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Inside Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s brand new internal comms platform

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On this episode of Culture, Comms, and Cocktails, we have Lori Stewart, Senior Consultant for Internal Communications at The OSU Wexner Medical Center.

Culture, Comms, & Cocktails is internal comms served straight up, so settle in, drink in the knowledge. Some shaken, some stirred, and maybe even some with a twist, and enjoy the top shelf guest I have lined up for you. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, Senior Strategic Advisor at SocialChorus. On this episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, we have Lori Stewart, Senior Consultant for Internal Communications at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

As central Ohio’s only academic medical center, the OSU Wexner Medical Center emphasizes learning, development and innovation in order to offer the very best in personalized care to over 1.7 million patients each year.

Our process, before [our platform] Healthbeat Hub, it was very labor intensive and time-consuming to pool these newsletters together. And now having a tool like SocialChorus that builds them for you on a regular basis has just created all kinds of time to be able to focus more on the content and the strategy around our communications and less on tactically building them.

Culture, Comms, & Cocktails Episode #37 Transcript

Chuck Gose: Hello everyone. This is Culture, Comms and Cocktails, the podcast with internal comms served straight up. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, senior strategic advisor at SocialChorus. And so thrilled to have joining us today, Lori Stewart, senior consultant for internal communications at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Welcome to the podcast, Lori.

Lori Stewart: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Chuck Gose: So let’s get started here with it. And first and foremost, Lori, where does this podcast find you today, and how are you and your family doing during this pandemic?

Lori Stewart: So I’m at home today in my home office that I had been occupying since March, and we’re consciously optimistic with COVID. So this is our first day of school, so we’ll see how it goes.

Chuck Gose: Yeah, that is a stressful time. My kids have been in school now for a little while and every day it’s see what happens, basically, with COVID news.

Lori Stewart: Right, right. Just make the best of it.

Chuck Gose: And full transparency, everybody listening to the podcast. So I had the privilege of getting to work with you and your team this past spring on the launch of HealthBeat Hub, which we will talk about a little bit later on in the podcast. But I think it’s also interesting, Lori, for communicators listening to hear about your career at Ohio State University. You’ve now been there essentially your entire career in communications, which is remarkable. So congratulations for that. What has kept you at Ohio State?

Lori Stewart: Well, thank you, Chuck. It’s very exciting to have been able to have my career here, so far for now 26 years. I think it’s very easy. It’s the people. I work with a great team of people. I’ve had wonderful leaders that have mentored me. And as the organization’s grown, the professional opportunities have grown right along with that. So every time I started to feel like I was ready for something new, an opportunity would present itself and I was able to take on a new role. But it’s definitely the people.

Chuck Gose: And I think back to, so I got to spend some time with you and some of those people that you’re talking about this past spring. I got to come on site there to the facility a couple of times. And it was January and March we were there. And no pressure, Lori, but the team of communicators at Ohio State, you guys were the last group I got to spend time with before this pandemic hit and everything. And it’s so funny to think back to those moments when we were together, Lori, that the news had really started coming out. Obviously people were well aware of coronavirus, but we were just learning about it. And being on site there, it was more of, “Oh, let’s just not shake hands and let’s wash our hands and use hand sanitizer.” And that was essentially it. And then within a week later everything had changed.

Chuck Gose: So it was so great to get to spend the time with you and the team, but man, I would have spent time with probably dozens of comms team. So I’m still hanging onto that visit, Lori, with you and the team there. But while we were on site, we got to help you launch HealthBeat Hub, which was Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s brand new internal comms platform. So for those that haven’t started or launched a brand new tool, what was that like? Was it scary? Was it exciting? Getting HealthBeat Hub out there.

Lori Stewart: It was scary, but it was also exciting and it still is exciting. It’s exciting to be able to provide a platform for our faculty and staff that gives them everything that they’ve been asking for. They’ve wanted a modern look and feel. They’ve wanted to be able to subscribe to content. They’ve wanted content on a mobile device. And with HealthBeat Hub and SocialChorus we’ve been able to give them that. So it was very exciting. And we continue to grow and we continue to add more channels every day. So to know that people are appreciating the platform and what it provides for them has been very exciting. But also scary that we’ve launched it in the midst of a pandemic, not something I would recommend. Pandemic definitely took away the excitement of the platform, but it was a great tool to have in the midst of the crisis.

Chuck Gose: That’s what I thought, was one thing that was great about working with you and the team there, is when we made all of our plans and promotional efforts, we were not thinking that a pandemic would have been part of the conversation. And here it was, the pandemic was right in the middle of the launch plan. So what was it that encouraged the team to say, “Nope. Rather than put this on hold, it is important that we get this out and in the hands of our employees.”

Lori Stewart: Right. So we were launching with the mobile platform as well as the internet web experience. There was great concern in launching the web experience in the midst of the pandemic, because we didn’t want to disrupt faculty and staff workflow to a point where it would have been a negative. But the mobile device provided us an opportunity to have another way for faculty and staff to get this important information. So our leadership really valued that we have that tool available to us and we were built and ready to go.

Lori Stewart: So we did still launch the mobile device. It was great being able to send out push notifications when needed. For example, we changed our ambulatory visitation policy and we put that on our COVID channel, and then we sent a push notification to all the faculty and staff who worked within an ambulatory setting to make them aware of this new policy. And then the day the policy, when it went into effect, we actually sent another push notification to remind them that now this policy is in effect. So I was very grateful that our leadership valued the tool as much as I did, and we were able to provide that resource.

Chuck Gose: And so obviously before you launched HealthBeat Hub, you were still communicating with employees there at the medical center. So what did the communication look like before? And then what has changed now? Even beyond the mobile experience you talked about and then the web experience, which you had an internet before. What did that comms look like before compared to now?

Lori Stewart: So before, we had multiple audience specific newsletters. We also have a daily newsletter that goes to all faculty and staff. And we had our internet site that had audience-specific landing pages with news on those landing pages that was specific to those audiences as well. So with SocialChorus, what we’ve been able to do is there are still some email communications that are going out, but we’re really trying to put all our content on Hub and the appropriate channel and then send a push notification as needed. But what it’s done for faculty and staff is it’s made their landing page the kind of news that they want to receive. So it’s not what we’re force feeding them. It’s what they want to see, and that’s what they’re subscribing to. So I love that they’re going to get what they want with their content.

Chuck Gose: Now thinking back to going through things like push notifications, for some internal communicators that’s a new territory for them. And pun intended, they worry about being a little too pushy with push notifications. What has the response been from employees about you using push notifications to drive them to that important content?

Lori Stewart: So we’re still learning with our push notifications and not wanting to overspend to a point where they would turn them off, but trying to also get away from only sending them in the case of a crisis or for breaking news. From a communicator standpoint, they’ve been grateful to have an opportunity to target a specific audience. And our frontline faculty and staff who’ve received them has been grateful for the reminders that we were able to send during COVID. They knew that they had the most recent information at their fingertips.

Chuck Gose: And you have such a diverse population. And I think anybody in healthcare empathizes with this. But I think sometimes outside of healthcare, they don’t realize how diverse. So how are you segmenting your audiences and segmenting your communications so that people are seeing the content that’s most important to them based on where they work, how they work and the jobs they do there at Ohio State?

Lori Stewart: So we started with channels that are relevant to somebody’s role in the organization. And so we built those channels and we targeted them to the audiences based on their job codes. So we have a position channel, we have a nursing channel, we have allied med. So they’re getting that content served directly to them based on the role in the organization. We also have content that we’ve built that’s around pride and awards and people stories, and traffic and parking and news around how to get around the organization and the campus. So those are channels that people are more able to subscribe to because they may or may not be on campus and need to have that parking information available to them.

Lori Stewart: And then we’re also in the process now of creating more department and unit specific channels. So nursing units being able to communicate with each other. Somebody could post that they might not be able to attend work that night, and, is there anybody that wants to pick up a shift. So being able to get some more unit-specific communications out there in those channels is going to be great. It’s going to be great. And those nursing units are already emailing and asking, “Oh, I heard we can have a channel. How do we go about doing that?” So we haven’t even promoted yet that you can have your own channel and people are already asking.

Chuck Gose: So obviously having visited, I know firsthand how important the parking information is and the shuttle information and all of that to employees. But how are you now thinking about handling those requests for those individual departments or units who do want their own channels? Because that’s about making it theirs.

Lori Stewart: Right, right. So right now we do have a channel request form, an electronic document that people can submit. It goes to our steering committee so that we can just make sure that the goal of the channel actually meets within our guidelines. If somebody wants to channel just to have a channel so their news doesn’t get lost in everybody else’s, that’s not a real goal around your channel, it needs to be collaborative. So the steering committee then reviews that. But we very well could get to the place where we have hundreds of channels. And we’re okay with that if it makes the content relevant to the end users and it helps them to engage with others and engage with the organization. So we’re hopeful that as our team comes out of COVID, there’s always going to be COVID communications, but when that hit it was all hands on deck COVID. But we’re really hopeful as more communicators come on board within SocialChorus and HealthBeat Hub that we’ll be able to spread the wealth of helping to create those new channels and new groups so we can target the information.

Chuck Gose: Yeah. I’m working with a new healthcare client and we were going through their channel strategies, much like we did with your team back in January and February. And they had the hope that as of June next year, none of us will need a COVID channel or coronavirus channel. So that’s our hope out there that that happens. I want to jump back to another important audience at Ohio State, Lori, which is leadership. You have a highly engaged CEO, Dr. Paz, who’s there. So how has Dr. Paz and other leaders engaged with and participated in The Hub?

Lori Stewart: So Dr. Paz has his own channel where he shares information about his week or meetings that he’s been in. He has a daily email and he’s got a weekly email that he also sends out that he’s been including in his channel. So he’s definitely an advocate of the platform. We also have other leaders in the organization that we’re creating their business unit specific channels. They are very excited to get out there with their own messaging and how to help their faculty and staff with achieving goals within an organization, recognizing others. Our chief nursing executive was also very involved with posting content and videos directly into the nursing channel. So I’m really excited. I’m glad we have a channel where we can communicate to our leaders, but I’m really excited for our senior level executive leaders to really get more hands-on, and they’re excited for that too.

Chuck Gose: And thinking back to the experience for the communications team and looking back at how the organization communicated before and is now communicating, there’s a lot of efficiency that’s been created. How has the team benefited from this efficiency? Instead of posting the same information in a lot of places, now just posting it in one, how has that team benefited?

Lori Stewart: It’s been great. With the found resources that we now have because of being able to streamline our newsletter process. So even just the newsletters, you set it and forget it, and that’s become the new tagline within our department as well. To be able to take a channel and post content to that channel, and also be able to push it out to people with push notification, but then also to have a newsletter that sets up itself every week or whatever frequency we would set for it. Our current process, before Hub, it was very labor intensive and time-consuming to pool these newsletters together. And now having a tool that builds them for you on a regular basis has just created all kinds of time to be able to focus more on the content and the strategy around our communications and less on tactically building them. So the newsletter efficiency has been my favorite feature.

Chuck Gose: And communicators love great content. We’ve talked about the tools that have been out there and some of the structure that have been put in place. Well, let’s talk about some of the content that you’ve seen come into The Hub, either that your team has created or has come from employees there at Ohio State. What have been some of those highlights or pieces of content that you really remember? Really not even pre-pandemic, because we were still in the piloting and rollout phase. So what does that content look like in the pandemic and what’s been some of your favorite stuff?

Lori Stewart: I would have to say my favorite content by far is the six word story series that we launched. And it was all around a day in your life. And we had a channel, a day in your life, and we wanted faculty and staff to tell us their day in the life in six words. So they wrote it down and they took a picture of themselves and then they loaded it onto Hub in the day in the life channel. And it was so much fun, truly, to be able to see the creativity that others had in their six word stories. From somebody announcing the birth of a child, and that with COVID life doesn’t stop. Somebody else announced that they survived COVID and adopted Leo, their new cat. It was very nice to see how people were still being able to live their day-to-day life. All of our clinicians were posting about how they were still here to help save lives. And while you’re staying home to protect us, we’re here to help protect you.

Lori Stewart: So it was just very heartwarming to be able to see that what they shared and that they were willing to share it. We had over 300 six word stories that came in, and so that was great. We’ve also had people that during COVID, they were sharing words of thanks for faculty and staff, but also words of thanks from the community. And to be able to see how the community was recognizing our healthcare heroes and how our colleagues were recognizing each other for the things that they were doing. It’s stuff that they do every day, but they don’t always get recognized for that great work. So that was very heartwarming as well, to see everybody come together and support each other during such a difficult time.

Chuck Gose: Yeah, that’s the good gooey stuff. That’s the employee submitted content that I love to hear about, where people do feel empowered to share what’s made an impact on them or something they’re proud of. I know as I had, myself, we adopted a dog during the pandemic. So you see things like that where people have their personal lives, and because we’re now spending so much more time at home, they’re that greater blend between home and work. We’ve never seen such a occurrence before. But then I think that example you shared, of employees recognizing employees and saying things, and also from that community side, that’s the good stuff that can come out of a pandemic. And it’s so easy to focus on what we’re all missing out on, especially as this has lingered on, I think longer than a lot of us hoped would happened. To allow people to and encourage them to focus on the positives in all this I would think would only have to help other employees want to share the same things there.

Lori Stewart: Right, right. Well, we just launched why it matters as another series. So we had a channel called why it matters, and that’s where we had patients really sharing videos of themselves when they were grateful for their own patient experience. But now we’ve turned it around and we’ve asked faculty and staff to share with us why it matters, why what you do matters every day. And within hours, we already had a story that somebody had shared. So I’m very excited to see what will still have to come with that kind of content coming in.

Chuck Gose: Well, Lori, after getting to spend all that time with you and the team there at Ohio State, I’m not surprised by your success of The Hub. I was anticipating this success and want to congratulate you on doing a great job of leading this team through this project during a very difficult time. When launching a new internal comms platform was not the only thing you had to do during this time, you obviously had other work responsibilities and we were all still stuck at home with those distractions. So again, thank you Lori for all the work you’ve done at Ohio State and building The Hub. I know all those thousands of employees are out there reaping the rewards of it. The podcast is called Culture, Comms and Cocktails, Lori. So hopefully during this pandemic, you’ve been able to enjoy a cocktail or two during this. So for the listeners out there, share with us what your favorite cocktail is and perhaps where are the best places to get that cocktail.

Lori Stewart: Well, I would have to say I love my margaritas, and I get those at La Fogata Grill, a local place right here in Pickerington. But my margarita would be my favorite.

Chuck Gose: And I don’t think this podcast would be complete, Lori, unless we ended it with an O-H…

Lori Stewart: I-O.

Chuck Gose: Thank you, Lori.

Lori Stewart: Thanks, Chuck.

Chuck Gose: If you enjoyed what you heard from this episode and want to check out others, find Culture, Comms and Cocktails on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen. And when you do, hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss any future episodes. This has been Culture, Comms and Cocktails, internal comms served straight up. Thanks for listening.

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Maggie Prince-Lubawy

Maggie Prince-Lubawy

Maggie leads field marketing at SocialChorus. She has lived in San Francisco for 5 years and is native to Northern CA. When she is not planning events or traveling, she is finding the next best recipe to try and curling up with her dog and favorite book at that moment.

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