Saturday, January 10, 2015

How can a hospital start the social media effort?

Social media is here to stay, and is becoming an ever increasing focus of the healthcare consumer in searching out hospital and health care information.  As the healthcare consumer becomes more adept at using mHealth, informational web sites for price and quality data,  Facebook, Yelp, Twitter and other outlets, the trend for  hospitals not playing effectively,  or engaging the healthcare consumers in social media is lost market share and revenue.  It’s a straight line to the bottom line by not engaging in and meeting  the informational and communication needs of the healthcare consumer.

So where to start?

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 the healthcare enterprise programs and services. Social media is a platform and medium to engage the healthcare consumer in order to create a meaningful dialogue. A dialogue that is transparent, meets the healthcare or patients needs, provides meaningful information and enhances the experience and brand of the hospital or health system. It is focused externally and not internally.

With that in mind, let’s start about what not to do. Sometimes a negative can be used as a positive learning experience.  By way of storytelling, here is the lesson for today.

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.

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

When starting a social media program to engage the healthcare consumer, try to control the organizational impulses. Postings like this only devalue the brand and make the healthcare enterprise look foolish.

Now it’s time for what to do.

These six 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 one decide what social media platforms to choose?  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.     Focus on four platforms in the beginning- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest and Yelp. Two to engage, one to manage reputation, and one to post pretty facility and technology pictures.

6.     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.

The market is changing faster than the hospital. As the curtain is pulled back to see the wizard, the healthcare consumer is not happy with what they see. Use social media to engage and manage the healthcare enterprise message.

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