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Friday, March 5, 2010

Medicare understands Social Networking even Less than I Do

In the late 90's, I thought that the internet would only amount to a glorified yellow pages. In the early 00's, I wrote "Palm" on a small notebook and called it my Palm Pilot. The way that I would offer to "sync" or exchange contact info with others was to write my phone number in marker on a piece of paper in my "Palm Pilot", lick the other person's arm, and press the wet ink on their arm.

Needless to say, I am not the quickest adopter of new technology or even in the large part of the bell curve. I've written off Twitter after 1 tweet, tell social media marketers to shut up until they can show me the ROI, and have injured bystanders with a hard eyeball roll whenever anyone talks about video blogging.

However, compared to Medicare (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services), I am an innovative early adopter. Medicare just released their guidelines for how Medicare Advantage plans cannot use social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook to communicate with seniors.

Not surprisingly, Medicare guidelines has an early 00's view of social networks and sees them as vehicles to push out marketing talking points. These guidelines are under the marketing section and prohibit plans from using "public interactive features" such as "chat, messaging, blogging, or wall discussions." Basically, they are prohibiting Medicare Advantage plans from using social networks to communicate despite the fact that the next wave of seniors is the largest growing segment of users of these tools. A social network site without interactive features is like a telephone that's not actually connected to the phone lines. It's a nice decorative piece but doesn't tell you much.

Even this Cromagnon cave man blogger has learned that social networking is not about the unsolicited pushing out of marketing messages to a community. It's about creating a dialogue, spreading information, and public discussions. It's a popular communication method that encourages transparency and allows participants to learn more about a company or insurance plan. It offers a variety of mediums like text, pictures, or video which can be helpful to an older population.

Medicare's reaction is ridiculous and disturbing on many levels. First, they show a lack of understanding about social networking by putting in the same category as direct mail. Second, their reaction is to block social networking or attempt to ban the use of it. However, the next generation of Medicare beneficiaries are heavy users of social networking so the agency looks pretty out of touch with the people that it is supposed to serve. Finally, this was supposed to be the year where Medicare starts to get innovative and look at new ways to do business. Instead, they attack an innovation with pitch forks and torches.

My critiques and attacks on social media have the goal of learning more about it and testing my arguments. Through this skeptical approach, I learn more and correct my misconceptions. With these published guidelines, Medicare is showing no curiousity nor interest in finding out the appropriateness of social networking. Senator Grassley may look foolish on Twitter but at least he tries. Looks like when it comes to social networking, Medicare makes a 76 year old looks like an innovator.

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