It’s fairly common knowledge that social media use by the public has gone “nowhere but up” over the last decade—for U.S. adults, use increased from 8% in 2005, to 81% in 2017 (see Social Media And Health Care Professionals: Benefits, Risks, And Best Practices and Percentage Of U.S. Population With A Social Media Profile From 2008 To 2017). And that social media use extends into health care. According to the CDC, more than 40% of consumers say that information found via social media influences how they deal with their health; and 90% of consumers between the ages of 18 to 24 years of age said they would trust medical information shared by others on their social media networks (see Promoting Health Equity Through Social Media 2016 Millennial Health Leaders Summit).
So where are the organizations in the field with social media? Approximately 37% of commercial health plan members and 7% of Medicare beneficiaries are connected to their health plans on social media (see 37% Of Health Plan Members Under Age 64 Are Connected To Their Plan On Social Media). This use includes 31% of the commercially insured and 5% of Medicare beneficiaries who use Facebook; and 17% of the commercially insured who use Twitter and Instagram. But a recent survey of non-profit organizations (that make up most of the health and human service delivery system) found that only one-third have a written social media policy (see 2018 GLOBAL NGO Technology Report).
We know who is using social media, but it’s also important to understand why they do. The reality is that consumers use social media to support a complex structure of needs around their health care. A review of 22 studies found that consumer use of social media in health care falls into six categories:
- Emotional support—seeking out support/comfort related to health issues
- Informational—searching for information about health care conditions and treatment options
- Esteem—seeking encouragement and boosting confidence that a consumer can manage their health care issues
- Network support—searching for affirmation that the consumer is not alone in their condition
- Social comparison—comparing themselves to others’ experiences and conditions
- Emotional expression—sharing feeling about their condition without negative reactions
The study concluded that the overall cumulative effect of social media was greater levels of self-empowerment and a better understanding of their relationships with both their own health, and health care professionals (see Social Media Use In Healthcare: A Systematic Review Of Effects On Patients And On Their Relationship With Healthcare Professionals). None of these uses for social media are intended to replace the relationship with a clinical professional, but rather to augment that relationship. The authors note:
As a result of patient empowerment due to patients using social media for health related reasons, the power balance between healthcare professionals and patients becomes more equalized, leading to increased quality of clinical decisions making.
How does your organization plan to address this “shift” in consumer communication and decisionmaking? Does your organization have a “best practice” social media plan? If not, how do you build a social media plan that addresses the shifting relationships between consumers and health care professionals? I reached out to the OPEN MINDS team and found two tandem strategies that will help your organization build a comprehensive social media plan:
Focus on social media as a tool for consumer engagement. Using social media is more than just posting information about your organization and linking to your website. It is an opportunity to build connections with new consumers and enhance existing relationships with current consumers. It’s another touch point to inform and engage around member benefits, health prevention, and overall wellness topics. OPEN MINDS Senior Associate, Kristi Hamilton, reiterated this approach, noting:
If you are already using social media, reexamine your plan and look for new opportunities to incorporate it into your overall member engagement strategy. Pay particular attention to your metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of your social media presence—are you offering the content types most valuable to your members, in the channels they most want to connect through, at the times when they are looking for a connection? You will probably need to regularly revamp your strategy to make sure you are proving the benefits that your consumers need and want online.
OPEN MINDS Senior Associate Heidi Holman noted that your organization has the opportunity to bring consumers together and serve as a “gathering place” for consumers, caregivers, and other community stakeholders:
Join groups or follow other professionals on LinkedIn or Facebook who are in your specific industry. When they post an article that would be of use to your followers, share it directly on your company’s social media page and start a conversation with your followers. Your organization can become the “hub” online for consumers to gain emotional or network support.
Find new ways to be the content authority for your consumers. Consumers look for information about their health care online. By not sharing potentially helpful resources, you are missing an opportunity to be the source of that information. Ms. Holman explained that how consumers perceive a provider organization online is shaped by the organization’s use of social media. And, by increasing (or decreasing) consumers’ social media engagement, this will ultimately affect their bottom line—that’s the true value of having a digital engagement strategy. She explained:
No matter the reason, consumers are looking to social media to find health care solutions. Start by setting up Google alerts that are relevant to your practice and cull through those articles to find useful information for your consumers. Share this information through Twitter or Facebook as a resource. You can also set a clearly achievable content calendar with dates and topics you think your followers will want to read about. Pay attention to the engagement of those resources to refine your content strategy. Due to how social media algorithms are defined, know that the more you post, the more likely you will appear in your followers’ newsfeed, and by giving consumers more information, you are empowering them to become more engaged in their treatment. A big benefit of this approach is that posting on social media is free, other than the time it takes to create and post the content. As with all communication with consumers, your organization should be HIPAA-compliant when it comes to social media. Set the process up before even creating a social media page for your organization. Have a clearly posted disclaimer about how you will handle responses and have contact information readily available in case there is an emergency.
My takeaway from the emerging studies of consumer decisionmaking and engagement in health care—you cannot omit social media from your overarching organizational communication and brand positioning strategy. Social media has been, at best, an adjunct and, at worst, an afterthought in marketing planning in health and human services. But it is increasingly becoming a central component in that strategy.
For more, check out these top resources from the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:
- Social Media Listening As Consumer Engagement Strategy
- When Consumers Find Your Organization Online, Will They Pick You?
- What Are Your Online Professional Standards?
- Social Media – The Dog With The Bite Or Best Friend?
- Best Practice Online Marketing On A Budget!
- It’s All About The Data!
- Facebook Uses AI Tools For Suicide Prevention
- Can You Teach A Fish To Climb A Tree?
- 37% Of Health Plan Members Under Age 64 Are Connected To Their Plan On Social Media
- Can Social Media Usage Contribute To Mental Health Issues In Our Clients?
And for even more, join Ms. Hamilton, on June 4 for her executive session, Finding The Path To Online Marketing Success: An OPEN MINDS Executive Seminar On Best Practices In Website & Social Media Marketing, in preparation for The 2018 OPEN MINDS Strategy & Innovation Institute on June 5, in New Orleans, Louisiana.