Social Media for Healthcare Providers

Woman using smartphone, Digital healthcare concept.
Woman using smartphone, Digital healthcare concept.

Here’s a question probably percolating in the marketing and communications department at your hospital system: Should we start a Snapchat account?

Wait. Stop. Back up.

While healthcare providers (and all organizations) should consider different social networks, assessing them as one-offs leads to a scattered strategy that never pulls together, and never delivers the impact you’re looking for. You spend your time and money chasing the latest shiny thing and inevitably waste a lot of effort zigzagging across the online landscape.

When people go online, they’re looking for health information. Maybe not every time, but it’s definitely one of the top topics people are searching for the internet; according to a Pew study, 80 percent of internet users have looked online for health-related information.

And that means healthcare providers have an opportunity to fill that void by creating and distributing patient-focused health and wellness content. In fact, it can be argued that healthcare providers’ mission requires them to educate the community and steer them away from that One Stupid Trick That Helps You Lose Weight.

It starts with creating high-quality content that helps people understand how to be healthier, and then quickly becomes about distributing that content. The key is to establish an agreed-upon understanding of your audience, get management buy-in, and then set clear goals for what you’re trying to accomplish. Once you know and document your marketing goals and have determined what types of content you want to create, you have to consider social media.

Through shared interests and history, social media brings people together in a place where they often feel more open to share and invite others into their lives. And that can include your hospital.

Here’s what you should consider when forming your social media distribution strategy.

Which social networks are right for you?

Another way to ask this question is where is the audience you want to engage with? If they’re on Facebook and Google+ (word to the wise: They’re almost certainly not on Google+), then those are the social platforms you should prioritize. If you think you can make your mark with visual posts and women are a key target demographic, Pinterest might be the way to go.

If any marketing consultant ever starts a conversation by saying you have to be on Social Network X, ignore him. Kick him out of the room. You don’t have to be anywhere. And you certainly can’t be everywhere. Choose one or two social platforms to begin, and do everything you can to make those channels successful. Only then should you consider layering in additional social channels.

Organic distribution vs. paid distribution

There’s a bit of a false premise in this subheading: organic and paid distribution are not at war with each other; in fact, to have a significant impact you must do both. Social media algorithms have changed so that organic distribution (what your followers see in their newsfeed simply because they follow you) isn’t enough by itself. Consider that on Facebook, your organic reach is about two percent, which means that only two percent of your followers will see your posts, unless you pay to promote them.

Good news: It doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Spending a couple hundred bucks to boost an article can potentially put it in front of thousands and thousands of people. Of course, you can’t do this one time, so it is going to add up. But even a $2,000 to $3,000 monthly budget for paid social campaigns can make a significant positive impact. Think of it this way – it’s cheaper than that billboard, and far more targeted.

Better news: You can get very specific in your targeting. Looking to get your content in front of 35-year-old working moms in six specific zip codes? Piece of cake.

Which social media tools do you need?

There are dozens and dozens of tools that can help you run your social media program, and many of them are low cost or even free. Some of them look crazy cool, and it’s tempting to spend all your time trying out new tools to help you do your job. However, we find this to be a rabbit hole you can disappear down for months and months.

The primary functions you need tools for are social scheduling, social listening, and analytics. Some combination of Hootsuite, Buffer, Radian6, Sprinklr and Google Analytics should give you just about everything you need. There are a few other technologies you might want to explore, but this doesn’t need to be as complex as launching a rocket – keep it simple, and your team will thank you.

Which brings us to….

Who’s doing the work?

Odds are, you’re not going to suddenly get to hire a huge social media team. However, our best advice is to not try to make it part of everyone’s job – that typically ends up being no one’s job, and the initiative never gets traction.

And don’t automatically give it to the youngest person on the team because “the kids know social media;” you need to be strategic, so you likely need someone with some experience and context for the goals you’re trying to accomplish.

For starters, depending on the scope of what you’re trying to accomplish, you need one dedicated full-time person who’s charged with social. That means they’re coordinating with other parts of marketing, communications and public relations. That person is managing a paid social budget, and perhaps managing an agency relationship as well. The job should not be simply about scheduling tweets and seeing what happens. It needs to be both strategic and tactical, with the person implementing strategies to reach your goals.

Not so long ago, hospitals leaned on traditional tactics like advertising in newspapers, on radio and billboards. But that’s changing, as healthcare marketers realize they don’t have to rent those media companies’ audiences and can start to build their own instead. A smart approach to social media enables healthcare providers to educate their community, demonstrate that they care, and build trust.

And, ultimately, that is going to both drive patient visits and create a healthier community.

This article originally appeared in Scribewise.

This article was written by John Miller from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.