It all started when a patient's father sent a private Facebook message to the hospital late one night.
He sent a photo of the hospital's doors with a long message expressing guilt and sorrow for families who have lost children, and for the hospital staff who work to save them every day.
The message was powerful and authentic, and Courtney knew it should be shared with their 151,000+ Facebook community. “It was absolutely beautiful, and we felt like our fans would really appreciate it,” she said.
Courtney and her team quickly got consent from the father to share his message.
The team requested permission to share his post. “We went through a pretty formal consenting process that we've worked through with our legal and risk teams,” said Courtney.
Courtney and her team got the father's consent within just a few hours, and after a couple of days (they waited for a few previously scheduled things to get published), they shared the post on Facebook, only adding a small note at the beginning.
“We didn't wait, we didn't turn it into a video. We didn't go and repaint the doors. There was nothing that we were going to do to change the story. It was perfect as is,” she said.
The team wanted the post and its story to stand on their own.
The team posted the message on a Sunday and when they saw the engagement it was receiving, they chose to avoid scheduling anything on the page for Monday so the post could run its course and continue to resonate with their audience.
“But we were back in action on Tuesday,” Courtney said. “Typically, we do one or two posts a day, and between three and five pictures a week. And that week it probably was just three or four pictures instead of five — so it didn't really take away too much.”
That strategy paid off — the post received unprecedented engagement.
For reference, Courtney explained, “Typically we find a picture is worth about 3,000 points, and we have a couple really good ones every single month that are about 7,000 to 9,000 points — this post had over 62,000 points.”
While they've had a few viral posts in the past, this post received double the engagement of the hospital's second highest performing post.
Courtney's team did minimal moderation so commenters' stories could speak for themselves.
The doors featured in the photo are not the hospital's front doors — they are the doors at the patient and family parking garage entrance. So, the families who are familiar with them tend to be the ones who have spent the most time at the hospital.
The comments the post was receiving were deeply personal and, in many cases, full of sorrow and grief. Because of their sensitive nature, she wanted the comments to happen organically.
The post created a space for a diverse crowd to share their stories and build each other up. Courtney said, “Nobody was scared to share their stories and this was the community we built. Everyone was there to cheer each other on and be there for each other. If we had intervened, a lot of these really deep moments might not have come up.”
To the team's surprise, when local news outlets picked up the story, they not only spotlighted the father who wrote the message, but the hospital's Facebook page as well.
The post was featured in a front-page story on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which linked directly to the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin Facebook page. Outlets like Fox News and CNN, and Facebook pages like Love What Matters also picked up the story.
The post itself received a massive amount of engagement, garnering hundreds of thousands of engaged users. But the hospital also saw a drastic uptick in followers.
“We typically average around 20 new followers a day. After the post, we saw anywhere from 70 to 146 on any given day,” Courtney shared.
Courtney said the sheer volume of comments and messages created the biggest challenge for her small team. With just two people working to monitor the post and the private messages they were receiving about it, it was difficult to stay on top of the day-to-day work. But, Courtney said, “We worked so hard and we were so excited at the time, it was like we weren't even working.”
For Courtney, the success of the post was really all about the team's ability to tell stories effectively.
And while many viral posts tend to attract some kind of negative attention, Courtney said they were lucky to not experience that. “Most of the time, when you have those really good stories, there's still one bad egg. But in this case, everything about it was positive.”
Viral posts may be impossible to plan or replicate, but Courtney and her team know the secret behind this one's success.
“Everybody wants one of these once a week if you can, but that's not the way it happens. In this case, this one fell right into our laps,” Courtney said.
She explains that the hospital's online community is the reason for the post's massive success. “We've built a community on Facebook of engaged patients and families — people who really care about us, and care about the work that we're doing, and care about really cheering other people on,” she said. “We just need to keep providing excellent customer service, saving lives, and doing the amazing things our staff does.”
For Courtney, this experience proves how important social media can be. She said, “Every day brings new challenges and more exciting things, and this is a perfect example of success. But this is also why I do what I do — the power of social media is incredible and so rewarding.”