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Social media strategies for risk-averse hospitals

August 22nd, 2012

by Jenn Riggle

More than 1,200 hospitals have a social media presence, according to Ed Bennett, who keeps an ongoing list of hospitals engaging in social media. And while some hospitals, such as Mayo Clinic and Boston Children's Hospital, have used social media to build their brand and create thought leadership, nearly 3,800 of the nation's community hospitals still haven't staked their claim in social media. Why?

Some may be afraid of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) violations, while others may not have the dedicated staff needed to "feed the beast" and regularly post meaningful content on Facebook and Twitter.

But take heart. There are some simple social media strategies hospitals can implement that won't raise your blood pressure.

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Meet with local Social Media Club: If your hospital is located in a city, there's a good chance there's a local Social Media Club (you can check the Social Media Club website to find local chapters). These groups are composed of local people who are passionate about social media and who could potentially become advocates for your hospital. Reach out to your regional group and see whether it would be possible for you to attend one of their meetings to talk about organization.

  • Consider cost: They may ask you to pay a small fee or sponsorship to speak to the group. However, it's a small price if you consider that you'll be telling your story to people who could potentially become advocates for your organization.
  • Keep in mind: The people who come to these meetings aren't health professionals and won't be interested in hearing about your hospital's service lines, quality scores, or a lot of medical jargon. Instead, they'll want to hear about health issues that impact the community, such as how your hospital cares for the underserved, your hospital's trauma services, or new diagnostic treatments for breast cancer. The key is to remember your audience and keep your story relevant.

Create a social media advisory board: Another way to increase your hospital's reach is to create a social media advisory board. This board would be composed of social media influencers who are knowledgeable about healthcare and/or are members of the community who are engaged in social media. The hope is that they will publish content that supports your hospital's goals/initiatives, engage with your organization on social media (i.e., retweeting or posting comments on Facebook), and serve as a sounding board for your organization's social media messages and initiatives.

  • Consider cost: Typically, social media advisory board positions aren't paid. However, it's important to note that you will need to invest a lot of time and resources to identify and interview possible board members. In addition, you will need to spend time to educate them about your organization and initiatives, as well as nurture your relationship with them and communicate with them on a regular basis. The key is to keep your advisory board engaged so that they're up-to-speed on what's happening with your organization.

Make better use of video: Many hospitals are hesitant to engage in social media because they're afraid of negative comments and feedback. That's why a video strategy makes so much sense. Of the social media channels, video provides organizations with the most control because you're publishing your own information. And if you're nervous about what people are going to say, you can disable the comment feature on videos.

  • Consider cost: You don't need to spend $20,000 on a brand video for it to be effective. In fact, that may be overkill. The goal is not to create an overproduced ad, but a clean, crisp video that is compelling. Ideally, you should be able to shoot the video in-house, but sometimes this can result in shaky video or audio issues. Instead, you may want to hire a local video crew and have them shoot and edit the video for you. This should cost around $5,000 and will give you a professional video you can be proud of.
  • Keep it short: Effective YouTube videos are between one to three minutes long. If you have a lot of great video content, consider editing it into shorter videos. This will allow people to find the segment they want, rather than watching a five-minute video.
  • Remember SEO: It's not enough to create a great video and post it. You need to take the time to use SEO (search engine optimization) to promote your video so people will see it. Ensure all video titles include your hospital's name and descriptions, and are tagged with keywords.
  • Promote your video: Everyone's familiar with Facebook advertising. But YouTube also offers options for promoting your video. Purna Virji wrote a great post that outlines how you can boost conversions from your YouTube ads.

Play with Pinterest: Serving as a virtual bulletin board or scrapbook, Pinterest provides another platform to showcase the work your hospital is doing. You can create different boards to "pin" (or share) information and videos about your hospital, as long as they have a graphic image.

  • Even though it's tempting, don't just post links to your hospital's website and YouTube videos. Instead, embrace the spirit of social media and link to relevant information that appears on other sites as well. This not only shows that you're reading what other people are posting, but it also may encourage others to pin your material.
  • If you haven't already done so, try Pinerly. Similar to Twitter's Bit.ly, it allows you to track how many people clicked on your pin to reach the link.

Try your hand at podcasts/webinars: Another cost-effective content creation option is to produce podcasts or Webinars. Basically, these are digital recordings you can post to your website. A lot easier to produce than video, they provide another option if you're looking for new ways to add interactive content to your social media mix.

Hospitals shouldn't be afraid of social media, but they need to find strategies that are right for them.

Jenn Riggle is a vice president at Weber Shandwick Worldwide and member of its healthcare practice.

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