For Julianne Bardele — as the Content and Social Media Manager at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago — patient stories are a huge part of their social strategy.
As both a children’s hospital and a hospital of their size, Julianne says Lurie Children’s is constantly looking for patient stories from their different priority divisions and specialty programs to align with their corporate goals and spotlight the hospital’s incredible patient-families and staff across Lurie Children’s social channels.
For the past 10 years, Julianne has worked to build their program from the ground up as a team of one.
After creating Lurie Children’s social channels in 2008, Julianne started thinking of ways she could engage staff more with their social channels and as a result build more leads for patient stories.
That simple initiative grew into a long-running series she calls “Foto Friday,” a weekly collection of photos from Lurie Children’s shared on Facebook.
“It has developed a cult following in our hospital,” she says. “Now staff and even patients reach out to me requesting to be part of these photos. It’s been great for employee engagement as well as generating patient story leads.”
Julianne says that initiative has been instrumental in how their program has grown and how they source patient stories.
“Embedding ourselves in the daily running of the hospital and getting our names and faces out there has helped raise awareness with staff about the purpose of my job,” explains Julianne. “We’ve developed very trusted relationships with our staff.”
“Now, because the staff know me — even when they’re not face-to-face with me — they’re more inclined to reach out about a staff or patient lead, innovating study or procedure, or an event happening at Lurie Children’s,” says Julianne.
To maintain the strength of that communication channel, even though she isn’t stationed in the hospital, Julianne says she makes a point to be there a few times a week so people know who she is and what she does.
On her weekly runs, Julianne always makes sure she has a completed, written consent form from a parent or guardian before sharing a story.
The days she’s at the hospital, Julianne always carries a clipboard with copies of their consent form in English and Spanish. “We work closely with our legal and compliance team to make sure that we’re always HIPAA compliant,” says Julianne. “Especially because our patients are minors.”
A few months ago, her connection to their heart staff led to a patient story kicking off and going viral.
“One of our clinical psychologists reached out to me about a patient who was waiting for a heart and wanted to have some fun while in the hospital by producing a video to request a visit from her favorite singer, Drake,” says Julianne. “The patient, Sofia Sanchez, knew that Drake was going to be in town for her birthday weekend so we thought we’d try to get him to come.”
Julianne used her phone to film Sofia asking Drake to visit her, and they pushed the story out on earned media to gauge interest. Then she shared it on their social channels. Once they were sure he was visiting, Julianne and their in-house videographer filmed the surprise. Julianne worked with earned media to get the word out and put together an edited video piece on the visit.
“We shared it on social to create buzz, and it really went viral,” says Julianne. “The fact that she got her heart a week later was just the icing on the cake and kept the story going while it was still top of mind for people.”
According to Julianne, it’s the trusted relationship she’s developed with their staff and physicians that makes these stories possible.
She also emphasizes that the families sharing their stories with them in such an emotional time is both an honor and can have tangible benefits for the patients and hospital.
Sofia’s story wasn’t just about her visit from Drake. It also focused on the importance of organ donation and the expertise of Lurie Children’s Heart Center. “In addition to brand awareness and building reputation, these stories help humanize the hospital experience and potentially help with new patient acquisition or for someone to become an organ donor,” explains Julianne.
Julianne notes that Sofia’s story generated a reach of more than 1.7 billion and all through organic.
She shares that the patient stories can also aid in philanthropic efforts — while building interest in a purely organic way. “Anything that we can do to increase Lurie Children’s visibility on national and international levels is helpful,” Julianne says.
Julianne shares that it’s been exciting to see the program grow during her time there and be able to shape these stories on social.
“When I started my career here in 2006, we were so focused on earned media. Earned media would tell our story for us,” says Julianne.
Last November they hired a “story catcher” to help source patient leads. The position works closely with Julianne. She is hoping this role will allow them to continue to evolve the way they tell stories across their channels.
As for advice on developing a strong patient stories program, Julianne recommends being as visible and present as you can in the hospital.
“I think doing as much as you can to connect to front line staff, get them to trust you, and embed yourself in the hospital so they know who you are is so important,” she says. “Having that face-to-face time with staff and making sure they know they can reach out to you can make all the difference when you rely on them to send patient story leads your way.”
Julianne says that building awareness and respect has been essential in helping her tell these patient stories successfully for the past 13 years.
Julianne Bardele has been a member of SocialMedia.org Health since 2016. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.