Creativity key to more robust social media

Make your messaging stand out

Health plans never had to think too much about branding and reaching out to consumers before the Affordable Care Act. Now, as consumers play a more active role in health plan selection, plans must use social media as a marketing tool to engage with patients and turn them into loyal consumers.

A 2012 study on social media in healthcare from the PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute found that although 45% of patients say that social media affects their decision to seek a physician or hospital, many healthcare organizations haven’t been able to turn social media presence into practice.

The same survey found that more than 80% of 18 to 24 year olds are willing to share health information and dialogue with professionals via social media. And, one-third of all respondents say if social media conversations led to better health outcomes, they wouldn’t mind these dialogues being monitored.

This data suggests that patients are ready for a more robust social media relation with healthcare providers than what they are receiving. “The industry is catching up in branding, marketing and when it comes to social media it is definitely behind,” says Clay Cutchins, senior writer at Franklin Street a healthcare marketing and branding agency. “Very rarely does a healthcare organization want to do something edgy when it comes to social media. But the people who are doing well stick out.”

Where to begin

LevcoFrom LinkedIn to Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, figuring out which tools to use and invest in can be overwhelming, says Jessica Levco, social media specialist at WriterGirl & Associates, a social media and content management agency for hospitals and health plans.

“You don’t have to be everywhere. In fact, it’s better to just do two or three sites very well...,” she says. “Start out with Facebook and Twitter. Then, if you feel like you have a lot of pictures or a resident photographer at a hospital, add Pinterest or Instagram. If you have a lot of patient-centered videos, take a look at starting a YouTube account.”

Next: Staffing and security


Staffing and security

CatleyManaging social media and web content can be a full-time job, and it is best to have someone on-site who understands the culture of the organization and can quickly react, says Jonathan Catley, sales and marketing manager at MD Connect, Inc., an online medical marketing firm.

Smaller organizations may need to get more creative with their resources. “If necessary, establish a social media team that makes use of employees who are already active and using social media in their personal lives. You may have some employees who are more knowledgeable about Facebook or Twitter, while another employee may know more about Instagram,” Catley says.

If you are planning to utilize current employees to spearhead your social media efforts rather than hiring someone new, Levco advises using people with backgrounds in marketing and communications. “Hospitals or health plans with tight budgets might be tempted to let their intern be in-charge of their social media accounts, but I would highly recommend against that,” she says. “Even though millennials are tech savvy, the average 20 year old doesn’t have the experience that someone with a communications, marketing or journalism degree has-even if [the 20-something has] been on Facebook since they were 13.”

Employees in charge of social media should be trained on appropriate use and HIPAA laws to ensure they aren’t publicizing sensitive information, says Catley. “Patient privacy and medical advice are two of the biggest concerns with social media accounts.” For smaller organizations attempting to develop social media guidelines, social media policies from larger systems and plans are a good starting point, says Cutchins. “Places such as Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic have a good, broad understanding of what to do and what not to do,” he says.


Next: Measuring results


Measuring results

Even the experts admit that measuring the return on investment (ROI) when it comes to social media can be tricky. Identifying the purpose for using social media is the first step in determining how to measure ROI, Catley says.

“The best thing to do is identify the goals of your campaigns. Is this a lead-generation tool, in which it may be easier to show ROI? Or, is your campaign focused more on branding, awareness or education, which is [a] much tougher to measure ROI,” he says. “Patient satisfaction surveys are one way of measuring the success of your social media campaigns and there are plenty of social media analytics tools that can measure traffic, engagement and conversions from your social campaigns.”

Cutchins adds that understanding how social media fits into the company’s larger marketing plan will help with measuring ROI. “You must audit the capabilities of each social media platform and what you want to use them for," he says. "You might use LinkedIn for physician recruitment or Facebook to cultivate your nurse culture. If you have a Facebook post about a medical condition, does that post click to a web page for someone to sign up for an e-mail campaign? Calls to action are a good tool to measure ROI.”

Donna Marbury is a writer in Columbus, Ohio.