Congrats — your medical center has official accounts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. But do you have a hospital social media plan?
More and more hospitals are doing social media, judging by the list at the Mayo Clinic’s Social Media Network. As of January 2016, their Healthcare Social Media List names more than 6,500 hospitals, medical centers and other health-related organizations “that actively use social networking sites and maintain officially-sponsored accounts.”
Interestingly, along with the usual suspects of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the Mayo Clinic monitors hospital accounts on 4Square and YouTube. They also consider a blog to qualify as social media.
All of which shows that hospitals are responding to the new climate for healthcare marketing. That’s characterized by two main developments of recent years:
- Obamacare: The federal mandate to focus less on procedures and more on patient outcomes, including community health, that comes out of the Affordable Care Act, is requiring hospital marketers to become more customer-focused, according to Marketing Profs.
- The Social Web: The advent of social media, such a big deal that pundits call it Web 2.0, has made possible true two-way communication between web publishers and their audiences. That means members of the public now expect hospitals, doctors and other healthcare providers to listen to them and even to answer their questions online.
Both of these create an environment where the healthcare consumer is starting to act less like a passive patient waiting for a referral and more like an active customer, seeking healthcare answers and comparing service options on her own.
So, hospitals are responding by getting more active on social media. That’s good, because 80% of Internet users search for information on health. If consumers can’t get health information online from hospitals, they’ve got plenty of other places to go to get their health questions answered. For example, Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or one of 40,000 health-related phone aps.
Many lack a hospital social media plan
But just because they’re on social media, doesn’t mean that hospitals are using it effectively. As Hospital Impact Magazine puts it,
It is no longer about selling a service-line product. Or even marketing a doctor. We must all shift our focus. It is about the consumer, that person who is looking for a relationship with healthcare providers who engage with them on a personal level, through many channels, across all of their experiences.
Hospital administrators and physicians may be slow to recognize what hospital marketers have known for years: that hospitals have to be more responsive to consumers’ needs or else those consumers will take their healthcare business somewhere else.
So, to help consumers get accurate information and to build closer relationships with their customers, hospitals should try to meet their customers needs themselves, if they can.
To meet this special consumer need effectively, leading hospital marketers are making sure that they’re not just posting on social media regularly, but that they’re posting strategically, as part of an overall content marketing plan to help their hospital meet its business goals.
For example, according to the Mayo Clinic’s list, in my state of Virginia, 133 medical organizations do social media. But only four of them publish a blog.
That’s a missed opportunity for hospitals that don’t blog to take more control over the conversation on social media services.
- Not publishing a blog basically means hospitals are posting only short form content of their own, whose impact is fleeting.
- Or else they’re posting other people’s content, which does a little, but not much, to build the hospital’s own brand.
Blogging is just one way that medical centers can get closer to their customers. Overall, to get maximum benefit out of that investment, hospitals should have a solid social media plan with six steps, as outlined by HubSpot:
1. Determine goals, audience, competitors and challenges
Hospitals need to think beyond their traditional peers and consider competition not just from other hospitals expanding into their territory, but also from new health-related businesses that have been sprouting up, some of them online-only. HootSuite suggests that any organization using social media develop SMART Goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound.
And if you haven’t yet developed buyer persona profiles for your 3-5 ideal customers, now might be a good time to start. After all, you need to understand the audiences you want to reach in order to communicate with them effectively on social media.
2. Discover the best practices from the pros
The Mayo Clinic social media site is a valuable source of case studies and tips from leading hospitals doing social media right. And HubSpot offers profiles of eight healthcare organizations that don’t just do social media as a standalone activity but incorporate it into an overall program of inbound marketing.
Interestingly, healthcare is near the bottom of nine industries that HubSpot tracks in terms of number of posts per week. Real estate is the busiest industry on social media, with nearly 20 posts per week. Healthcare averages only about eight posts weekly, not far ahead of manufacturers at the bottom, who post about four times a week.
3. Simplify monitoring
What hospital marketer has time to check in on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other services multiple times each day? All too many healthcare marketing pros find themselves falling behind in keeping up with social media posts from fans, followers, peers and competitors and to reply to customer comments and questions when appropriate.
Hootsuite, Buffer and other social media management programs can it much easier to stay on top of all your social media accounts. Buffer is a clean, straightforward tool for publishing and scheduling posts on different services. Hootsuite is a more involved program that helps you publish your own posts, monitoring what people say about you or on topics you care about, and even respond when you decide to do so.
4. Grow your following
Why hospitals need a bigger audience on social media is obvious, but how to keep that audience growing is the hard part. It’s more than just putting out your own news — hey we’ve got new doctors! It’s also more than offering healthcare tips and advice.
It’s really about making your people accessible to the community, who are your customers. That means being open to two-way communication. For example, you can make your neonatal nurses available for scheduled online chats with expectant moms. Or, you can ask one of your cancer specialists to answer a question about the most promising new treatments for melanoma on Quora.
5. Create engaging posts
People behave differently on Facebook than they do on Twitter or LinkedIn. To succeed on each service, you need to adapt both your text and pictures to what users expect.
By the way, you are making custom graphics for some of your social posts, aren’t you? Those get shared around. And if graphics have your hospital’s website address on them, they can build your brand and send traffic to your website. Fortunately, DIY design services like Canva have made social graphics easier to create. But you can even do fine social graphics in PowerPoint.
This presentation from HubSpot offers advice on dealing with each of the three main social media sites:
6. Schedule your social media posts and promote your content
Creating a spreadsheet of planned social media posts for the next few weeks makes it easier for hospital marketers to coordinate their campaigns, grow their social reach and put out more content. HootSuite lets you upload an Excel spreadsheet directly to their service to conveniently schedule your future posts on several social media services.
So, where to get started on the social media strategy for your hospital?
Not to worry. The folks at HubSpot have made it easy for you by creating a free Social Media Strategy Kit.
What you’ll see there is that, overall, organizations that integrate social media into an inbound marketing strategy will be most successful at building relationships with current customers and attracting new customers online. Hospitals in particular will do this through creating and promoting content on their websites that attracts more visitors and then offers a way to convert as many of those visitors as possible to new prospects and new customers for the hospital and its medical professionals.
For help with inbound marketing, download our free quick checklist “How to Run an Inbound Marketing Campaign” to get started.
Then, to apply inbound marketing to your situation, check out our Healthcare and Hospital Marketing Resources.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group