Mayo’s secrets to churning out compelling content

With videos, blogs, and a little bit of attitude, Mayo Clinic is getting a big response from employees.

Mayo Clinic has 56,000 employees. They’re physicians, scientists, residents, fellows, students, and staffers who work different shifts, have offices at different locations, and tend to be pretty busy saving lives.

In short, getting all of them to read an article or watch a video can be kind of tough. But Employee Communicators Manager Karen Trewin and Senior Communications Consultant Hoyt Finnamore have done a pretty good job of finding solutions.

“Present content that is compelling enough that people want to own it, respond to it, and share it,” Trewin told attendees at Ragan Communications’ Intranet Summit.

Mayo is inspiring its employees to do just that through blogs, videos, and user comments.

Right place, right voice

Rule No. 1 for compelling content, Trewin says, is to be where the employees are. That means posting news and other important information where it’ll be easily seen. For Mayo, that’s the intranet homepage.

It’s also important to purge corporate lingo from those posts.

“We do corporate-speak better than anybody, so authentic language can be a little difficult,” she says, but Mayo does its best to include employee voices and informal language in its news items.

For example, the clinic’s first internal blog, called “Let’s Talk,” took big issues and invited employees to chat with executives about them.

“We had our leaders actually talk about the future of Mayo Clinic and allowed employees to make comments and ask questions,” Trewin said.

Content on the blog included videos and webcasts. A widget on the intranet shows readers what the most frequently viewed, commented, and recommended articles and blog posts are.

Initially, “Let’s Talk” videos from Mayo CEO John Noseworthy were shot in a studio and with a script, but they looked “very corporate and institutional,” said Finnamore. Now, those videos are done more spontaneously in Noseworthy’s office, and they’re better for it, even though “it took us a while to warm him up to the idea,” Finnamore noted. It’s like the difference between a portrait and a candid photo, he said.

Ultimately, the goal is to make what’s important interesting, Trewin said. “It’s not just content for content’s sake.”

Messages that employees see all the time—such as reminders to speak up if they see anything amiss during a procedure—can turn into white noise, so communicators at Mayo sometimes shake things up.

One way is to go to experts to tell the story. In one video, Dr. David Farley talked about how a nurse’s eagle eye kept a piece of equipment from being left inside a patient’s body. That caught employees’ attention, to the tune of nearly 9,000 views.

“If they’re excited about it, it comes across,” Finnamore said of involving subject experts in videos.

The roving reporter

Finnamore has starred in a series of his own videos, all of which tell employees about Mayo while giving them a few chuckles. He called them his “roving reporter” videos, and in them he has visited the clinic’s new pediatric center, its facility in Florida, an employee health facility, and more.

In his most popular video, Finnamore visited the Minnesota Department of Health’s Germ City exhibit, which shows the bacteria on your hands even after you wash them. He rubbed some dye on his hands and looked at them under a black light, then he washed his hands. When he came back, they still glowed pretty brightly, highlighting the lingering germs.

Roving reporter videos don’t have to be laugh riots, Finnamore said. They just have to be fun and informative. “A little goes a long way,” he said.

Mayo’s videos also help bring employees to places they wouldn’t otherwise go, Finnamore said. For instance, not too many employees attend Mayo’s annual Quality Conference, but a video of interviews with attendees and speakers helps bring the experience home to them. “We sort of let them do the reporting,” Finnamore said.

An unconventional newsletter

Mayo’s “In the Loop” newsletter, which is available by email and elsewhere on the Web, has garnered about 6,000 subscriptions in around two years through funny and heartwarming stories. The newsletter aims to “get at that slice of life,” says Finnamore, with stories about topics such as a cardiologist giving a presentation in “Second Life,” and an employee rescuing a parking pass from a rogue squirrel.

“We didn’t want it to feel exclusive; we wanted it to feel cool,” Finnamore said.

Three writers put together the newsletter and write it with a blog-like feel, often using the editorial “we,” Trewin said.

By far the most popular story in the newsletter featured a dog who helped a pediatric patient learn how to walk. The story was featured on the intranet front page and got 28,000 views. A video interview with the dog didn’t garner too many answers, but employees loved it.

Indeed, they love “In the Loop” for its conversational feel. In one comment, an employee asked, “Is this for real? It’s so unconservative!”

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