RWJBarnabas Health: A story about telling their stories

With the merger of the Barnabas and Robert Wood Johnson health systems in 2016, the questions loomed: What’s the narrative for the newly formed RWJBarnabas Health — now the largest health care system in New Jersey — and what’s the best way to share it?

Key in shaping and marketing that narrative is an unprecedented investment in social media.

Social media gave us the opportunity to introduce RWJBarnabas Health to the world in ways that align with what traditional marketing and earned media can afford and beyond it. Andrew Quinn
Within the system’s new Strategic Marketing and Communications Department, Assistant Vice President of Interactive Services Evelyn Meneghin advocated for that investment. She and Digital Marketing Director Andrew Quinn were charged with developing strategies to market the new entity and brand across digital, including social media. With the goal of defining the health system’s new identity, they decided to leverage social media more and source content creation through brand journalism.

“Social media gave us the opportunity to introduce RWJBarnabas Health to the world in ways that align with what traditional marketing and earned media can afford and beyond it, to highlight all of the people and things that make us RWJBarnabas,” Andrew said.

To execute the organization’s shift toward brand journalism, Evelyn and Andrew assembled an expanded social media team.

Andrew advocated strongly to keep Jason Towlen, a videographer with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJ), the flagship hospital of the former Robert Wood Johnson Health System, on the social team post-merger.

“Jason originally had been hired because he was a seasoned news photographer/videographer whose expertise would add depth to the hospital’s Marketing & Public Relations team,” Andrew said. “After the merger, there was an opportunity for Jason to be reassigned to a new generalist role, but we felt strongly that his skillset and expertise and the consistency of his work were vital to help us successfully tell our story on social.”

Then they handpicked a Social Media Manager that also had career roots in journalism.

Having two seasoned news veterans join the team was essential to achieving and sustaining our new social focus on brand journalism. Andrew Quinn
“I worked with Zenaida Mendez Seman at RWJ, where she managed public relations, internal communications, and social media and was doing an outstanding job growing the hospital’s social presence,” Andrew said. “When the Social Media Manager position opened up, I immediately reached out to her to ask if she’d be interested in joining our team. She leveraged the skills she developed as a reporter to tell RWJ’s story across platforms and audiences, supporting RWJ’s position as a leading health care provider regionally and beyond. Her track record for social growth was second to none in our organization.”

Andrew said he feels very fortunate to have the [super]stars align. “Having two seasoned news veterans join the team was essential to achieving and sustaining our new social focus on brand journalism.”

Together, the team members developed their strategy.

First step: Get buy-in from other departments and leadership. “We have a small team at a massive organization. We knew it would take a village to execute this,” he said. “We cannot work in a silo.”

We have a small team at a massive organization. We knew it would take a village to execute this. Andrew Quinn
To date, the social team participates in biweekly calls with the system’s Marketing and Public Relations leads, listening for stories and potential opportunities to develop content for social. In addition to those roundtable discussions, Andrew’s team creates and shares a system social media calendar that highlights ideas, events, and observances for upcoming months and seeks feedback and other potential content ideas.

“One story leads to another,” Andrew said. “Effectively pursuing this type of strategy comes down to having a good rapport with our colleagues, building relationships, and trusting in them.”

That strategy has paid off, even earning them accolades.

The digital marketing team recently was recognized among the system’s Strategic Marketing & Communications team members for their work on “Coasters for Cancer.” The campaign is a great example of the brand journalism approach, Andrew said.

“In 2019, RWJBarnabas Health and the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey joined forces with Six Flags Great Adventure to fight cancer and celebrate survivorship,” he said. “Together, we unveiled the first roller coaster wrapped in the handprints of cancer survivors and supporters across the system. We developed a video for social around it, showing the process of collecting the handprints, and then we brought in Six Flags and interviewed its reps to get their perspective on why this was important to them and the state of New Jersey. The end result was a truly collaborative effort that resonated with many people.”

They also work closely with stakeholders outside of the organization.

For example, working with their corporate partners — which include the New Jersey Devils and Seton Hall and Rutgers athletics — provide opportunities for great stories, whether it’s a visit to the system’s children’s hospitals or a community event or a fundraiser, Andrew said.

Effectively pursuing this type of strategy comes down to having a good rapport with our colleagues, building relationships, and trusting in them.. Andrew Quinn
Looking ahead, he aims to grow with the system’s evolving narrative, with the team expanding — both in its size and efforts — as the system reaches new milestones.

“RWJBarnabas is growing. Its service lines are growing, and its footprint is growing. And we aim to support new initiatives and added facilities, looking for more opportunities and new ways to tell our story,” said Andrew.

Within the last six months, the team grew with one more addition: Social Media Coordinator.

Ensuring an appropriately staffed bench ready to share RWJBarnabas’ story is increasingly recognized within the organization. Ryan Hansen occupies the Social Media Coordinator role.

And their focus will be to share more of the system’s story on Instagram, which the team has relied upon more and more to execute its brand journalism strategy.

“We’re excited about the possibilities it holds,” Andrew says. “Instagram gives us flexibility and diversity on the same platform, and, ultimately, publishing a variety of content — including longer form video to IGTV — gives us more time to pursue the next story.”

Andrew Quinn has been a member of SocialMedia.org Health since 2018. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.