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How hospitals are using social media

December 11th, 2012

by Nancy Cawley Jean

Saying that hospitals are conservative is an understatement. We don't like to take risks, we don't like to test the waters and we don't like having things out of our control. All good reasons to be wary of social media.

But the fact is, social media is here to stay, and more and more hospitals are recognizing this and dipping their toes into the social waters as another marketing and brand-building tool.

There are now 1,501 hospitals using some combination of social media channels, according to the Health Care Social Media List, managed by the Mayo Clinic's Center for Social Media. (Please note this is the list originally created by Ed Bennett, and we owe him much gratitude for this resource.)

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There are about 5,815 hospitals registered in the United States, according to the American Hospital Association, almost 25 percent of the country's hospitals. When I set up our accounts in 2009, we were among the first 5 percent. Clearly more hospitals are recognizing the importance of being part of the conversation!

So just what are hospitals doing? Recently a well-known member of the healthcare social media community, Reed Smith, did a study on Facebook pages for 13 hospitals. His findings appear in this great infographic.

From Reed's study, some things pop out at you. First, most hospitals surveyed are using links or photos in their Facebook posts. Why? The infographic nicely shows that photos get the most engagement, followed by links. With that information it's easy to realize that focusing on images and links for your Facebook page should be a priority.

Topics jump all over the board, ranging from "information" to events, from news to personal stories. But when you look at engagement, personal stories clearly generate the most fan engagement. I can attest to this from my own experience.

If you share a hot news topic with a link, you'll get a few "likes" and maybe a few comments. Then share a photo of a child who has recovered at your hospital and post his mom's story, and watch the number of thumbs up rise and read the amazing comments that come in.

Why? Because it becomes personal. Because it tugs at the heart strings. Because suddenly people can relate to this. They know the family, or have a child the same age, or their children go to school together. Whatever the reason, this is what works in terms of building engagement among your community. I've seen this first-hand, and nothing is quite so moving as seeing one of these stories and the reaction you get on your page.

There's another in-depth report on the healthcare industry's use of social media, which looks at consumers, healthcare organizations, pharma companies and insurers. There's also a helpful infographic based on that report and two great quotes I'd like to share.

The first is: "Not long ago, terms such as liking, following, tagging, and stumbling all had very different meanings. But in the era of social media, they provide the clues that could lead to higher quality care, more loyal customers, efficiency, and even revenue growth." This is the world we live in today. If you don't know what those terms mean, you need to do some research and go where the conversations are happening.

The second quote is from Ed Bennett, who said, "If you want to connect with people and be part of their community, you need to go where the community is." The 75 percent of hospitals that are not in social media need to pay close attention to this.

So, if your hospital is NOT using social media, do you plan to launch anytime soon? If your hospital IS using social media, are you expanding your current use? What will you do differently in the coming year?

Nancy Cawley Jean is a senior media relations officer for the Lifespan health system in Rhode Island, managing social media for five hospitals and a women's medicine practice.

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