Happy Birthday to the NHS!

As a team here at Helpful, we’ve got our share of personal connections to the NHS at painful and joyful moments in our own lives. So as the NHS turns 70 this week, we’ve been looking back at some of the NHS projects we’ve done in our eight years working with the NHS and related organisations.

Back in 2012-13, reforms to the health and care system were becoming real, with the formation of NHS England. Our work with the Department of Health to shift the organisation off an exorbitant enterprise content management system and onto something more flexible meant NHS England’s first steps online were on a WordPress platform, ‘HealthPress’:

WordPress also proved to be a great platform for St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. In 2013, we worked together with their in-house team to build a bright, engaging, mobile-friendly site (unusual at the time!) to help St George’s meet the needs of patients more effectively, while also telling its amazing stories. Now, you can find more about their work on Channel 4’s award-winning ’24 Hours in A&E’.

For the last few years, the media has questioned the NHS’ ability to cope with winter flu cases or cyber attacks. While so far, disaster has fortunately been averted, we’ve played our part in bringing health organisations together to build connections and understanding through simulating crisis situations on our training platform. While rehearsing comms plans was useful in itself, as Susy from the Department of Health put it in her reflective blog post:

“I also learnt a lot from watching colleagues in action who I don’t normally sit with – watching lines to take being written and agreed in seconds, when I was still trying to get my head around the situation, was pretty impressive. Although it wasn’t our main objective, the afternoon was a great team builder.”

The NHS has had its failures and tragedies too, and there’s a role for frank, open digital communication about what’s gone wrong and how to put it right. We helped the Department of Health publish the response to the Francis Inquiry into deaths at Mid-Staffordshire Hospital, using digital tools to make the Government’s response easier to access by theme or audience, while policy civil servants blogged frankly about the challenges involved.


More recently, we’ve helped NHS organisations in London to do more with less while continuing to be creative online. We’ve helped NHS Go to evaluate and improve their social media activity. Our work with the Healthy London Partnership has grown from a pledge site, to a resource library for local campaigners on the the issue of childhood obesity, to a low-cost hub for the programme’s resources and toolkits, saving the NHS thousands on creating separate microsites and supporting the Mayor’s agenda to tackle the big causes of ill-health in the capital.

In the last 12 months, I’ve been back to my home town of Hastings to work with the East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, as they replaced a creaking website and extranet with a new, user-centred approach. We’ve loved testing with users to ensure the site works intuitively on different devices and with different levels of experience.

Testing with users – under the watchful (and slightly disturbing) gaze of medical training dummies

It’s been particularly rewarding to work with a smart and confident comms team, who aren’t afraid to be creative with the tools we give them – like this simple animation showing the Trust’s incredible progress from a damning CQC inspection, to top marks in recent reports. The Health Secretary is impressed (with their progress – but we reckon he’d like the website too).

I’ve found it fascinating to work with our NHS clients and see the pace of change in digital communication over the last eight years – it’s hard to remember at times how dangerous social media – or how expensive web publishing – was perceived to be back then.

There’s been big progress made in communicating confidently and practically online, and we’re thrilled to have been a tiny part of it.

Happy Birthday NHS – and don’t eat too much cake.

#nhsgetsocial and the power of networked learning

Screenshot from Simplur website analysis of Twitter engagement for the #NHSgetsocial learning event
Screenshot from Simplur website analysis of Twitter engagement for the #NHSgetsocial learning event

I was in Leeds this week, meeting NHS staff who want to find out more about how to start, or develop, their use of social media.

You can read about all the different talks and learning sessions on the hashtag: #nhsgetsocial

The stand-out theme for me was about the importance of empowering staff to use social media. Not just so that they can say nice things about their organisation and spread corporate messages. Rather, that they can learn and network with peers, share ideas and information, and even help to recruit colleagues.

Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge use LinkedIn to target their recruitment efforts towards recent graduates and local healthcare workers. Staff on Facebook spread the word about vacancies among their friends.

This sort of activity helps to set the tone for an organisation too. An organisation that uses social media for recruitment in a considered way (rather than simply buying lots of advertising) is likely to be a place with a more mature understanding of staff and their online networks, I reckon.

Everyone I spoke to at the conference was there because they’d heard about it through their social networks, or because they had been identified as someone within their organisation who is interested in digital. When you gather a room full of curious, enthusiastic volunteers, energy levels are high.

Staff who use social media are generally the most curious, well read and networked individuals. This shows when you bring together a conference covering a big topic, for people who work for the world’s fifth largest employer.


Why you should always listen carefully on social media

Listen by Ky licensed by CC By 2.0

Listen by Ky licensed by CC By 2.0

One of the key aims of the Digital Action Plan is to broaden participants experience of digital tools, and the many ways they can be used. Social media is so much more than just broadcasting messages. As the name implies social media should be social and involve engaging, debating, and listening.

You can learn a lot from searching for your organisation and keywords for your area of work. Social media can be incredibly useful for finding out how people view a certain topic and what myths are circulating, helping you to shape your content in response.

Listening beyond notifications

Good digital search skills are vital. It isn’t enough to rely on notifications for comments made directly to your social media accounts as you’ll end up missing posts such as this one (mentioning the organisation but not using their Twitter handle), and lose the opportunity to reply, correct, or take conversations offline to be resolved.

West Jet are just one of many companies who search for mentions of their company name, hashtag, and issues affecting their business. They can then use the results as an opportunity to talk directly to their customers:

Listening for impact

Taking social listening a step further, some organisations are using the content people post on their personal social media channels to capture data about the impact their work is having and identify potential problems or concerns early on.

Earlier this year, The Food Standards Agency blogged about their partnership work with NHS Choices to analyse comments made on Twitter to predict norovirus outbreaks.

This example show how effective use of social media can play a central role in achieving the Food Standard’s core objectives on public health.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) are thinking about using social media in a similar way to the Food Standards Agency. Instead of relying on people reporting things to them, the CQC is proposing to actively search for people who are talking about concerns that need monitoring.

The importance of social media listened is underlined by its use in responses to emergencies around the world. For a good round-up of how established this has become, check out this NextGov article on social media listening in emergency responses.

Have you seen any good examples of social media listening?

There is so much content out there, finding ways to search for the content that is useful and can help with your organisation’s goals and priorities is incredibly useful. What could you find out from social listening?
Does your organisation do social media listening well? What other examples of social media listening have caught your eye? Please let us know by tweeting us @helpfuldigital or dropping us a line.