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Leading hospitals still struggle with social media engagement

October 3rd, 2012

by Jenn Riggle

Last month, Ed Bennett announced that the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media will take over and maintain the Hospital Social Network List he created in 2009.

In his final post, Bennett said the environment for healthcare social media is more hospitable than it was three years ago and that hospital executives now understand social media is an essential tool for communication among and between providers, patients and caregivers.

While I agree that the number of hospitals engaging in social media has increased, hospitals shouldn't rest on their laurels because they still have a long way to go to improve community engagement.

Keith Korneluk developed an infographic with the International Council for Quality Care that looks at how the top 100 hospitals use social media. What I found interesting was the average community engagement levels for these hospitals wasn't as high as I expected.


While some hospitals, such as Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic and Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, have definitely established themselves as social media superstars, the majority of these hospitals have hit a glass ceiling when it comes to engagement.

According to the graphic, the average engagement is 3,331 likes on Facebook, 1,702 followers on Twitter and 95 subscriptions on YouTube.

But the question remains: These are some of the best hospitals in the country, so why are some of them hitting it out of the park while others seem to be stuck in mediocrity?

Here are some thoughts:

Advertising isn't a bad word: Social media purists seem to have a natural aversion to Facebook advertising or YouTube AdWords. However, it's really just a way to reach out to people and make them aware about content they might otherwise not see. But it takes fresh, engaging content to persuade people to "like" your page and continue reading your updates. If you're making the investment to create a compelling Facebook page or interesting video, it only makes sense to promote it via social media advertising.

Facebook ads don't drive engagement: It's not enough to only drive people to your Facebook page. Compelling content will make them want to come back and hopefully "like" your page. This is important because when a person "likes" your Facebook page, the content is posted on his or her news feed--which is where most people receive content.

Are you having a one-sided conversation on social media? Hospitals have a long history of handling potential crises and controlling the message. This has resulted in hospitals using social media as a marketing tool to promote their service lines and programs.

If all your hospital is doing is sending out health tips, talking about your services and linking back to your website, your content can become stale--especially if you don't have a blog or don't create original content on a regular basis. A good social media rule of thumb is that you should also link to other websites and respond to comments to show that you're listening.

Are you creating engaging content or infomercials? The good news is hospitals have embraced YouTube as a way to tell their story. Social media is full of examples of compelling video content--think of Medline's Pink Glove Dance that got hospitals across the country dancing. However, the Internet also is filled with videos of doctors sitting at desks and talking about the latest medical procedure. While informative, these videos can be deadly boring.

On the other side of the spectrum, hospitals are creating expensive brand videos that tend to be overproduced and too long for the average YouTube viewer. Better to create short two- to three-minute videos that are "newsy" and fast-paced, and don't look like advertisements.

Are you listening or doing all the talking? Korneluk's infographic shows that lack of response on social media channels continues to be one of the biggest complaints people have about hospital social media efforts. Why? It's because most hospitals see social media as a broadcasting tool or may not have the budget for a community manager. However, someone should be checking the different social media channels at least once a day and making sure the hospital is addressing any questions/concerns that are posted.

Consider a content engagement strategy: If you don't have the resources to have someone serve as a community manager, you may want to target your effort toward social media channels where people can engage with your content. Social media channels like Pinterest and YouTube don't have the same real-time urgency or require you to to post regular, witty comments. Granted, it's important to continue to post new content, but it doesn't need to happen on a daily basis.

Bennett is right. We live in a different world than in 2009, where hospitals executives understand social media is important to their marketing mix. However, we have a long way to go before hospitals are able to fully harness the power of social media as an engagement tool.

In addition, I think community hospitals should be encouraged to know that even the nation's top 100 hospitals are trying to find out how to make social media engagement a reality. So take heart, we're all in this together.

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


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