The Healthcare CEO Keeping Things Real On Social Media

This week I have the pleasure of interviewing Janice Kaffer, CEO of Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare (HDGH) in Windsor, Ontario. Janice is very active on social media – especially Twitter – and finds it a great antidote to the ‘CEO bubble’. She’s yet another example of a senior leader embracing digital technology to engage with stakeholders.

The Social C-Suite: Janice, this is a question I ask every CEO I interview: how long have you been using Twitter and why did you originally sign up?

Janina Kaffer: I’ve been using Twitter for a little over three years. I had played around with the platform in the past – I remember sitting in an airport in Halifax, Nova Scotia on my way somewhere with some time on my hands and figured “why not”? … so I created my first account and tweeted something not terribly interesting about the airport – then promptly forgot it. I didn’t really understand Twitter at first and thought it was much ado about nothing – but I think in the early days not everyone did get it.

It’s a very powerful platform for messaging and community engagement and, after that initial false start, I re-engaged after becoming the CEO at HDGH.

What do you get out of Twitter, both personally and as CEO?

Twitter is a fascinating view into the best, the worst and the in-between of digital human connectiveness. I love it to be honest. There are times when I read something on the platform that infuriates me, but overall I learn from the people and organizations that I follow. It is inspiring… for instance the #MeToo movement and the advocacy of the young people in the US following the Parkland Florida school shooting. There’s no better platform in my opinion to really see into the nuances of those movements. The world is watching social change happening right in front of us and if we want to we can actively participate in it.

“Twitter is a fascinating view into the best, the worst and the in-between of digital human connectiveness.”

I’ve made new connections personally and professionally and have been approached by members of my community and developed new relationships in “real life”. I love the humour you can find out there and I really get fired up by the politics of it all. Personally I’m a “political animal” so I follow all parties and many different points of view. The various arguments, links to emerging health evidence, position papers and debates are what keeps me coming back. Personally it feeds my voracious appetite for news and information. I find the speed of it works for me, as does the variety – sometimes it feels like there is too much, so at those times I’ll mute some of the posters. You have to always be aware of the need for a filter – and beware fake news and fake tweets!

How do you think your (and the hospital’s) very visible position on social media helps? I can imagine, as an employee or patient, it makes you and your organization come across as ‘human’.

Our hospital is a post-acute Catholic-sponsored facility with two significant programs/service lines that we provide in our community: Mental Health & Addictions and Restorative/Rehabilitation. In both cases our patient populations can be more frail, vulnerable and in many ways more dependent on the social safety net in our community. So for me and for our @HDGHWindsor social media account it’s a really good vehicle to talk about what we believe, what we care about, what we passionately advocate for that will better our community – and therefore our patients. Twitter in particular is a great platform for positioning the hospital’s and my own personal brand in the areas of social justice and social responsibility (a key value for our organization) because of the political nature of much of the discussion there.

“Twitter is a great platform for positioning the hospital’s and my own personal brand.”

In my own personal case, it’s the real me on Twitter. It’s interesting because when I started using social media more, it was shortly after I became a CEO for the first time (2014). I’ve said many times that I wish I’d been given a manual about how to be a good CEO – because I didn’t know who to be or how to be when I first started. I think that in many ways I’ve found my social media voice as I found my CEO voice. They are the same really – it’s too exhausting to try to be what I’m not. So on my social media there’s a mix of my personal life as a wife, mother and grandmother, alongside my organizational updates, advocacy in areas of mental health funding and challenges associated with reducing stigma and sharing political points of view to stimulate conversation.

I work hard to be authentic, so my rather odd sense of humour shows up from time to time, which I’ve been told is fun for some of my followers. I personally believe that you can be too “corporate” on social media so I work hard to not be – but I also have to guard against being too “me”. I read the advice from @KateLeeCEO in a previous interview who said not to tweet when drunk… I have a rule that I don’t tweet after the second glass of wine 🙂 – so she and I could potentially have a whole lot in common!

You’re active on both Twitter and LinkedIn. Who is your main audience on these platforms?

Twitter is for everyone really. I look at everyone who follows me and, after blocking the obvious trolls and bots, I engage with folks that have dissenting opinions or a different agenda, consumers of services, community members, etc. I enjoy the range of followers I have and am as chuffed to get a follower who is really out there with tens of thousands of followers, just as I am when a new employee follows me after meeting me in the hospital.

“I’ve made new connections personally and professionally on Twitter and developed new relationships in real life.”

Sometimes I wonder why? Why is this person or account interested in what I have to say? – but there is no rhyme or reason to some of it. It’s the same for who I follow – sometimes it’s someone that has a point of view I want to learn more about, and sometimes it’s strongly correlated to my work or my community interests.

JaniceKaffer_Hotel Dieu Grace Healthcare

The Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare facility in Windsor, Ontario.

LinkedIn is a platform I’m trying to get more active on but haven’t really spent a lot of time cultivating. I have a good network of people and try to manage it, as there’s a whole lot of good and relevant information there. It is wholly professional though and I don’t really post about my personal life. While it is predominantly health care-focused, lately some of my posts have been about business more generally. There are also some community development folks there – that represents my growing voice as a hospital CEO and community leader.

I’m also on Facebook and Instagram, which are pretty exclusively personal. I’m seriously reviewing Facebook at the present time and have tightened up my privacy, but will continue to use it to connect socially and personally – mostly with friends and family. I’m also a fan of Snapchat and love how my grandkids and I have such fun with the filters… it’s spotty and totally social but I’m continuing to explore it’s utility for us as a hospital.

In our always on, socially connected age, how important is it for leaders to engage with their communities via social channels?

Personally I think engaging with the community is critical. If it’s not happening on or through social media it needs to happen via other channels. Frankly, social media is for me the easiest way to engage with people – but we also reach out through traditional methods such as newsletters, oped pieces in our local paper, advertising and community engagement sessions – like our annual report to the community.

I don’t think there is one BEST way to engage, but social media is very effective for me personally. It fits my personality, my preferred way of working and my own leadership style. I also think that emerging leaders today expect access through multiple channels. Traditional hierarchical structures in organizations like hospitals don’t work for them – they want to reach out with an idea, a suggestion or an issue direct to the person who can address it – the CEO. I’ve had times when staff or patients have come directly to me via social media, and when I’ve asked why they didn’t go to the direct manager, they said it was easier and faster to DM me through Twitter.

“Social media fits my personality, my preferred way of working and my own leadership style.”

I’ve also engaged in the comments section of the local paper in an effort to correct a misconception or clarify something. It’s always interesting to do that, as it opens me up to both good and bad (and sometimes really odd) interactions. Again though, as a community leader, it’s not enough to talk to the people inside my organization who know what we’re all about or what we are doing – it’s important for the public at large to feel they have a relationship of trust with their public institutions like hospitals. In essence I’m a public servant and I’m accountable to the public – this is one way I manage and meet that expectation.

What are the implications for leaders not engaging on social media? Does it matter if they don’t?

In my opinion they’re missing an opportunity to open a channel to people and ideas that don’t make their way to them through traditional channels. I’m both a Registered Nurse and a CEO – and something I’ve realized is that the further up the organizational ladder I’ve gone (and the further I am from the patient’s bedside) the less information I get in it’s raw form. Everything is managed, massaged, reviewed, edited – and if I may say so, sanitized.

Social media is unfiltered, it’s raw, it’s edgy. It’s humanity, warts and all – and it’s what most of my patients, staff and community are living. I live and work in a bit of a bubble as a CEO – all CEOs do – so this is in many ways a reality check. So to the question does it matter – I guess that depends on whether the CEO is satisfied that they’re getting all the information they need to get. I’m fortunate to work with a team who doesn’t hesitate to give me the straight goods, so social media is really a validation of that and an opportunity for me to validate back to the community that we’re listening.

“I live and work in a bit of a bubble as a CEO – all CEOs do. Social media is a reality check.”

What are the biggest challenges (and opportunities) for senior leaders to tap into social media?

Time. There aren’t enough hours in the day for all the responsibilities of leadership – and once you tap into social media, it’s another piece of the job you have to carve time out for. It’s pervasive and invasive. I love it, but others find it draining and distracting. I’m not always good at separating my personal and professional time and I’m regularly reminded about what’s important by my most honest critics – my family.

If you could give advice to other CEOs about using social media what would it be?

Hmmm… I don’t know that I should give advice since I’m still learning and adapting to the ongoing changes in social media – but one thing sticks out for me from my early forays into the Twitter world. Be your authentic self. You know you better than anybody else and you are the only one who can say what you want to say, the way you want to say it. Don’t try to be like anybody else – it will show. If you have a quirky sense of humour, let it show. Finally, just be kind. Don’t feed the ugliness that exists out there – and when you find it, don’t engage. Don’t ever write something to someone you wouldn’t say to them directly.

“Be your authentic self.”

I like this testimonial video you did on YouTube for someone who did workshops for you. It’s great to see a CEO publicly thanking and endorsing someone in this way. What prompted you to do it?

I was asked. I think people hesitate to ask for things like this, but I’ve done two of these now on request and in both cases I provided my honest and positive feedback directly. I think of this as a social media reference letter… I still do a lot of traditional references, but I do enjoy this as well.

Well, I have to say that Janice’s responses show a CEO – and a person – who is very comfortable in her role as a leader and as a regular member of society. The fact that she includes both professional and personal thoughts and ideas on Twitter is the sign of a leader who is very sure of herself. Thank you Janice for such a fascinating interview!