2017's Tell-All Social Media Guide for Doctors and Hospitals

You may have thought “this too shall pass”, but now you’ve realized the inevitable truth: social media is here to stay. If you’ve never given social media much thought when it comes to your physician practice or hospital’s speciality program, you’re not alone. Chances are you’ve stumbled upon this article today, right now, because you know the time has come for you to step up your social game.

Fact: 1.3 million pieces of content are shared on Facebook every single minute.

Read on as we give you the encouragement you need to embrace social media, talk you through the basics, and explain 2017’s best practices when it comes to representing your healthcare practice or hospital speciality program online.

Why Social Media Matters in Healthcare

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In the same way that “social media” is an umbrella term that represents various, dynamic forms of public connection, content sharing and communication, “why it matters” can cover just as much ground. In short, social media matters in healthcare because it is everywhere. In 2014, a study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research cited that 95 percent of hospitals had a Facebook page. Keep in mind, this stat was from nearly 3 years ago which is an ion in the internet age. Social media is omnipresent. To not have social accounts for your business shows not only that the train has left the station without you, but that you’re still riding a horse and buggy.

Here are concrete reasons why social media matters to your healthcare program.

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1. Get Chosen by More Patients, More Often

This is probably the number one reason you’re reading this article right now--rightfully so. For many specialities, like orthopedics and joint replacement surgery, getting new patients can be highly competitive. Attracting new patients is a challenge--one that social media can help solve. Having an online presence means having a updated website, being listed in online directories, showing up in Google search, Yelp and so forth. It also means cultivating social channels like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Youtube etc., where you can better control and more easily publish content related to your practice.

The more you get seen by potential patients, the more you will be chosen to serve these patients. Gaining recognition and market share online will extend your program’s reach locally, statewide, and sometimes even internationally for high-performing specialty programs.

Social media is great for search-engine optimization (SEO). Better SEO means improving the order in which your site or social page will show up in search results made by potential patients.

2. Builds a Sense of Community

As physicians or hospital administrators overseeing a specialty program or centre of excellence, you don’t get to spend a lot of time with patients. In fact, a 2016 study that looked at doctors across 26 specialties found that patients spent an average of just 13-16 minutes with their doctor per visit. This is not a lot of time to make a connection, let alone share all of the information that this patient (and many others like him or her) would find helpful. This is where social media comes in.

Creating a warm, comfortable, safe and educational atmosphere online is directly associated with your physical office. Having an online presence that continues the conversation, welcomes feedback, and supports peer engagement--especially within a specific specialty where patients are undergoing very similar issues--is a differentiator for your practice, letting you stand-out in the crowd.

3. Share Clinical Information

As we mentioned earlier, in your busy days bouncing from patient to patient, it’s nearly impossible to share all of the information and resources you’d like to. Social media gives you a platform to share important clinical information, breaking research, inspiring stories and more, to an even larger audience. Using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, Pinterest, Instagram or even Snapchat as a way to share pertinent or helpful information can improve the quality of care you are giving, better patient education, enhance symptom management, and get patients actively involved with their health.

Warning: Creating and sharing content with real patients as a healthcare authority puts you in a sensitive position. Social channels are not the place to treat patients and offer direct advice. It’s a place to give a general information to a larger audience. With social, always assume that 100 heads are watching over your shoulder (in reality, there may be more).

4. Understand and Communicate w/ Your Patients Better

Social media is a two-way communication model. We’ve all heard of the term “troll” which essentially means someone who hides behind their computer screen and makes comments or “stirs the pot”. It’s likely that the negativity perpetuated by these trolls would not occur in real face-to-face conversation. This is a dramatic illustration that attempts to highlight the level of engagement and inhibition-free communication that tends to happen online in public forums or commenting platforms. The “troll” example was not to instill fear, but rather to showcase the huge opportunity you have to communicate with your patients, hear valuable feedback, and understand who these people are.

By taking social media seriously and treating it with the level of analysis and thought it has proven it deserves, you have the power to understand your patients and cater to them in ways that were never before possible. Just try and stay out of trouble, okay?

How to Win at Social Media as a Doctor or Care Provider

Now that you’re convinced social media is important for building and maintaining a robust practice or hospital specialty program, it’s time to break down the “how”. Winning at social media isn’t about haphazardly slapping together a few social posts here and there. It takes a well-thought strategy and inspired execution to make real headway.

Success with social is a recipe of consistency, patience, testing, listening and innovation... sprinkled with a little more patience.

Here’s How to Start Building a Strong Social Presence.

1. Write Marketing Persona’s

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As a healthcare provider you many not be too familiar with marketing jargon. However, the concept of developing “personas” is a simple one. It’s like generalizing the “who, what, when, and why” of your typical or ideal patients.

“A marketing persona is a composite sketch of a key segment of your audience. For content marketing purposes, you need personas to help you deliver content that will be most relevant and useful to your audience.”- Ardath Albee, Buyer Persona Expert

You want to uncover common patterns or trends within your patients groups. To help with this, ask yourself:

  • Who are your typical patients?
  • How old are they?
  • What’s their average salary?
  • Where do they live? (urban, suburban, rural)
  • Why do they book appointments?
  • What are their primary issues or challenges? Secondary challenges?
  • What is their end-goal?
  • What are the side-effects of their condition?
  • What mental or emotional state are they in?
  • What does their typical day look like?

Things to Consider:

  • Hobbies
  • Computer Literacy
  • Reading Level
  • Languages Spoken
  • Family Dynamic (e.g. if your an orthopedic surgeon, joint replacement patients will likely be empty-nesters, with no at-home children. This will change the way they consume online media).

With this information, you can put yourself in the shoes of your patients. By thinking strategically about who your existing target patient group is you will be able to serve them with content that is impactful. These personas are a fundamental building block as you develop and execute a social strategy.

2. Do Some Research

If you’re new to this, the only way to know what you’re doing is by doing some online research. Clearly, you’ve found this article, so good work! But beyond this, you want to research what your competitors or other healthcare practices, hospitals or brands are doing. The best way to get an idea of who is putting into play great social media marketing is to see what you like. To perform intel, look at competitors locally as well as nationally.

Look out for:

  • Which social accounts a hospital, practice or speciality program are active on
  • How frequently they are posting
  • How many people are engaged (liking, sharing, commenting, retweeting their posts)
  • What you think they’re doing well (e.g. type of content you’ve seen that you think your patients would like too)
  • Have they done anything unique? (e.g. run cool campaigns like photo submission contents, written original content to share etc.)
  • What hashtags are they using? This is an important one to note. Jot down the hashtags you’re seeing within your space down.
  • What you think you could do better than them

3. Create a Social Media Strategy

Okay, so you may be getting the hint that social media isn’t just smiley emoticons and cat videos on YouTube. Like most things to do with running a business, it requires real thought, putting pen to paper, and action.

Here’s what your social media strategy should look like:

  • Defined goals that outline what success looks like-- What are you looking to get out of investing in social media? What will success look like? If you’re new to social media you may not know what actual figures you should aim for. This is fine. You will have a better idea in the ‘testing’ phase. However, perform some intel into other doctor practices or specialty programs and see how many followers they have on specific channels, how many comments they get when they post, their number of retweets etc., This will give you a benchmark to reach for as you start out. Your goals should be specific, measurable and time-sensitive.
  • Identify chosen channels-- Where can you best portray how top-notch your practice or specialty program is? In all likelihood, Twitter and Facebook will be your most important social channels. Decide which channels your patients frequent most and invest heavily in those. Don’t forget that having a website works in tandem with social media and content creation. It’s a must. As you carve out your top channels, always test if your audience responds to channels like: Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Medium, Linkedin etc.
  • Be well-documented-- Write it all down. Record an audit of today’s metrics: number of followers on each channel, highest performing article or shared content piece, which accounts your practice currently holds, last activity on account etc. Build upon this information with with plans for the future. For example, the type of content you will put out (news articles, questions to stir discussion, which hashtags you will use etc.). According to HootSuite, a good rule of thumb for social sharing is to post in thirds: “⅓ of content promotes business and converts audience; ⅓ of content shares ideas and stories from thought leaders; ⅓ is original brand content”. Keep this in mind as you jot down as much of the “who, what, when and where” information down into a documented social media strategy.

Note: Your social strategy doesn’t have to be anything too formal--we know you’re a not a typical business with a lot of bandwidth and a full marketing department.

This is a great overall social media strategy template put together by HootSuite. They go into great detail with specifics that will help guide you.

4. Put it to the Test

As we’ve mentioned, when it comes to healthcare, unlike other industries like fashion or food and beverage, the stakes are much higher. Offering in-depth medical information or advice over social media is not recommended. Before you take the reins of office’s social media, play around on personal accounts or even set up a mock account. Test different posting styles, pose questions, dig deeper into analytics and platform tools, and share images and videos.

Learning the ins and outs of how the platforms function will allow you to take hold of your professional accounts with more confidence. Learn the ropes in a low-risk environment where real patients with real health concerns aren’t there to witness any slips.

Tips to Get More, Out of Less

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Social media is an investment. Deciding how big of an investment is something that you determine with time. However, there are always ways to get more out of the effort you put in. In other words, adding fuel to the fire that you already have lit. Here are some time-saving tips to accelerate your rise to social media guru.

1. Use Time Management and Sharing Tools

There are an overwhelming amount of social tools and a lot of them have very similar offerings or have too many bells and whistles that you just won’t use. Luckily, as a team, we’ve tested a ton over the years. A favorite versatile tool to help with scheduling and analytics is Buffer. If you only get one tool, let this one be it. Buffer lets you schedule tweets or Facebook posts from within their platform automatically send at predetermined times. A basic Buffer account is free with team plans starting at $99 a month.

Here is a complete list of many great tools, what they do, and how much they cost.

2. Buddy Up/ Bring Someone On

Even with tools, social media is a big time investment. This is especially true for healthcare professionals who are often working long hours, on their feet, and not in typical office settings. Buddying up with other partners in your office or bringing on a part-time social media coordinator will lessen the load. We recommend not sharing social media duties with more than one or two other team members. Having a consistent, unified voice and type of narrative is really important for brand building and engaging your audience.

3. Stay in the Loop: Subscribe to Blogs, Follow Influencers and Competitors

Like in the research phase we described earlier, subscribing to other blogs in your space allows you to perform intel on competitors, while inspiring you with content ideas to create or curate within your own channels. This should be an ongoing practice for you. Getting an RSS feed reader will deliver the content you’re interested in straight to your inbox. Similarly, following other practices, care centers and hospitals on social channels will give you a better vantage point on high-performing content, dialogue that works well, and improvements you can make to your own everyday game.

4. Invest in Good, Original Content

Creating original, valuable content aimed at your target marketing persona is one of the best ways to generate interest and be seen. Creating different types of original content like articles, interviews, infographics and short videos, will bring targeted visitors to your website and build familiarity and trust. In today’s age of overwhelming loads of information, it’s not worth your time to produce original content unless the quality is sky high. In order to get potential patients to click on a content piece and eventually feel inspired to schedule an appointment, your content will need to compete with (and hopefully trump) whatever else is out there.

Tip du jour: It’s better to produce original high-quality, in-depth content rarely than to pump-out short, fluff pieces regularly.

5. Use Visuals and Multimedia

You know that saying, “a picture is worth 1000 words”? Well, with social media, it could be more. According to Brain Rules, “if you hear a piece of information, three days later you'll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you'll remember 65%”. On top of that, almost all social media marketers are using images and video assets in their campaigns. Pictures, graphics and video stand-out more and have greater engagement. Pepper eye-catching photos, videos and multimedia in with standard posts. Here is an in-depth article on visual content stats to persuade you that great visuals matter.

Check Out These Social Front-Runners

Before you can lead by example, check out some of the hospitals and physician practices that are killing it with their social game. We’ve mixed in examples of best-in-class Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Linkedin and even Pinterest pages for your review.

  • Cleveland Clinic (Pinterest). With an original infographic shared via Pinterest, promoted on their other social accounts and eventually picked up by Washington Post and Business Insider, they earned more than 3.6 million views. On Pinterest, Cleveland Clinic has close to 14,000 followers.
  • Doctor Mike Evans (Twitter and Youtube). Known for his whiteboard video series on various healthcare topics, Dr. Mike Evans has more than 77,000 subscribers in YouTube with an engaged 16,000+ followers on Twitter. Look to his videos for inspiration on original, engaging patient content done right.
  • pMayo Clinic (Facebook)](https://www.facebook.com/MayoClinic/). With close to 1 million likes on Facebook, Mayo Clinic posts relevant articles, video, images and original content several times daily. A top-performing video post garnered more than 101,000 likes and close to 80,000 shares! The pages also doubles as a highly-responsive patient posting forum for basic QA, comments, feedback etc. Keep in mind, as you build out your hospital or practice page, you will want to zero in on your program speciality (e.g. joint replacement surgery). Going hospital-wide, like Mayo Clinic, is not the place to start in order to gain a targeted following and new patients.
  • Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Columbus (Facebook)-- This is a great, smaller scale physician practice page to illustrate all we’ve talked about in this article. With more than 3,000 people having checked-in on Facebook, this page is like a personalized, business directory. With doctors posting fun challenges, patient reviews, personal photographs etc., this is a solid example of a maintainable, reachable practice-specific page.

Our hope is that with this, you can more confidently begin to think about how you will make an impact and grow your patients with social media. When it comes to social, slow and steady wins the race. Take the time to do your research, plan out a real strategy, seek help, and just stay on top of it. With social media, the leg work you put in today, you will get back tomorrow. Building a presence will allow you to stay relevant and be seen in an increasingly cluttered marketplace.

Are you a clinician? Are you a hospital executive or administrator? Learn more about how PeerWell’s mobile PreHab and ReHab app turns out healthier patients, while helping you run a more efficient and lucrative practice.

Download This Free Social Media Guide!

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Hi, I'm Grace. I write all things surgery for the PeerWell blog. You may remember me from such titles as: "Diabetes & Joint Replacement 101" & "Sex After a Joint Replacement".

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