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Hospitals: Time to build your social media strategy

January 7th, 2013

by Andrea J. Simon

We are in the midst of our third annual survey of how hospitals use social media.

To set the stage for what we are finding, we ask you: Does your hospital have an online strategy and use social media?

Almost half of the 140 hospitals sampled in 2012 still have no real Facebook presence--less than 5000 "likes." Almost 11 percent, or 15 of the sample, had well over 10,000 Facebook fans--an increase from 8 hospitals a year earlier.

Some are growing fan clubs into the thousands while others are wondering why they should bother. Children's hospitals are clearly leaders in the social media arena, as are major brands such as Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic.

[More:]

Why don't more hospitals embrace social media? Risk adverse, no staff, don't see the value?

Perhaps I can share some easy ways to think about this that remove the mystery and help you see why it is such a valuable way to tell your story. The debate on social media's value is keen. Just take a look at the New York Times article on Jan. 6, 2013.

Social media helps hospital brands tell their story. What's your story? Hospitals have different stories to tell. Do you think you and your brand have a unique story? Or are you a commodity like all the rest.

Remember, if you don't own your story someone else will and then you are easily replaced by a competitor.

We are working with a hospital today that presents a very different story on its website than do each of its competitors. If you were searching for bariatric surgery at each institution, you would come away with very different impressions of which one was right for you.

How to build that story online? Think about your website as the keynote speech, the long story that lays the foundation for your web presence. It is the place where you put your services and accomplishments out for the world to see. You can display your newest technology, your doctors and staff, as well as their recognition and your great service lines.

If the website sets the foundation, it has to be closely tied into other types of social media: blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Each has a different format that complements the website, keeps it fresh and lively, and targets search engine optimization (SEO) objectives.

Since YouTube videos dramatically enhance search--number two behind Google--take a look at your videos and how you are tagging them. What category are you placing them in? You want people to experience you in a positive way before they actually step inside your doors, and people often search YouTube first.

What should Facebook and Twitter do for you? Think of Facebook as a conversation taking place with your community. Facebook is experiential. Build a picture diary of the day in the life of the institution. And make sure it comes alive every day.

Twitter, on the other hand, is a way to sound-bite the story out to the community. Plug-ins make this easy.

Blogs are very critical because they let you keep the story building over time. This must be fed weekly, preferably twice a week. You might consider engaging a full-time blog writer to interview people and develop your social media strategy.

Change is ubiquitous. Be aware that Google and the other search engines are changing all the time. Facebook is beginning to act like a website. You are going to have to work hard to stay on top of what those changes mean for your online presence.

Whether you can do this with only internal staff or with external support should be a question raised repeatedly as you look at your dashboards and see the results. Once you build a fan club, enjoy telling them your story.

Andrea J. Simon, Ph.D. is president and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants. She is a corporate anthropologist, who for the past two years served as interim senior vice president for Marketing, Branding and Culture Change at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Mich.

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