Step up your social media: Learn from one health plan’s success


Stephen Rioseco, of Horizon BCBSNJ, tells Managed Healthcare Executive how his health plan fully capitalizes on the power of social media for customer service.

It’s no secret that social networks are changing the way people manage their healthcare. Organizations across nearly every industry have embraced social media, but health plans have been historically slower to adopt, according to one expert.

“Part of that is most certainly due to the unique challenges health plans face in social media due to the various rules and regulations surrounding the health insurance industry,” says Stephen Rioseco, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ), social media lead.

HIPAA, for example, requires health insurers to protect the privacy of their members, preventing public communication with customers that could potentially identify them and their medical conditions. “This has limited the ability of health plans to fully capitalize on the power of social media for customer service,” says Rioseco.

Still, there are a lot of opportunities for health insurers in the social media space. “At Horizon BCBSNJ, we are working hard to ensure that social media is not an afterthought in our marketing,” Rioseco says. “Every opportunity we have to increase our company’s visibility in New Jersey is valuable because it makes us more accessible to new customers while keeping us top of mind for existing members.”

The payer also has had tremendous success at using social media to obtain sales leads and meet business objectives, “even as we work to limit the amount of posts about our services and products to a bare minimum,” Rioseco says. “As long as people continue to view social media as a conversation and information network and not as a marketing channel, consumers are more likely to read and consider our posts. This can translate into serious traffic and conversions.”

Here, Rioseco discusses Horizon BCBSNJ’s foray into social media, goals and how to measure a successful program.

Managed Healthcare Executive (MHE): When did Horizon start using social media and why?

Rioseco: Horizon BCBSNJ joined social media in 2009. For the next two years, social media was viewed primarily as an additional means of distribution for existing business content. In those two years, despite being a company with nearly 4 million members, we had obtained very few followers-less than 300 on Twitter-and negligible engagement. The lesson learned was that social media had to be treated as a unique marketing channel and could not just become an additional place to post prepackaged, sales-oriented content.

In 2011 the company created an employment position that would focus on social media strategy and execution, for which I was hired. My goal was to create a social media content strategy focused on engagement over self-promotion and to integrate social media into the company’s marketing and public relations efforts.  The shift in strategy resulted in a massive expansion of Horizon’s social media presence.

In the last four years Horizon has grown its followers on Facebook and Twitter by nearly 2,000%. As of January 1, 2017, Horizon had more than 98,000 followers on social media. On Twitter alone, with more than 23,000 followers, Horizon BCBSNJ’s follower count rivals those of national carriers and by far exceeds many similarly positioned single-state plans.

MHE: What types of social media are you using? 

Rioseco: Horizon currently engages its members on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.

MHE:How do you use each to communicate about your business? What method has been the most effective?

Rioseco: It’s important not to think of different social media channels as being interchangeable. Comparing Facebook to Twitter is not like comparing Coke to Pepsi. It’s more like comparing travel by jet to travel by train; you wouldn’t take a jet to travel to a job that’s 20 miles away from your home and you probably wouldn’t take a train to travel cross country.

Social media campaigns, like transportation, are all about choosing the right vehicle. Many social media campaigns fail simply because the wrong channel was used or because the campaign was not customized to suit the channel employed.

Next: What underutilized social media strategies are health plans missing?



MHE: Do you see any up-and-coming-or underutilized-strategies that health plans haven’t caught on to yet?

Rioseco: I’ve attended several social media conferences at which I have spoken with social media managers from various Fortune 500 companies and have been surprised by how few brands are utilizing Facebook’s Custom Audience targeting.

The ability to use your own data to make sure that your messages are reaching audiences receptive to your brand can provide any campaign with a real competitive advantage. We have used Custom Audiences to great effect at Horizon BCBSNJ.

MHE: How do you measure success?

Rioseco: In the beginning, we focused on vanity metrics such as the number of fans and followers acquired. As our social media program has matured, we are now more focused on reach, engagement, influence, lead generation and conversions.

In the fourth quarter of 2016, Horizon was able to obtain 12.9 million impressions and 86,800 engagements. These numbers are more relevant to us than the number of followers on Facebook or Twitter. It’s nice to have a large number of followers, but it’s better to have an engaged audience.

MHE: What social media event are you most proud of?

Rioseco: A turning point in our social media program occurred in 2013 with the launch of our “Back to the Boardwalk Sweepstakes.” The goal of the promotion was to help increase awareness of local and state recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy and to position Horizon BCBSNJ as a corporate leader in this effort. The prize was a weeklong stay at a Jersey Shore rental house in a town that had recently recovered from the destruction of the hurricane.

Internally there were reservations about how this social media campaign would be perceived by the public and questions about its impact, so its overwhelming success and the positive sentiment it engendered with New Jersey residents helped establish trust in our new social media program at a critical time. 

This was also the company’s first multidimensional social media campaign with advertising, public relations and government affairs all aligning themselves to provide support. This model of interdepartmental collaboration became the template for all future social media campaigns. 

The campaign appeared in 47 news articles, was featured on a drive-time radio talk show on the state’s largest radio station, obtained 1.8 million views on social media and thousands of entries. The surprise was how many New Jersey residents came onto our Facebook page, unprompted, to share their childhood memories of visiting the Jersey Shore. It showed us that we could have a conversation with our members on topics other than health insurance that could still provide a lift for the brand.

Tracey Walker is content manager for Managed Healthcare Executive.

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