How the best hospitals use social media to boost consumer engagement — and how you can too

Having a social media presence is equivalent to existing in healthcare today. Although social media may seem overwhelming, many affordable, specialized opportunities are waiting for both larger and smaller hospitals.

In a July Becker's Hospital Review webinar sponsored by LiveWorld, Danny Flamberg, vice president of HCP strategy at LiveWorld, and Johanna Skilling, NYU marketing professor and former CSO at Ogilvy Health, shared examples of the best and worst practices in hospitals' social media marketing.

Five key takeaways were:

  1. Social media is now a necessity for every hospital and health system. Consumers believe that a healthcare organization's social media presence indicates its technological prowess. Mr. Flamberg cited Social Media and Health Care Professionals: Benefits, Risks, and Best Practices, which found that 81 percent of consumers see a strong media presence as an indication that a hospital offers cutting-edge technologies, and that 57 percent of consumers say a hospital's social media presence would strongly affect their choice regarding where to go for services.
  1. Use social media to punch above your weight and differentiate. Both larger and smaller hospitals and health systems can build significant followings through social media, can build relationships with consumers, including with specific segments of consumers, can build their brand and can differentiate themselves from other providers.

An important decision involves which social media channels to use and how to use them. There are success stories of hospitals and health systems that have used Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. "You can't go wrong by focusing on Facebook, because it's the gold standard," Ms. Skilling said. "Facebook attracts older consumers on average and older consumers are the ones who need more healthcare." Mr. Flamberg added, "Facebook gives us the opportunity to do segmented marketing."

Mayo Clinic, ranked number one for Twitter, maintains multiple Twitter accounts and tweets or retweets 10 or more times per day. But, this strategy can be replicated by smaller systems. "In a smaller hospital, you may have individual doctors, nurses or a public affairs unit already tweeting," Ms. Skilling said. "The trick is to hashtag across posts so all of them can work together to strengthen your base."

  1. Showcase your patients' stories and your in-house talent. A best practice for hospitals is offering frequent medical, wellness and community content and putting a spotlight on healthcare providers who can offer guidance on specific health needs. "Stand for your patients' healthcare," Mr. Flamberg said, "not just your hospital."
  1. Leaders drive interaction by engaging with their audience. This engagement comes through frequent posts — often multiple times per day — on channels including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Engagement can include inviting staff and patients to post photos. "In this era where every person always has a cell phone, posting pictures may not be as hard as we think," Ms. Skilling said. "If we ask people to self-populate Instagram, there's a whole lot of spontaneous pictures taken by staff to keep visuals fresh."
  2. Investing in skilled moderation and community management can reap dividends. Best practices include frequent posting and brand alignment across multiple platforms and multiple parts of an organization. Achieving this alignment and brand building can be aided by a skilled expert who is focused on the organization's social media strategy and success. For example, advice includes, "Don't forget to brand all of your social channels consistently," Mr. Flamberg said.

By taking advantage of the strengths of different social media platforms and repurposing content, health systems of all sizes can reap the benefits of popular communications channels to better engage patients and to build patient/consumer relationships and the organization's brand.

Learn how hospitals create emotional connections using social media.

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