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Hospitals that excel at using social media

February 7th, 2011

by Nancy Cawley Jean

Most of us in the healthcare field who are using or interested in social media know of Ed Bennett and his fantastic blog, Found in Cache. If you follow his blog and its regular updates of the big social media list, you know that more hospitals are jumping into social media.

As of January 23, the list includes 906 hospitals using 3,087 social sites. Of course, just because a hospital is using social media doesn't mean it's successful at it. So I decided to look at some of the top hospitals and see what they're doing, what sets them apart, and what makes them so successful.

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First, I realized that I'm falling behind the curve, because not only have we not launched a blog, but we haven't claimed our hospitals on Foursquare (a location based social networking site that allows users to "check-in" to places they happen to be visiting, dining, receiving care, etc.), , and we haven't established LinkedIn accounts for the hospitals either. Many hospitals are using all of these social media outlets and more (FlickR, YouTube, etc.) to build a loyal following and talk to people about what matters to them. And clearly there are leaders.

On Twitter, in terms of followers, Mayo Clinic is the leader of the pack. No surprise there. They've been considered the leaders in social media for hospitals for a long time, thanks to Lee Aase. Mayo now has nearly 120,000 followers through 2,815 tweets. So what are they doing with their tweets? They provide quick, helpful health tips, promote sources of getting health info like podcasts or interviews with their experts, they solicit questions from people, promote videos, and call attention to media stories. It doesn't seem like anything unusual, though. So what am I missing? You can't help but wonder if their well-known name helps with increasing followers.

On Facebook, Mayo does well here also, with nearly 22,000 "likes," but that's just a drop in the bucket compared to the leaders. Tops is Children's Hospital Boston with 500,537 likes, or fans, as of February 7. So how did they get there?

I absolutely love what they've done. When you visit their Facebook page for the first time, you're invited to like them to read patient stories and submit your own. Brilliant. Their tabs are pretty standard, but they also have a "Give" tab to support philanthropy, their "photos" tab has 65 albums, with an additional 1300 or so posted by fans, and they also have an "Invite" tab that allows you to invite your own friends to become a fan. Apparently it's working.

Next on Facebook is St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. They boast a whopping 358,154 fans, or likes. It doesn't hurt that they advertise nationally and of course childhood cancer tugs at the heartstrings. But what are they doing on their Facebook page to set themselves apart? They've got a special tab for "Patient of the Month," a customized tab with a timely promo called "Game Day. Give Back," and a "Shop" tab to purchase items from the hospital that support its fundraising efforts. If you look at their wall, it almost appears to have more posts from fans than from the hospital itself. It's a truly impressive effort.

Also of note, the third on the list is another children's hospital, Arkansas Children's, with 77,791 fans/likes. It seems that social media and children's hospitals are a natural. It's an engaged audience with lots of moms on social sites sharing info and experiences, gathering tips, and discussing their own stories. Seems like a perfect match. In my own experience, Hasbro Children's Hospital is far and away the most "liked" and the Facebook page with the most engagement of our five hospital accounts.

What I find interesting, though, is that the hospitals are all doing very similar things. Yet clearly, we have some that are excelling in terms of engagement and followers. That leads me to a question: Is name recognition and reputation an important aspect of social media success, or can a small community hospital build such a following simply by doing the right things? I'd love to hear feedback on this topic and get a discussion going. And in my next post, I'll be taking a look at hospitals using LinkedIn and foursquare--a rapidly growing list.

Nancy Cawley Jean is a senior media relations officer for Lifespan in Providence, RI, where she oversees social media for Lifespan's five partner hospitals and also manages the national media relations for research at Rhode Island Hospital and its Hasbro Children's Hospital. Find her at @NancyCawleyJean on Twitter.

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