By Jenn Riggle
How do hospitals measure their social media return ROI? Or are they tilting at windmills and trying to fight an imaginary foe like Don Quixote. Too often, we find ourselves counting the number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers or the number of people who viewed YouTube videos, trying to justify engagement in social media.
However, the bigger question is whether hospitals can afford not to engage. Here’s why:
- Share of Voice
No hospital can allow a competitor to be the only healthcare voice in the market. Why should you allow your competitor to dominate a market – even if it’s a virtual one? An important rule of thumb: if your competitors are using social media, you need to be there, too. Approximately 60 percent of adults and 75 percent of youth (ages 15 to 24) go to the Internet to find health information, so it’s important for hospitals to be able to reach people wherever they are on the Internet – whether it’s on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook or the Web. Not only does this allow your hospital to find new ways to connect to the community, it also helps position your clinicians and administrators as community leaders and health experts.
- Search Engine Optimization
Last year, both Google and Bing signed deals with social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, to include them in their real-time search results. This can be a bit of a double-edged sword for hospitals. While updating your Twitter or Facebook page will improve your hospital’s search rankings, it will also be easier for people to find tweets from people who are complaining about the customer service in your Emergency Department. So now, more than ever, you need to know what people are saying about you online.
- Improve Customer Service
The fact that people can easily update social media sites from their Blackberries and iPhones presents new challenges for hospitals. We’ve heard a number of stories about how hospital communications people have seen an angry tweet from a patient who thinks they’ve been waiting too long in the Emergency Department and have spoken to the patient and helped address the problem. There was a recent case where an angry wife tweeted about her husband’s ER experience after a heart attack. And while no one wants to see negative information tweeted, it provides hospitals with an opportunity to fix the problem and hopefully, the person will be relieved and use social media to let others know how the problem was resolved.
- Reach Younger Healthcare Consumers
Hospitals tend to focus their marketing dollars trying to reach the Baby Boomers. Not only are they the largest generation, they are also reaching the age when they are using more healthcare dollars whether it’s to replace achy joints, have cardiac procedures or do a little cosmetic surgery. However, Gen Xers and Millennials also need health services (and will be healthcare consumers in the future) and social media is proving to be a good way to reach them. Research shows that social media has influenced nearly 40% of hospital or urgent-care center patients, with more than half of 25-to-34 year olds reporting they are influenced by it. In addition, forums and discussion boards were a major influence on 20 percent of the 25-to34-year-olds who recently made a hospital visit for maternity reasons.
- Develop Closer Relationships with Patients
KevinMD.com writes that half of Facebook and Twitter users are under the age of 34 and rely on the Web for most of their information. It’s possible that as this group ages, they will go to social media first to answer their health questions, rather than schedule an appointment with their doctor. So it’s important for doctors to think about how they use social media and e-mail to answer questions and put news into perspective. It would be a perfect way to address patient healthcare concerns about changing policies about when women should have mammograms.
- Crisis Communications
During the Fort Hood shooting earlier this year, Scott & White Healthcare in Temple, Texas was one of the hospitals to treat the victims. Even though they had just received approval to establish social media sites for their hospital, they have become an example of how to effectively use social media during a time of crisis. Ed Bennett’s blog, Found in Cache, has a great interview with Steven Widmann, director of web services at Scott & White, who talks about how Scott & White used social media to help manage the flow of information during this crisis. They made extensive use of Twitter (@swhealthcare) to provide a continuous string of updates with everything from Emergency Department access, operation status and re-tweets from the Red Cross. In addition to Twitter, they also used a blog and YouTube to keep everyone informed.Talk about baptism by fire! But it’s proof that hospitals can use social media to provide up-to-the-minute updates during a crisis.
- Find Blood Donors
There are lots of examples of how hospitals have used social media to find blood donors. Puget Sound Blood Center has organized two blood drives using social media. Their Tweet-up Blood Drive 2.0 reached people via Twitter and allowed people to sign-up via Facebook. Coney Island Hospital used a Facebook application that allows people to fill in their personal information and blood type. If the supply of their blood type runs low, people are contacted with a request to make a donation. For those who don’t have a Facebook account, people can register on a dedicated Web site, MySpace, or cell phone network.
- Promote Your Service Lines
Too often, social media seems to be operating in a silo and isn’t integrated with an organization’s marketing and business goals. In order for it to be successful, hospitals need to develop a plan and find ways to integrate social media into their existing marketing plans. Doing things like posting videos, creating a Facebook application, live-tweeting during community events, educational sessions or during surgery (provided it’s an area of specialty for your hospital). In addition, Aurora Health “live-tweeted” during a knee replacement surgery to help promote its orthopedics service line, which generated 20 inquiries about knee surgery, 14 who actually had the surgery performed.
Once a hospital agrees to engage in social media, the next challenge is to decide how the process should work. We all know that hospital marketing teams are pulled in so many directions, dealing with the crisis du jour and promoting the hospital’s various service lines, that it would be easy for social media to be one more item on their daily to-do list.
We’re working with hospitals to help them identify ways to make it easier for them to embark on social media campaigns. I’d love to hear what you’re doing to engage internal experts and bring original content to your efforts.