How about some social media Jeopardy? It was the first social media network site born in 1997 (hint: It wasn’t Facebook). What is SixDegrees.com? One million users set up profile pages, created lists of connections, and sent messages within networks. The site was shut down after three years but made a comeback and is still around today!
More than two decades later, despite a proliferation of channels that are impossible to keep track of, social media continues to be about connecting. But while many still labor under the myth that connecting is for friends and families—or for celebrities, or for the younger generations—social media has become an essential tool for business—in health care as much as in retail or entertainment.
In a 2017 study, 41% of consumers reported using social media to decide on a health care provider organization. We also know that 90% of consumers in the 18 to 24 year age group use and trust health care information on social media (see Social Media Usage Among Health Care Providers). And I was surprised to learn that it’s not just the young people. Almost 90% of baby boomers and older adults (in their sixties)—a subset of the population at high risk for chronic disease, social isolation, and poor health outcomes—say they use Facebook and Twitter to locate and evaluate health information (see ehealth Literacy And Web 2.0 Health Information Seeking Behaviors Among Baby Boomers And Older Adults). And 60% of social media users trust social media posts by clinical professionals over any other group (see The Role of Social Media in Healthcare: Benefits & Challenges).
The bottom line is that if you, as a health care provider organization, don’t “hang out” where your consumers hang out, then they won’t come to you. It’s all about connecting. You want to use social media to form emotional connections with your potential consumers and stakeholders, to build trust, to establish your expertise, to inform and engage, and ultimately bring them in through your doors (virtual or physical). And the fact that more than 99% of hospitals now have (at least) a Facebook page, implies that your competitors—whether in your community or in cyberspace—are on social media talking to your consumers. Further, the increasing use of virtual services is driving the need for a strong social media presence as the “conversion” from browsing to accessing services can be seamless and instant.
Managing social media has two components. The first is monitoring and responding to the online conversations about your organization and the second is developing a push strategy for messaging. That was the focus of the recent executive web forum, Social Media That Puts You In The Community – Virtually, led by my colleague and OPEN MINDS Executive Vice President, Rob Hickernell. Mr. Hickernell offered best practices for both components.
With regard to monitoring and responding to online conversations, there are a number of external ratings, rankings, and review channels (payer sites, and public platforms like Healthgrades, RateMDs, Yelp, Google, Angie’s List, Nextdoor, and more), as well as reviews that people can post to your social media channels. Monitor the external and owned channels and keep track of what people are saying about you. A great “shortcut” suggested by Mr. Hickernell, is to set up “Google Alerts” for key terms, names, and services so you are notified when you are being mentioned, and can respond strategically.
When consumers praise your organization, encourage them to post those comments online. When they give negative reviews, reach out to the unhappy consumer directly, or adjust your internal processes to address the complaint. Ignoring challenging comments, reviews, and ratings only heightens the negative impact they have on your online brand, and reacting aggressively makes things worse. As Mr. Hickernell summarized, “You have to make sure that you keep an eye on what people are saying about you, and fix any problems that are out there. Get back to people in real time, and take the time to comment on both positive and negative comments. It will show that you care about your social media presence and that you care about taking care of any issues that are out there.”
As for the second component, the basics of any other marketing initiative apply to your social media push strategy. Here are five top-of-mind considerations.
Assess the landscape, know your audience, define your goals, form a plan, implement the plan, and measure and monitor.
Your social media goals could be defined in terms of sales, relationships, or engagement with information to a target audience. Ensure that your key performance indicators are not just “vanity metrics” (the number of followers on Facebook, the number of views on YouTube, the number of likes on a LinkedIn post, etc.) but that they encompass engagement (comments, shares, etc.) and especially conversion—seeking appointments, connecting with your experts, and making recommendations.
On a practical level, have and follow a daily schedule of posts across channels, monitor the engagement, and assign someone to respond to all questions and comments in real time.
Be relevant (not trite)
Provide information that matters and that is fresh and compelling. How do you know what matters? Mr. Hickernell emphasized that mountains of consumer data are now available to be anonymized and analyzed to identify trends and patterns that health care provider organizations can capitalize on for marketing.
Have your team take a look at what other specialty health care entities are doing on social media, see what your competition is up to, and mine the vast amounts of demographic data out there (the age of social media is also the age of data) to zero in on your target audience. What age group, gender, or economic class of consumers and family members do you want to reach? Which social media networks are they most likely to be on? What are they looking for? Who are they most likely to respond to? In short, do your homework!
Knowing your audience will help you determine the details of what you want to post, on which channels, how often, and when. And this will help you determine who should be the spokespersons—the executives, the clinical professionals, the frontline staff, consumers, community influencers, or some combination of each key group.
Be consistent with your brand
Your social media presence has to reflect your core brand and position you to showcase your “unique selling proposition” (see Remaining A Niche Provider Organization Requires New Marketing Thinking). Consider how you want to distinguish yourself from the competition.
Social media messaging needs to be reviewed and curated like any marketing messaging. The image you want to portray and the key messages you want to reiterate should drive the tone and substance of every post. You can’t be self-serving or “salesy” on social media. Your content has to inform, educate, and build trust. Mr. Hickernell suggested the social media “rule of thirds.” A third of your posts could be personal stories to build your brand; a third of posts could promote your business, convert readers, and generate profits; and a third could be ideas from influencers and thought leaders in the industry and your community. The views of your clinical professionals and experts are especially valuable to your target audience.
The pandemic crisis has notably emphasized the value of social media for sharing authoritative health information and thought leader opinions. Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has taken to YouTube to share facts, especially with the younger generation that does not watch cable news (see Dr. Anthony Fauci Closes Distance With Social Media Generation).
Keep your social media tone conversational and friendly, and the information you share engaging and in more visual formats. Mr. Hickernell pointed out that having video can increase conversions by as much as 80%. Live social media videos are also growing, with 50% of marketers planning to leverage them in the upcoming year.
And follow the same rules as you do in personal interactions. Acknowledge and thank those who mention you or like or share your posts. Respond to questions and comments. And share content from others that might be relevant and valuable to your audience.
Ask questions or conduct polls to engage those who see your content. And offer the opportunity for consumer or stakeholder groups you can host to allow exchange of views. More than 40% of millennials say they look for health care recommendations and advice from their peers on social media.
Have a plan for what you do on social media but be prepared to adjust it as you see results. Be prepared to experiment and test. If a planned type of post is not yielding the desired results, or getting as much traction as expected, make the pivot quickly.
Most of all, said Mr. Hickernell, don’t be overwhelmed by social media and don’t try to take it all on at once. Start simple, experiment and monitor, and scale up gradually. And ask your current consumers to follow you—remind them when they come in for visits, during checkout and billing, and at every possible opportunity.
The new age of all things virtual, that has blossomed in the era of lockdowns and social distancing, is imposing new demands on all businesses, and on health care in particular. Social media marketing is at the top of the list. If you’re not on social, you’re not on the radar of your future consumers and stakeholders—and eventually even your current.
If you are an Elite member of The OPEN MINDS Circle and want to have a “Quick Consult” with one of our experts on virtual marketing and your online brand, just email our team at email@example.com.
For more on how to set up and strengthen your online reputation management program, check out these resources in The OPEN MINDS Industry Library:
- Succeeding In The Online Ratings Game – First, Know The Score
- Consumer Star Ratings For Hospitals – It’s Only Going To Get Harder To Earn Those 5 Stars
- The Value Challenge, Again
- When It Comes To Performance Measurement, The “Work” Is Never Done
- CMS Quality Measures – The Tail Wagging The Dog
- You Can’t Ignore Those Online Reviews – But What Can You Do?
- Online Ratings Are All Wrong. Consumers Don’t Care.
- Therapists & Online Reviews – Where Is The Ethical Line?
- 5 Keys For Optimizing Your Online Brand
- Marketing Is Changing, Even In The Health & Human Service Space
And for even more, join us on September 10 at 1:00 pm EDT for the web forum, Marketing Planning For Sustainability In A Post-Disruption Marketplace, led by OPEN MINDS Senior Associate Paul M. Duck.