Social media during the COVID-19 pandemic: Kevin Vicker shares Children’s Hospital Colorado’s strategies

There's no playbook for managing social media at a major hospital during a pandemic.

It doesn't have to be just doom and gloom all the time during this. Kevin Vicker
Kevin Vicker, Senior Social Media and Online Reputation Specialist at Children's Hospital Colorado, and his team are still working through some of the challenges that come with this unprecedented situation. So far, they've seen some positive reactions to their efforts on social media. “We're just doing everything we can right now,” said Kevin.

Kevin and his team, like all of us, were thrown into this situation and had to make massive changes to adjust.

“Since we're all working remotely, one of the things I miss the most is being able to walk by someone's desk and have a quick conversation,” he said. “We're adapting to how to still have those discussions.”

He said they've always had weekly meetings for social media editorial planning, but now they're doing daily check-ins as well to talk about different projects that are in progress.

“There's been a huge impact on our content calendar,” said Kevin. “Most of the topics we would normally post about, like celebrity visits and events at the hospital, aren't happening.”

Currently all of the content they're sharing is tied to the coronavirus in some way.

Since we're all working remotely, one of the things I miss the most is being able to walk by someone's desk and have a quick conversation. Kevin Vicker
“For example, we're going to recognize our volunteers on National Volunteer Week, and a lot of those posts will have to reference the fact that our volunteers are not on site anymore,” he said.

Some of their content has also been coming directly from the Hospital's command center, Kevin said. Because so many things are changing so quickly, the team is sharing a lot of announcements and messages regarding those changes.

“When we have updates to our visitor restrictions, which have changed a few times due to the virus, our command center makes those decisions,” he said. “Then they ask us to get the word out on our website and social media channels. Usually we don't have a command center operating 24/7.”

According to Kevin, they need to do their part to keep their community informed throughout the pandemic, but it's also important to show the good things happening, too.

They have resources like an FAQ page that they continue to update, post, and boost posts periodically to ensure the community stays up-to-date on the coronavirus.

“But we also want to make people feel hope and optimism,” he said. “It doesn't have to be just doom and gloom all the time during this.”

The team decided early on to share as much positive, lighthearted content as possible.

We're just doing our part as a healthcare provider in general to keep the public informed. Kevin Vicker
Visitors aren't able to come and go to patient rooms during this time, so some of the Children's Colorado's corporate partners have been sending in video messages for the children, which Kevin and his team are able to share on social media.

“We're also sharing some of the great things the community is doing for our providers as well,” he said. “A lot of hospitals around the country are doing this, but we've had people do sidewalk chalk art around our entire campus with messages of appreciation for our care teams, so they can see it as they're coming or going from work.”

They also make sure to share content that highlights the work their care team does — before and during the pandemic.

“A lot of the amenities and services we have that would normally help make the hospital a better experience for kids can't continue with the social distancing requirements,” he said. “So, we've been putting some of those out on social media as examples of things we try to do for our patients. Even people who aren't here for anything related to the coronavirus are still having a much different experience than they typically would.”

Another key content area is Children's Colorado's Blood Donor Center — one of the first places in the country to be able to take convalescent plasma.

We wanted to touch on the mental health and psychological component of this whole situation. Kevin Vicker
Convalescent plasma is being trialed as a treatment for the coronavirus, so the hospital has begun to get some local and national media attention.

“We're using our social media to amplify the message, because it's important and there's optimism around that potential treatment,” he said. “And we're just doing our part as a healthcare provider in general to keep the public informed.”

Kevin said he's proud of the work they're doing with the Donor Center and the content has been well received.

He explained that early on in the pandemic, they were seeing a lot of people cancelling appointments and not donating blood, so his team worked with them on a message to share on social media.

“We got local media to retweet us and get the word out, and we were able to refill all the appointments that had been lost within a few hours,” he said.

He added the Blood Donor Center typically isn't open on Sundays, but they had so many people wanting to come in and donate convalescent plasma, they opened for Easter Sunday. “The staff volunteered to come in on that day,” he said, “so, that was something we were able to share on social media as well.”

The Blood Donor Center was even able to get former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning to come in to donate blood and help raise awareness.

“We still need people to come in and donate blood, so having a celebrity influencer that we were able to connect with, have come in, and share on social media really helped with that,” said Kevin.

As a children's hospital, they're in a unique position to give focus to what kids might be thinking about during this time, so Kevin and his team created a video to spotlight kids' questions.

The things kids might be asking is definitely different than what adults might be asking. Kevin Vicker
“They're not in school, and they don't get to play with their friends,” he said. “We wanted to touch on the mental health and psychological component of this whole situation.”

To do that, they created a video of a child asking questions to doctors about the virus.

“The things kids might be asking is definitely different than what adults might be asking,” said Kevin. “If kids are asking their parents, the parents might not always know the answers to those questions or how to talk to them about it.”

He said some of the information in the video has become outdated since it was made in early March as so much as changed since then.

“It's a rapidly evolving situation and some of the guidelines we were discussing aren't true now,” he said. So, they're working on gathering more questions from kids to continue sharing up-to-date videos.

The team has made an effort to listen to feedback from their community on the content they're sharing.

We want to have that beacon of hope out there. And there will be more information that we need to share that we can't anticipate. Kevin Vicker
Kevin said they've been guiding their content strategy according to what followers are posting on Children's Colorado's channels — along with their regular metrics.

“Those dialogues are helping guide what content we should or shouldn't be sharing,” he said. “It helps when we're looking at things that maybe aren't directly tied to the coronavirus versus things that are, and it helps us decide if that content is working.”

Moving forward, the team will continue to share positive content across their channels, but they hope to overcome some challenges as well.

“We want to have that beacon of hope out there,” Kevin said. “And there will be more information that we need to share that we can't anticipate.”

He added that fielding questions has been a challenge because they've seen an increase in the number of people contacting the hospital via social media.

We're still changing and pivoting on a day-to-day basis. You need to be open to making adjustments. Kevin Vicker
“We want to coordinate with care teams and track down those answers in a timely fashion,” said Kevin. “It's not something we can plan for, but it's definitely a big part of what we're working on moving forward.”

They're also exploring new ways to share when people donate PPE or food to their providers without overflowing their channels with individual posts for each donation.

Kevin said in the midst of this crisis, it's important to recognize what's urgent and be open to making changes.

“In the beginning, everything felt very urgent,” he said. “We got in that mode, but then as we got a few weeks into this, we started to take a step back and realize that not everything that was coming in needed to be turned around and posted the next day. We have a bit more time to edit things and get approval before posting them.”

He said flexibility and adaptability are key during times like this because even when you feel like you have a plan, something could change at the drop of a hat.

“We're still changing and pivoting on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “You need to be open to making adjustments.”

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