Social Media Health Network

Bringing the Social Media Revolution to Health Care

The Importance of Being Nimble

Posted on July 24th, 2010 by Admin

One major benefit of social media tools is that they allow you to publish quickly. One early case in which this feature of social media helped Mayo Clinic communicate more effectively involved Victor Montori, M.D., an endocrinologist who now also serves as interim medical director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.

Like many Mayo physicians, Dr. Montori is active in research and regularly has articles and editorials published in major medical journals. I'm part of our media relations team, and a big part of our role is to identify potentially newsworthy journal articles that are about to be published by our researchers, and to spread the word to journalists so they can consider doing stories for the general public.

Our traditional approach was to write news releases summarizing the research during the week or two before articles were scheduled for publication in the journals, and then to distribute them to media organizations at least a day or two before the “embargo” time, which gave reporters time to review the release and the research article, interview our subject expert (and possibly subject experts in the same specialty from other medical centers), and produce their stories.

A news embargo in this context is the time at which the journal article is “officially” published. Scientific journals typically set an embargo time to facilitate orderly and accurate news reporting about research findings. Information about the research can be given to journalists in advance, but not to the general public. This is intended to allow reporters to work on their stories and conduct interviews without having to rush to be first, so they can take more time to hopefully be more accurate and balanced. The embargo helps treat all journalists fairly. When the embargo “lifts” they all can publish their stories simultaneously.

That all works really well when we have enough notice. But what happens if we don’t learn about the paper until the last minute?

On June 3, 2008, at our 9 a.m. daily news meeting, we learned that Dr. Montori had a paper in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, coming off embargo at 3 p.m. that same day.

In the pre-social media era, our options would have been limited. There was no time to write a formal news release and get it through the approval and editing process. When the embargo has lifted, many journalists consider the story “old” news, even if it hasn’t received much coverage.

We had just launched our Mayo Clinic News Blog, however, so we could easily write a brief summary to “pitch” the study. And with a Flip video camera, we also were able to capture a quick interview with Dr. Montori discussing his paper, a video we embedded in the blog post, like this:


We published our post with a password just for journalists by noon, and then our team could start “pitching” the story by sending a link to the post (with the password) to reporters. I used Facebook to send the link and password to Scott Hensley, editor of the Wall Street Journal Health Blog at the time, who passed it to a colleague, Ron Winslow.

This led to not just a post on the Health Blog, but one that included the YouTube version of one of Dr. Montori’s “sound bites.” Readers certainly got more information about the study by having the author of the paper describe the results, and it’s quite likely the story would not have been done if we had not provided these multimedia resources.

When the study came “off embargo” we removed the password protection from the post, which enabled consumers and patients to have access to the same materials we had made available earlier to journalists.

Positive Outcomes:

  • News coverage for a study that otherwise would have gotten less attention.
  • A more in-depth story that included not just the highlighted quotes from Dr. Montori that were chosen by the reporter, but extended video excerpts to provide even more context for the findings.
  • An opportunity for non-journalists to hear from Dr. Montori directly, including a second YouTube video.

Tags: FB, JAMA, Mayo Clinic, News Blog, Victor Montori, Wall Street Journal, YouTube

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