Saturday, March 8, 2014

Where should a hospital start the social media effort?

I say start from the easiest and move progressively forward into more sophisticated social media platforms.  It would be easy to bite off more than one can chew in social media. After all, with the availability of more than you can imagine social media outlets, an organization could pick too many the first time out and fail at all of them.

The most important point, and I really cannot emphasis this enough, is that social media is not a mechanism for being a billboard for hospital programs and services. Social media is a platform and medium to engage the healthcare consumer in order to create a meaningful engagement dialogue. A dialogue that is transparent, meets the healthcare or patients needs, provides meaningful information and enhances the experience with the hospital or health system.

But let’s start about what not to do. That can actually be more important than doing.

Sometimes a story is the best way to learn.   There was a hospital that will remain nameless, that I was following on Facebook. It wasn’t the most engaging or enjoyable experience.  The hospital postings were all about them. Nothing about the value brought or even the reason why a healthcare consumer or patient for that matter would actively engage with the hospital. 

The crowning moment came one day when the hospital marketing department posted a picture of the marketing staff, standing behind a table full of marketing communications award trophies for various campaigns and activities. In the end all it did was loudly proclaim as well as the content provided, look at us. It’s all about us.

Really? And the point of that Facebook post was? I hate to tell you this but the healthcare consumer doesn't care.  

So please, when you start the social media program to engage the healthcare consumer, try to control the organizational impulses of leadership who have little understanding of social media  and marketing.  Things like this only devalue the brand and make an organization look foolish.

Now it’s time for what to do.

These five steps taken sequentially can get the hospital started in social media. As experience and expertise builds you can expand.

  1.       Understand organizationally that social media is alive. It is not static and unchanging. Social media platforms change and evolve on a constant basis. This means the organization has to monitor to see what people and competitors are talking about and sharing. Build internal support and educate the entire healthcare organization.
  2.      Do the market research. If you don’t know what social media platforms the healthcare consumer and patients are engaging in, then how can you decide what social media platforms to choose? Oh, and because one may engage in social media, that is a meaningless experience to use as a basis for program decision making. Know the audience. Know the markets. Know what information the healthcare consumer is searching out. Know what social media platforms they use to gather information and engage. Secondary research may give one clues in how to proceed with primary market research in the hospital service area, but these are guides only. 
  3.      Build a social media plan that is integrated into the overall marketing plan and strategy of the hospital or health system. Include in your plan, goals and objectives, key messages, engagement strategies. How it will be measured and evaluated and who is responsible for executing the plan. What gets measured gets done. Obtain executive by-in. If leadership does not support the plan or is not engaged in the effort, stop now and go find something else to do.
  4.            Don’t boil the ocean. An organization has to build capacity, experience and expertise in social media.  Start with one platform. Be the best you can be on that social media platform and then expand and add capacity. Learn what the healthcare consumer likes and doesn't like. Test messages. Test engagement strategies.  Fail fast and become the learning organization and not repeating the same mistakes.
  5.           Engage and build a meaningful relationship with the healthcare consumer. Stay away from meaningless fluff and anything that looks like it’s all about the organization. And listen. Listen very carefully to what is being said in social media and responds accordingly.

Okay, time to get started. The market is changing and the hospital is being left behind.

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