In an age where digital media has come to be front and center, many organizations have focused their communication activities toward more two-way, digital methods. As the marketplace turns more competitive by the day, organizations are doing anything and everything to project their company’s image as one of a leader to help encourage consumerism and profit increases. One digital media strategy that organizations use is social media. Social media has become one of the most effective and versatile platforms that organizations use to communicate with their publics.
Healthcare is becoming one of the most competitive industries in the market today. Hospitals are becoming increasingly competitive and are brainstorming new ways to connect with patients and gain potential business in light of new health care standards for care. An article in Ragan’s Health Care Communication News (2013) agrees, stating “it’s a whole new world of technology, communications, promotions and mobile networking. Those hospitals that have discovered this fact and are diving in are way out in front. They’re getting recognition for their brand, pulling in more patients through referrals and networking, and connecting with their communities” (Diamond, 2013). By creating accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and other applicable social media sites, hospitals are establishing a presence that is likely to help draw in consumers and connect the hospital with the community.
When a hospital decides to implement social media strategies to better promote their brand, the hospital should consider developing a social media plan. Becker’s Hospital Review (2011) states “a plan aligns a hospital’s resources, brand, goals, metrics and other key elements to form a cohesive marketing and communication strategy. Without a plan, most social media efforts are more prone to fail” (Gamble, 2011). Gamble (2011) lists tips for a plan that include assessing readiness, experimentation, starting small and slow, creation of dialogue, and monitoring analytics.
What are some creative ways that hospitals can utilize social media to better connect with their patients and the community while promoting their services? Ragan’s Health Care Communication News (2013) listed several thought-provoking and creative ways that hospitals can engage with their publics on social media. One innovative idea on that lists includes developing a mobile app to better connect the public with emergency rooms. At Massachusetts General Hospital, “…a talented group of researchers from the Emergency Department created a free app for the iPhone that lets users find the closest emergency room to their location anywhere in the United States” (Diamond, 2013). A YouTube video was created about the app and was pitched to bloggers. St. Louis Children’s Hospital also has created a mobile app called Kid Care, that “is designed to help parents make smart decisions on what level of care, if any, is needed and how to provide speedy symptom relief for minor illnesses or injuries” (St. Louis Children’s Hospital).
In addition to apps, hospitals can also share updates about the hospital and health tips. Ragan’s Health Communication News (2013) discusses how “the Children’s Hospital of Alabama corporate communications department developed a social media strategy using Facebook and Twitter, targeting both internal and external audiences. The hospital shares health tips and statistics on a daily basis, getting the community involved with its Health and Wellness campaign. A key messaging tool is past patient testimonials” (Diamond, 2013). Past patient testimonials, much like “recommendations” on sites such as Yelp! and Google, are a way that hospitals can showcase their high standards of care, from the perspective of a satisfied customer, in this case, previous patients. While having positive patient testimonials could be an asset to brand promotion for a hospital, hospitals must also be aware of the concerns of patients’ utilization of social media. Bob Hermann (2011) states in an article on Becker’s Hospital Review, that “while some patients could portray the hospital in a good light with positive experiences they encountered, there could just as easily be disparaging remarks or comments and news that reflect negatively toward the hospital,” (Hermann, 2011).
Another idea for hospitals to utilize social media while promoting services is to partner with sports figures. The Inova Healthcare System started a Facebook page called “FIT FOR 50” that includes specific challenges. Ragan’s Health Communication News (2013) states “FIT FOR SUMMER, for example, is an interactive page with former NFL Washington Redskins player, Darrell Green. This web-based fitness program is designed to keep people fit during the hot days of summer. Friends of the page are encouraged to register to gain access to exclusive health and fitness videos from Darrell Green and Inova physicians. Also, people can set their own personal wellness goals and track their daily progress in their very own online playbook” (Diamond, 2013). Designating a sports figure and one that is a role model in the community is an excellent idea for a hospital to utilize a local, well-known figure in support of pioneering efforts for health awareness and motivation.
Hospitals should not only be concerned about the types of content they post but should also develop a social media policy. This policy should be set in place to help guide employees to make wise choices about utilizing social media. A few tips for developing a social media policy listed in an article on Health Leaders Media (2010) include keeping the policy short, simple, encouraging, educational, and transparent. Another concern should be protecting patient privacy. With any new marketing effort, all pros and cons, including concerns, should be laid out and discussed fully before beginning any tactics.
Becker’s Hospital Review (2011)
Health Leaders Media (2010)
Ragan’s Health Communication News (2013)
St. Louis Children’s Hospital