7 Tips for Hospitals to Utilize Twitter Effectively

Hospitals and health systems are used to dealing with Medicare, patient quality and service line issues on a daily basis, so it may seem foreign for some to enter into a world of Tweets, hashtags and @mentions.

However, social media, particularly Twitter, is on the rise at hospitals, and many healthcare providers are finding out that it can be beneficial to use social media like Twitter — if it's used properly. Here are seven tips for hospitals that are looking to get the most out of their Twitter accounts.

1. Evaluate and re-evaluate Twitter objectives. Before a hospital can simply jump into the Twitter world, it must first evaluate what it hopes to accomplish both from a business perspective as well as a communication perspective. Libby Manship, e-marketing director for Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, runs the @IU_Health Twitter handle and several other Twitter accounts within the health system. IU Health, which has 18 hospitals and several other programs, was undergoing a name change from Clarian Health last year, and she said Twitter gave the hospital the opportunity to market its new name and presence into the virtual world. "We had to re-establish who we were in the social media world and the community at-large," Ms. Manship says. "We took the time to evaluate and reevaluate our social media."

Other Twitter objectives, outside of rebranding, include promoting the hospital's current brand and outreach within the market, serving as a community news resource and increasing health awareness initiatives. Ms. Manship adds that as hospitals narrow their Twitter strategies and objectives, they must incorporate it across all communication forms. This includes marketing efforts, internal communications and, especially, crisis communications.

2. Focus on quality, not quantity, of followers. For hospitals that have created Twitter accounts, it may be a common desire to find and attract as many followers as possible. There are hospitals that have a broader reach and are applicable to a larger audience, such as Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic's Twitter account has more than 260,000 followers, but not every hospital has the type of scope that Mayo Clinic has.

Stacy Poliseo, internet marketing project manager for Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, has helped grow the follower base of the @HopkinsMedNews Twitter handle to more than 11,000 followers in just two years. She says being a part of the Twitter-sphere is important — especially as hospitals interact and engage with potential patients, physicians and other supporters — but believes the value a hospital gains from Twitter is not directly related to the number of followers. "Making sure the quality of your community is important," Ms. Poliseo says. "Having an engaged community that has conversations is more than important than having thousands of followers."

3. Be a source of breaking news. Julia Yugel, marketing coordinator for Rose Medical Center in Denver, manages the @RoseMedical account for the hospital. She says an essential element of a hospital's Twitter handle is to relay relevant hospital, health and community information quickly to its followers, which is one of the biggest reasons why Twitter has grown in popularity. "Twitter is a fast way to update the community about [emergency room] wait times or other health-related news that would be important during snowstorms or other disasters like flu epidemics," she said.

4. Listen to the Twitter community. As a hospital becomes more engrossed in Twitter, it's vital that the organization listens to both its followers as well as others who happen to mention them — but may not be followers. This includes both good and bad commentary, Ms. Manship says, because a hospital needs to understand what it is doing right and what it needs to improve. "Listen to your followers and what they're talking about and what's important to them," Ms. Manship said.

Hospitals can listen and track data about themselves by searching for their hospital name or by searching all @mentions on their home profile. Ms. Poliseo adds that Twitter would not be a very effective platform if hospitals did not pay attention to the feedback of their audience. "Listening is just as important, if not more important, than putting out information," Ms. Poliseo adds.

5. Be engaging in the Twitter environment. Searching Twitter for mentions and positive/negative commentary about the hospital also gives hospitals the opportunity to reach out and respond to fellow Tweeters. For example, a patient might have complained and Tweeted about the service or treatment he or she received while staying at the hospital. Ms. Yugel says hospitals can reach out to those patients and see if they can resolve those issues. Similarly, she adds that if a hospital finds a positive patient experience on Twitter, the hospital should reach out to that patient and see if he or she is willing to be a part of a patient testimonial, which could help build brand loyalty.

Listening is half of the dance, but being engaged and responsive is the other half. "Be sure when people comment about you, you take the time to thank them," Ms. Manship says. "You must reach out and engage with [your followers] because it is not just a platform for pushing information."

6. Consider live-Tweeting from surgeries. Ms. Yugel says hospitals can educate patients and physicians about regular procedures or newly offered procedures by live-Tweeting during a surgery. Naturally, a hospital must adhere to all HIPAA requirements when it comes to patient privacy, but if done properly, the function could serve as an educational tool. "You can Tweet what is happening, photos and respond to interested followers who may have questions about the procedure," Ms. Yugel says.

Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit performed the first live-Tweeted surgery in Feb. 2009, and several other hospitals since then, such as Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, also have experimented with live-Tweeting from the operating room.

7. Use healthcare-specific hashtags. Hashtags (#) are used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet, and there are several healthcare-specific ones that hospitals should be familiar with, Ms. Manship says. Her top 10 hashtag recommendations for hospitals include: #RNChat, #MDChat, #TedMed, #ePatient, #hospital, #hcsm, #healthcare, #hcmktg, #hc and #mhealth.

Several of those hashtags also have scheduled chats, which can give hospitals the opportunity to connect with other Twitter users and share insight on common topics of discussion. "Hashtags give you a leg up in some areas because you're able to connect with people who may not be following you or even familiar with your hospital," Ms. Poliseo adds.

Related Articles on Hospital Social Media:

5 Basics for Any Hospital Social Media Plan
Survey Finds Online Videos Most Effective Web Marketing Tool Among Hospitals
5 Hospitals Using Social Media to Their Advantage

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