Social Media in Healthcare with Andy Hetzel, APR



The Newhouse school welcomed back Andy Hetzel ’90 on February 27, 2013, as a guest of the Newhouse Global Leaders in Digital and Social Media Speaker Series and the SU chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).  Hetzel is currently the vice president of corporate communications with Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan (BCBSM).

Students, professors and professionals in the communications and healthcare industries gathered in Newhouse to listen to Hetzel speak on “Big Data vs. Big Regulation in the Quest for Consumer Loyalty.”  The presentation trended nationally via #NewhouseGLDSM and covered how digital media can achieve health and marketing outcomes in a highly regulated environment.

We had the pleasure of talking with Andy Hetzel about being back on campus and his thoughts on social media in the healthcare industry.

Q: How does it feel to be back at Newhouse speaking to students about your area of Andy Hetzel, APR: Vice President, Corporate Communications at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michiganexpertise?

A: It’s a privilege to come here, both as an alumnus and a communications professional.  It brings back so many memories of my student years.  Beyond that, Newhouse is the premier academic institution in the country for communications.  As a professional, it’s a privilege to be asked to speak here.

Q: During your time as a student at Syracuse University, did you ever see yourself working for a company like Blue Cross Blue Shield?

A: Yes.  When I was here as a student I wanted to be a newspaper reporter and sportswriter.  I worked for the Daily Orange on an ad hoc basis.  Down the road as my academic career progressed, I started doing a lot of different internships.  I did an internship in Washington in a large organization, for a newspaper in Rochester, and for a politician in Syracuse.  They opened my eyes to a lot of different possibilities, and I’ve worked in all of those areas after graduation.

Q: In relation to your presentation on ‘Big Data vs. Big Regulation in the Quest for Consumer Loyalty,” do you think it will soon be a requirement for medical professionals to have social and digital media training?

A: I don’t know about a requirement but I do think the conversation about how medical professionals can interact successfully with their patients over these new channels is one that is growing.  They are becoming more commonly used by ordinary people to communicate every day. Social media, today, is what the telephone was about 75 years ago.  It’s a new technology not well understood, and it is disruptive in work places and other environments.  Healthcare professionals have regulations that we all have to live by because they protect the privacy of the individuals that rely on us to keep their information private.  So I think down the line regulation will have a significant impact over whether or not medical professionals and hospitals can really venture out into social media as other organizations have done.

Q: What do you consider to be the greatest benefit of social and digital media becoming a part of the culture of health insurers?

A: Well, the greatest benefit for my company is that it has really opened the windows of my organization to the outside.  It’s allowed our customers to see the personality of our company, and it has allowed us to really understand what their priorities are.  As a health insurer, you are very process-oriented because your responsibility is to pay medical claims.  But beyond that, we serve people.  It’s important for us to understand what is in the hearts and minds of the people we help so we can serve them better.

Q: Do you see any potential problems or crises for the medical field in using digital and social media?

A: I see huge problems and crises, and they are happening all the time.  Every month there is a data breach.  It is important for regulations to exist to keep companies that have exposure to that kind of information accountable for the privacy of that data.  There needs to be a fine balance between the desire of a company like mine to communicate freely with its customers and the responsibility of that company to keep those customer’s information secure and private so it does not get into the wrong hands and is not used for malicious purposes.

Q: What is one thing you would like students to take away from your presentation?

A: I’d like them to understand that social media isn’t the same across industries.  The channels exist primarily to allow people to communicate very freely with each other.  Companies need to take different considerations into account when they launch, deploy and use social channels.  Social media is not a one-size-fits-all solution for companies.  It really needs to be factored into the company’s core business model and how it can be deployed successfully to support that core business.

Q: What would you consider to be the biggest change in the field of public relations and communications since you graduated from Newhouse?

A: Well, I was a newspaper major, so I majored in a declining industry.  That change has really been a tectonic shift that’s rippled through the media industry.  The decline of newspapers has led to more emphasis on digital, which has affected the ability of newspapers to even publish.  We had an entire newspaper chain go digital in Michigan.  The local character of the newspapers that still print is gone and has been replaced by a homogenous newspaper product in localized digital.  That’s changed journalism and been the biggest shift since I’ve graduated.

Q: Do you have any advice for Newhouse students?

A: The most impressive thing about any student from Newhouse is that the school prepares him or her to know how to write well.  As an employer and as someone who looks for new talent, writing is numbers one through four in the skill sets I look for.  That is foundational to the ability of any communicator to be successful in communications and taught very well at the Newhouse school.