5 Ways Healthcare Organizations Can Use Social Media

Years ago, you wouldn’t have believed a healthcare brand would ever have a Facebook or Twitter account. You also might not have thought that consumers would share their personal health information online—but you would have been proven wrong. In fact, a whopping 80% of 18-24 year-olds say that they are likely to use social media to share their health information, and an astounding 90% of this demographic say that they are likely to trust medical information shared by their online networks. No longer are we turning to our primary care doctors for answers—we’re going online.

Social media offers an incredible opportunity to provide better patient care and community engagement. Forty percent of adults say that social media would affect their choice of a specific doctor, hospital or medical facility. Even if you don’t currently have an active presence online, your customers are already using social media and are likely talking about you.

The truth is: If you’re not on social, you’re missing out and may soon find yourself playing catch-up with your competitors. The FDA has been releasing draft guidances to help guide marketers in their use of social media. In fact, they released two more earlier this month on social media platforms with space limitations and correcting third-party misinformation. So take this as your cue to start testing the waters and develop your strategy. Here are five ways your healthcare organization can use social media (while still keeping within the necessary regulatory boundaries of the industry).

1. Educate Employees

Each member of your organization should know the regulations surrounding social media. This doesn’t pertain solely to your social media manager or marketing team (a mis-tweet that ruins your reputation can come from any department). Establish guidelines for answering customer questions, developing your voice and providing customer support. Make sure that everyone is on the same page. Train your Community Managers to ensure that they understand how to respond in every situation. Take it one step further and conduct “fire drills” to prepare for the unexpected online by running various scenarios with your team that test potential mishaps with social media (i.e., a rogue tweet or blog post backlash).

2. Listen (And Better Understand) Consumers

Often, I’m asked by brands: “How many networks do I actually need to be on?” The answer for healthcare organizations is generally: “Be on only a select few networks—but listen on all of them.” Consumers are discussing their health all across the Internet each and every day. You don’t need to spend your time figuring out how to talk to them on every single network, but you do need to figure out a way to gain the valuable insights that are at your disposal. And of course, once you gather insights, make sure that you’re using them to optimize based on essential learning. Consider how you can make changes within your organization and marketing strategy that reflect a better understanding of your audience and that are in line with the wants and needs of consumers. Don’t just say that you’re listening—show it.

3. Join The Conversation

Legal concerns regarding engaging on social media are understandable, naturally. These concerns may include everything from privacy to off-label claims. But concerns can be eased with the use of privacy settings and filters on social networks. Not to mention, of course, that consumers are already willingly sharing their information with doctors online, making it easier for your organization to connect with your patients and customers. Online consumers—including patients and HCPs—are the heart of your brand. And when it comes to conversations on social media, they’re in the driver’s seat. By jumping in on that conversation and engaging with them, you’re able to authentically connect with them, as well as potentially help steer the dialogue.

4. Provide True Value

It’s not enough to show up. You must bring something to the table. When drafting content, always keep in mind how you might be able to educate and support your community. Don’t use social media as merely an extension of your customer support. Yes, this must be a piece of your strategy, but it doesn’t paint the entire picture. Make sure that you are providing support for your community’s lifestyle as a whole—including articles, tips, resources and insight—to form a strong relationship with consumers. Don’t just create content—create value.

5. Be Timely And Relevant With Content

The content that you share on social media must be timely and relevant. Consumers are seeking accurate information, but they’re also expecting to connect with brands on their terms and in a way that feels organic. To ensure that your messaging is relevant, while still balancing regulatory restrictions, you must prepare. Develop a plan that allows for content approval well in advance. Balance strategically planned content with nimble community management to keep your content fresh and relevant.

It’s normal to balk at unchartered territory. But don’t think that you have to do everything at once. Take baby steps with content, gaining the trust of consumers and support of your legal team. Continue to test potential opportunities for success and adapt as you go. You can certainly start small (with your eye on bigger goals), but you must start now. Seventy-three percent of adults online use social networking sites, yet only half of the top 50 pharmaceutical companies actually engage on social media. Let’s begin bridging that gap.

  • Carrie Kerpen

    Carrie Kerpen is CEO of Likeable Media, a social media and word-of-mouth marketing agency that recently launched Likeable Health, a healthcare specific vertical to ensure that all regulations are adhered to and all social media needs are met.

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