Social Media, WH Smith Carpet, London Midland Trains and Observations from Accident & Emergency

20131004-213942.jpgI spent half a day in hospital this week. Nothing very serious, just a bit of digging for a fish bone stuck in my throat.

To break up the boredom I did joke with a friend on Twitter that I was doing some ‘field ethnography’.

From my observations I can report that I spent a lot of time sitting around waiting for things to happen. This gave me plenty of opportunity to make careful metal notes of my physical surroundings and what people were doing. A bit of an unplanned ‘mystery shopper’ visit.

My visit to A&E ended positively and I have no complaints. I do however have a few thoughts on how you get ‘extra’ from a trip to A&E, using the following:

  • social media;
  • the hours spent sitting around waiting for things to happen; and
  • the ‘resource’ of bored people. Patients and relatives sat around looking for something to amuse them. There is a limit to the number of times you can read the leaflet from the ‘ambulance chaser’ lawyers.

The inspiration for my thinking here is the much talked about desire to gather the views and experiences of people using the health care system. Much of this seems to be driven by the recommendations of the Francis Report, into failings at the Mid Staffordshire Hospital.  ‘Listening’ to what service users have to say and gathering ‘patient opinion’ are a high priority.

Base on my experiences in A&E, I do wonder if there is an opportunity to use social media, like twitter, or something similar. Here are two examples why I think this approach might work; WH Smith Carpet and London Midland Trains.

WH Smith Carpet (@WHS_Carpet) and Customer Care. “Documenting the wonders of the abject carpet at WH Smith”

This Twitter account does exactly what it says in the biography. Members of an ‘army’ of just over 3000 followers send in pictures that record the condition of carpets in WH Smith shops.

The implications of this activity have been well covered in this post by Dan Slee, WORN STORIES: What tweets about carpets tells you about WH Smith. The general message, which is reinforced by many of the tweets is; “if they don’t care about the state of the carpet, how much do they care about me as a customer?

I’ve not managed to find any evidence of a drop in WH Smith profits linked to this Twitter activity, or any sign of improvement in carpet quality. There do however seem to be pictures of ‘pristine laminate’ and ‘spotless’ carpet creeping into the Twitter stream.

London Midland Trains on Twitter (@LondonMidland)

I have to own up to previously expressing love for London Midland Trains. I’ve also written a few posts about how their customer service works in real-time through the use of Twitter.

London Midland have over 53,000 Twitter followers. These people are a ‘Human Sensor Network’. They are able to tell the train company, in real-time, exactly what is happening with the service they deliver. They frequently do this, and provide information on both good and bad aspects. The implications of having access to this ‘sensor network’ of thousands of people is huge. On top of the information being pushed in your direction, you could also use the network to ask questions. A massive opportunity to ‘listen’ and seek user opinion. Follow their account for a while and watch the conversations. They do get some very positive feedback, even from stressed commuters.

So does this have any relevance to A&E?

I’m not going to consider the ‘it will never happen here arguments‘. These are my thoughts on the pressures and opportunities:

  • It’s only a matter of time before a @WHS_Carpet for the health service emerges.
  • This could be as trivial as a “tasteless waiting room curtains” theme or something more serious like “gross failures in hand-washing techniques”.
  • So, it’s probably worth being prepared and looking for opportunities.
  • A facility for people to capture experiences and share them with the organisations who can do something about it is helpful. They can help to resolve problems, quickly, and make improvements based on user experience.
  • It might even generate some good news. Nobody is making people Tweet the ‘pristine laminate’ and ‘spotless’ pictures to @WHS_Carpet.
  • Better to give people something useful to do when they are bored and fiddling with their phones in A&E.
  • They are potentially a free resource. A Human Sensor Network at your disposal.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. The use of Smart Phones and Social Medial is becoming all-pervasive, even in A&E.
  2. It is inevitable that people will start to ‘share’ their experiences. @WHS_Carpet and @LondonMidland are different examples of how you can respond.
  3. Why not use people with time on their hands as a Human Sensor Network to help you ‘listen’ and gather opinion.

Human Sensor Networks: More on these in this post by Michael Cheveldave who works with Dave Snowden at Cognitive Edge…-the-ultimate-executive-coach/ 

Picture Source: I was going to use a picture of the light tube that was inserted up my nose (twice). In the interests of good taste, I’ve used the fish skeleton. Much less scary.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

9 Responses

  1. Joy

    As ever, v interesting blog – think we have implemented something that fits with this concept internally – just didn’t know that was what it was called!

  2. Interesting blog! I tweeted Hywel Dda after I had a good experience at Bronglais in Aberystwyth, but afterwards I wondered how many patients would know to tweet their health board? Also if I was looking for what people were saying about treatment, I’d search for the hospital name, not a health board.

    Good stuff!

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