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  Social Media Marketing Strategies for Healthcare 
Article by Austin social marketing company Semantic Advantage, Inc. -- July 2011
HealthcareMarketingSocialMedia

Healthcare Social Media Marketing

This is the first in a series of articles on social marketing for healthcare organizations, and focuses on social media marketing principles for hospitals, clinics and medical practices. The marketing requirements, regulations and uses of social media in marketing pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices are significantly different, and these will be covered in future articles.

Social media marketing refers to the use of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Pinterest to engage audiences and promote commercial enterprises. Although these social media sites were originally intended for personal use, they are now being employed by healthcare organizations of all sizes to communicate with current and prospective patients, physicians, suppliers and other constituencies. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project  80% of Americans prefer to use Internet search and social media to obtain healthcare information.

Despite initial skepticism, healthcare organizations have successfully adopted social media marketing to engage with consumers, healthcare professionals and other healthcare organizations. Properly designed and managed, social media sites and posts can convey a highly professional image and enhance relationships with patients and other healthcare organizations. Esteemed organizations like the Mayo Clinic are successfully using social media to connect with physicians, patients and other important constituencies.

The best social media marketing programs are not independent web marketing activities – they are part of an integrated traditional and online marketing strategy. The branding, messaging and calls-to-action need to be consistent with your organization’s overall marketing program, although the nature of social media marketing communications is different in several ways:
  • Social media sites enable you to communicate with a much broader audience. Facebook alone has more than 1 billion subscribers.
  • Social sites support one-to-many or many-to-many communications. This can lead to the development of an active online community devoted to the discussion of your healthcare organization’s services and related topics.
  • Social marketing is more interactive than traditional communications or other online media. This increases the need for periodic review and participation -- and the expectation of prompt responses to visitor comments.
  • Social sites are community-oriented, conversational and generally non-transactional (exception: Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn ads).
  • Social media marketing can enable you to reach a younger demographic audience -- and you will be surprised how many seniors are active on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Unlike telemarketing, TV and radio, social marketing allows the participants to choose when and how they participate. This is very important for busy doctors, hospital administrators, dental office managers or lab directors.

Audiences for Healthcare Social Media Marketing

The primary target audience for healthcare providers is the healthcare consumer – current and prospective patients. Many of these are already on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube; so it’s relatively easy to establish a connection.

Other healthcare target audiences include people or organizations that refer patients. These include physicians and physician groups, hospitals, clinics, commercial insurers, Medicare and Medicaid payers, self-insured employers, community organizations, healthcare directories and medical websites. Basically, if one of these organizations can send you a patient or recommend you to a patient, you should consider involving them in your social media marketing plans.

Social marketing is also a good way to keep in touch with your healthcare peers. Social media technology – with its facilities for video, group communications and interaction -- can significantly enhance peer communications. Many physicians now participate in online professional networking communities including Sermo.com, MedScape.com and LeadPhysician.com

Promoting the Patient Experience in Healthcare Social Marketing

The main goal of your social media marketing program should be to promote the quality and convenience of the patient experience. Every aspect of a patient’s healthcare experience – from improved quality of life, disease remediation or cosmetic enhancement to the basics of facility cleanliness, prompt attention and easy parking – is an opportunity to use social marketing to promote your healthcare practice.

The best application of social media for marketing for healthcare is the patient testimonial. The technology of social marketing enables broad reach and high impact with YouTube videos, Yelp reviews or ratings on Yahoo! Local – as well as patient quotes on your website, Facebook and LinkedIn pages.

Consumers are much more likely to believe patient testimonials than statements made on a website, email or printed material. Accompanying photos and videos can significantly reinforce this effect. Videos by physicians and dentists have also proven to be highly effective, particularly when combined with an active social media marketing program.

Healthcare Social Media Marketing -- Dos and Don’ts

Recommendations for planning and implementing an effective healthcare social marketing program:
  • Establish separate social sites or pages for personal and professional use. Communicate with patients via your professional social media page – not your personal site. Implement social site security settings to keep your personal site personal.
  • Promote the main healthcare-specific benefits provided by your organization, but also the more mundane features desired by consumers: pleasant surroundings, prompt attention, clean rooms and hallways, better service, directions and parking, good value.
  • Choose the social media channel that best suits the communication and situation. Your website, LinkedIn profile and Facebook Info page are good for information that does not change frequently.  Facebook Wall posts and blogs are useful for daily or weekly updates. Twitter and Internet Messaging (IM) are best for time-sensitive communications like last-minute appointment rescheduling.
  • Don’t communicate sensitive patient information on social media sites. HIPAA regulations apply to social media marketing as well as other communications.
  • Obtain signed consent forms from patients prior to using their quotes, photos or videos on your website or in social media site
  • Observe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines for healthcare advertising. These apply to promotion in social networks as well as other media. New FTC rules governing testimonials and endorsements require healthcare providers to disclose typical results and characterize unusually good outcomes as “results not typical”.
  • Monitor your social marketing program and social sites frequently. This will give you the opportunity to promptly respond to comments, and remove any content that is inappropriate.
  • Use social media marketing applications like HootSuite to manage participation in multiple social media sites. These enable you to schedule the timing of posts, and distribute a post to several social sites with a single action.

Austin Social Media Marketing Services

Semantic Advantage is an Austin social marketing company specializing in managing business social media sites and participation on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. For more information on our social media marketing services, visit the Social Marketing section of our website.

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