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  Social media in labs—hook, line, and sinker

 

CAP Today

 

 

 

October 2010
Feature Story

Karen Titus

Peggy McKee cannot be accused of preaching to the choir. Trying to help laboratories navigate the world of social media, she’s come face to face with indifference and doubts, resistance and, quite likely, fear.

McKee herself suffers from none of that. She tirelessly argues that social media, along with a few other tools, can help labs lure and then keep first-rate medical technologists.

McKee, owner and senior recruiter, PHC Consulting (www.phcconsulting.com), took that message to an Executive War College audience earlier this year and reinforced it in a recent interview with CAP TODAY.

Judging from the audience reaction at the War College, most lab personnel are brought blinking and unwilling to the shores of social media, filled with the same enthusiasm with which they might greet a cold-water cure. McKee’s normally buoyant voice drops when acknowledging this fact. “They’re not using it at all,” she says. Labs appear to be operating under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Indeed.com, Twitter, and YouTube. Even something as semi-old school as an e-mail newsletter might seem like exotic territory to many labs.

Labs may have their reasons for not using social media. McKee patiently listens to them all, but won’t be budged from her belief: Social media and social networking will help labs recruit and retain the best workers.

Laboratorians may have fallen behind other industries, such as the media, because they’ve not been required to use social networking as part of their jobs. “It’s seen as an additional burden,” McKee says, “and something that you’re living quite well without.”

From there, she says, it’s easy to pile on the negatives: It eats up too much time. It’s a waste of energy. It’s intimidating. It’s for the younger generation. Social media fosters shallow relationships. McKee isn’t buying any of it. “You can always come up with something negative about Facebook or YouTube or even LinkedIn,” then use those as grounds for rejection, she says.

Without social media, labs cannot reach a wide circle of potential candidates. More importantly, she says, without social media, there’s no conversation within any circle, large or small. Without social media, recruitment is a passive activity, producing only a trickle of qualified candidates. With it, the floodgates open.

Take the metasearch engine Indeed.com, an aggregator that might be unfamiliar to many laboratorians. The site is simplicity itself, as its motto suggests: “One search. All jobs.” Seekers type in the job title in the “what” box and the desired location in the “where” box, then hit the “Find Jobs” button. Indeed.com scours job listings from thousands of Web sites for open positions—including listings on LinkedIn, eBay, Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, newspapers, associations, company sites, and individual Web sites—and compiles a list of what’s available within the searcher’s parameters, including salaries.

“This will give you a good idea of what’s going on in your particular area,” McKee says, including who’s offering competitive jobs, how those jobs are being promoted, and what those jobs pay. “You need to know that before you can present yours,” she says. That’s one reason why labs shouldn’t hesitate to list salaries in their postings. McKee, who says she loves fishing, compares use of social media to trotline fishing—that is, dropping hooks in multiple places. Instead of using clips and swivels and fishing line, you’re using social media. “You come back in the morning, you’re going to have [plenty of] fish,” she says. “You’re not recruiting with that one hook—you’re recruiting across the whole river.”

Listing a salary is one more way to encourage candidates to bite. “Tell them as much as you can about your job, so they’ll be excited about it and click ‘apply now.’” When applicants send in their information, “you’ve got them on your trotline pull,” she says.

Not convinced? Then realize that even if you’re not using social media, job candidates are. How will you reach them?

McKee’s War College presentation was an interesting call and response exercise, minus the response portion. One audience member was familiar with Indeed.com. Four or five were active on LinkedIn. One read a blog regularly. No one wrote for a blog. But, notes McKee, “Your target audience is reading blogs.” (One starting point for seekers of lab blogs: www.darkdaily.com/clinical-laboratory-and-digitial-pathology-blogs [sic].) “You don’t have to start one to participate,” she says. Comment on other s’ blogs and let readers know what’s interesting at your lab—a new automated system or assay, for example, or Lean production.

Blogs can start and continue the conversation between labs and potential employees. Ditto for newsletters. Sending newsletters to clients isn’t enough. McKee bids for a regular—monthly, quarterly, twice a year—newsletter aimed at people in your employment pool. Have your human resources department give you e-mail contacts of everyone who’s applied for a job in your lab in recent years. “That’s your subscription list,” she says. Consider adding former employees, too. They don’t necessarily harbor a negative view about your lab—and they know people who might be right for a job there.

You don’t need to produce all the content yourself, as long as you provide the proper credit for whatever articles, studies, etc., you include. “Give them interesting information, and they will be trained to come back to you,” McKee says. When a job opportunity arises, they’re already partly sold on your lab.

The “big dogs,” as McKee calls them, are already using social media. Abbott Laboratories is on Facebook—McKee points to the company’s technical “fan” page, which, in her example, had 2,900 fans, or people on Facebook who noted they liked that particu­lar page. Through regular posts, or updates, on this page, “Abbott every day is feeding them just a little,” says McKee. “And when they need to put out a hook, they put it on their wall,” a section where Facebook users can post updates. “When they need to hire someone, guess where they go to fish?” With a regularly updated Facebook presence and plenty of fans, Abbott finds it easy to recruit from a pool of already-interested recruits, she says.

Lest you need another nudge to consider Facebook as a recruiting tool, McKee makes an obvious but valid point: “Usually when Abbott is doing something, it’s worth looking into,” she says.

Facebook requires virtually no commitment. Just “fan” relevant pages (that is, pages that medical technologists would find interesting) and start sharing tidbits of information—a new method in your lab, a link to an article written by one of your pathologists or clinicians, a moving patient-care story.

McKee urges laboratories to form their own LinkedIn groups as well, inviting people to join from all walks of lab life, including vendors. As with any social media site, you can use the technology to pose questions as well as provide information, as a way of engaging the lab community. She doesn’t claim to know, exactly, how those conversations and relationships will pay off. But she’s adamant: “It will pay off.”

Such preemptive tactics may seem unusual to those who haven’t dusted off their definition of “networking” recently. It’s not a tuxedo, trotted out for proms or guest hosting “The Dating Game.” Laboratorians tend to “tap into it only when they lose their job,” McKee says. But online networks make it easy to engage with folks all the time, creating and expanding conversations that otherwise could never take place.

Still feeling intimidated? That’s OK, says McKee. You don’t have to be the expert. “Have a conversation among your lab folks to find out who’s on LinkedIn, who’s on Facebook,” she says. It can even be done through an anonymous survey, in case workers worry about negative repercussions. Next, ask whether anyone who’s active in social networking wants to help the lab become more involved. It’s called delegation, McKee notes, and it also gives employees opportunities to grow.

“You’ve got a med tech in your lab who is on Facebook. You’ve got a med tech in your lab who is active on LinkedIn,” she says. Ditto for an avid blog reader or blogger. Challenge them to help you create a presence for your lab via social media. Or (and how old-fashioned is this?) encourage an employee with strong writing skills to write articles for the lab’s newsletter or blog. “Let them wear that different hat,” she says.

McKee isn’t the first to notice that younger generations of employees expect to be entertained, nor is she the first to roll her eyes at that notion. Like it or not, however, you need to recognize and respond to their expectations. A lab with a dynamic social media presence will be a more compelling place to work than one that’s perceived as stagnant, unwilling or afraid to join the 21st century.

McKee notes another lure for lab workers, one she discovered in an informal survey of 200 medical technologists on her contact list. When she asked what drew them into the field, the No. 1 reason was not, as one War College wag suggested, easy hours. It was an interest in science. The response was staggering, says McKee—more than 50 percent. Knowing why MTs are drawn to the field should help labs figure out how to keep them. “They leave you because they think they’re like factory workers who are pushing buttons, and there is no science to it any longer.”

Lack of upward mobility is another main reason for leaving. So is what McKee calls “a perceived lack of love. They don’t think their managers care much about what’s going on with them.” While that may not be true, that’s the perception many laboratory managers face.

McKee, gently, suggests that few laboratories focus on retaining good employees. If they did, she says, “You would be training your managers on those soft skills with the med tech, and you would be working on that career path.

“I think a lot of us don’t want to talk about that career path because it’s kind of dismal looking,” she continues. “We don’t want to bring it up because there’s not a lot to chat about.”

Avoiding the topic is not a retention strategy, however. “Maybe it’s just a matter of having that discussion—‘I appreciate what you’re doing here. You’ve really grown in the last two years. Here’s what I’m thinking in the next year or so.’ It doesn’t have to be set in stone,” McKee says. Letting people know you’re thinking of them, and that you’re on the lookout for more opportunities, will go a long way toward keeping good employees.

So can offering merit raises. McKee reports that in her survey of MTs, most say they’ve never received a merit raise; many weren’t even aware of what they were. If labs are indeed handing out merit raises, they’re not doing a good job of letting their employees know, she says, which is another wasted opportunity.

Yes, McKee understands labs are on ridiculously tight budgets. She also says, “I think the lab business is so good, that if you don’t keep your techs happy, so that you can provide the service and quality your customers want, you’re crazy.”

With the deck seemingly stacked against retention, McKee refuses to concede defeat. “Retention is huge. I can’t stand turnover at my own company, because it throws us behind.” Those same lab managers who are resistant to the changes wrought by social media, she suggests, should use that basic human instinct—dislike of change—to their advantage, and recognize that most employees don’t want to change jobs.


Karen Titus is CAP TODAY contributing editor and co-managing editor.
 

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