treatments ended in August. I'm so glad! It's been great to get to go back to school again, and to be at home with my family for the holidays.
"That's my story—I just wanted to share it with you on behalf of all of the other kids in the hospital this holiday season. Thank you for listening, and happy holidays!"
Please consider making a donation to help send more kids home with renewed health and hope. Between now and Dec. 31, your donation will be doubled thanks to a gift from Food Lion. It's easy to make a safe and secure donation at https://secure2.convio.net/chfdc/site/Donation2?df_id=4064&4064.donation=form1&s_src=EOY11_Google_Plus
Miller is excited about Google+'s potential and encourages health care communicators to explore Google+ because it's intuitive.
The hospital's Google+ page has been promoted a little on Twitter and Facebook, but Miller attributes the growth of the social media site to his having been involved early. Miller says the numbers for Google+ aren't as high as for Facebook users, but he says the quality of content is better.
In the future, Miller plans to use "hangouts" more often. "With hangouts, you can do great stuff with timely topics or just say you're going to have a doctor answer questions at a certain time," he says. "You can also make major hospital announcements."
Miller says that using Google+ is like "starting over on Facebook."
"The people who are on Google+ now are the early adopters," Miller says. "So much stuff on Facebook is about games or birthdays. With Google+, you've got a clean slate and user-friendly platform. It's the best new social media platform since Twitter."
5 Google+ tips for hospital communicators
Mark Miller, director of philanthropic marketing and communication at Children's National Medical Center, shared the following advice for hospitals communicators who want to try Google+.
Jessica Levco is co-editor of Ragan's Health Care Communication News, where a version of this story first appeared.
Try it yourself. Use a personal Google+ account to think about how your organization can get the most from its brand page. Connect with people, create "circles," share content, do a "hangout," and post photos. Just like in the early days of Facebook and Twitter, this experience will make you more effective when managing your organization's Google+ page.
Take advantage of "circles." The simple "circle" function in Google+ opens all kinds of possibilities for hospitals—and enables you to provide the right content to the right people. It starts with well-organized circles. Consider organizing people as employees, donors, media, partners, service lines, or anything else that fits your organization.
Don't make it all about you. Ask people what they want and need from you, and let that shape your content. Track what gets the most "shares" and "+1s" to dictate your strategy. Thank people who post comments and share content with you.
Fit Google+ into your overall communications strategy. Google+, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other channels have unique offerings and advantages. You'll be most successful if you make a plan and adapt content for each channel.
Track your results. What kind of content gets the most engagement on your Google+ page, and how does that compare with other channels? On your website and emails, which "share" buttons are used the most? What kinds of people and organizations are circling you—and whom would you like to attract? Learn from your experience, see what others are doing, and keep trying new ideas.