By Sunday, Aug. 27, Hurricane Harvey’s record-setting rainfall had effectively shut down the city of Houston and much of the surrounding area. The flooding cut off access to MD Anderson for most outpatients and many employees, nurses and doctors. Those on-site at the time became the crucial ride-out teams that continued to care for patients in the hospital.
But even before the storm’s arrival, Strategic Communications’ Integrated Media team was using social media to make sure the institution’s followers were aware of Harvey’s potential and preparing for the storm, and to assure them MD Anderson was monitoring the situation.
Posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn were a crucial source of real-time information and updates on the status of the institution as it weathered the emergency, entered the recovery phase, then returned to fully operational status Sept. 5. The team responded to hundreds of questions and comments from patients and their families via social media throughout the event. Facebook and Twitter proved to be an effective and timely way for those seeking answers to get responses.
Employees concerned about the status of patients and the hospital, and those with questions about reporting to work, found the updates they needed on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Those platforms also were used to share information about resources for employees in need such as the Caring Fund.
MD Anderson’s strong connection to the Houston-area community was apparent on social media, as questions came in from people who wanted to help out through donations and volunteer work. The team fielded these queries and was able to direct them to the Caring Fund, as well as alert them to the need for blood donations.
Social media’s benefits as a communications tool during a disaster were also seen in the high level of engagement from faculty members, leadership and staff who shared updates and encouragement.
“Our faculty and staff who were on-site were sharing photos, praise and insight that enabled us to better tell and humanize MD Anderson’s story during the storm and show our ride-out and recovery teams in action,” says Laura Nathan-Garner, who heads the social media team.
Nathan-Garner points out that photos shared by the ride-out and recovery teams received exceptionally high levels of engagement, demonstrating the appetite of employees, patients and Houstonians in general for information about the cancer center’s status.
“What we saw on social media during Hurricane Harvey was a good demonstration of community,” says Megan Maisel, director of Integrated Media. “Our faculty and staff interacted and engaged with each other online more than we had seen before. And this heightened engagement and sense of team spirit has continued beyond the storm. I think this is a pivotal moment in MD Anderson’s digital transformation.”