Social media has become an integral part of life for many people across the world with Facebook and Twitter dominating as the digital communication tools of choice. Every single day, 890 million people log into Facebook with 84% of those using smartphone technology; globally, there are a staggering 500 million tweets per day.
With digital advertising growing exponentially, every industry including healthcare, is being forced to re-think their digital marketing strategies as well as which channels they choose to communicate with their customers or patients. Keeping up to speed with the mighty digital revolution is a daily observance by those committed to excellence in marketing.
Traditional advertising methodologies are becoming more and more obsolete in the shiny digital world and global brands are investing heavily into building a healthy digital advertising strategy as part of their overall marketing mix.
Recent research revealed that expenditure on Internet advertising in the Arab world was set to grow 247% by 2018. Smartphone advertising revenue is also expected to reach 494 USD million in the UAE alone, which is four times more than traditional display advertising expenditure.
As well as changing how we think and use the Internet for advertising and promotional activity, incredibly intelligent technologies are being created for tech-savvy companies across a multitude of industries. These technologies are programed to observe and analyse online behaviours including how people browse, what they browse for, how frequently and which channels are preferable. These programs are capable of creating sophisticated online user profiles that are then specifically targeted with associated online advertising across a variety of preferred channels to promote and encourage the sale of specific products. With an acute understanding of their browsers psychology through study and analysis, in a nutshell, retailers now know what consumers want before they do!
Digital advertising has the capability to utilise highly sophisticated, targeted online advertising leading to higher conversion rates and therefore, higher returns on investment.
In the healthcare industry these technologies are being successfully employed to target consumers searching for solutions to specific ailments and diseases as well as those seeking surgical procedures to enhance appearances. The UAE healthcare market is bursting with a myriad of providers, all jostling for prime position and competition is incredibly hot. Yet healthcare advertising is only a small component of a healthy marketing mix. Investing into ‘patient experience’ with one’s brand should be a major factor in any overall strategy. Arguably, this is the most important aspect of marketing in healthcare.
Health is universal and something every living, breathing entity shares on this planet. Conversations concerning health and healthcare are also emotional. Without health, we lose choice. Therefore, it is incredibly important that any healthcare provider encouraging online conversation with patients on social media has a full understanding of what they should and should not be doing. Social media can work very well, enhancing brand and bolstering a good reputation through providing healthcare and wellness education and demonstrating positive patient experiences through endorsements and recommendations. But, get it wrong and one can potentially create a maelstrom of bad publicity that ultimately, is more likely to be shared in the social media sphere.
As a marketer, it is wise not to jump straight into the social media circus but to take a moment of reflection to really understand one’s objectives and how one might achieve them for one’s organisation. Do you want to primarily advertise your healthcare facility and services or do you want to encourage interaction with patients and enhance their experience with your medical facility? Having insight into what one’s patient’s expectations are an essential component to successfully engaging with patients via social media.
Patients with access to social media are encouraged to like, follow and interact with your healthcare brand and when they do, they expect to be spoken back to. They want to feel valued. If they have questions, they expect an answer and they expect an answer quickly, in ‘real time’ not in a day or two. Ignoring patients on social media can be disastrous as the following real example very clearly demonstrates.
A patient in a well-known medical facility in the UAE sat and waited to see his doctor at the allocated appointment time. He continued to sit and wait. However, 25 minutes passed and by now, he began to feel frustrated, so he tweeted his feelings to his network of Twitter friends and followers. He approached the receptionist, who in his opinion, wasn’t very sympathetic and told him to sit and wait again as the doctor had been delayed with another patient. So he sat and tweeted about her bad attitude and others began to join the conversation. In summary, the patient tweeted 12 times condemning the facility, the doctor (who he never saw as he walked out) and the receptionist, whom he personally named. Although one may not think 12 negative tweets are significant, he had a network of over 1,200 followers some of who were re-tweeting this negative experience to their own networks. Not once did the medical facility acknowledge or engage with this customer using the same channel and in fact, nearly four hours passed before they realised their mistake – and by then, it was too late. They had lost a patient and potentially a lot more, as well as having their brand reputation damaged through a single person’s negative experience.
If, as a healthcare brand, you promise to care for your patients, how do you demonstrate genuine care if you engage in social media and yet ignore complaints that are occurring in ‘real time’ and are highly visible to many people? The moral of this particular story is unless you are willing to invest real time and professional commitment to social media, don’t do it.
One can avoid negative situations online and protect your brand by investing in robust social media policies and procedures, training and regular evaluation. Be mindful of patient confidentiality and be respectful. Ensure that staffs that are engaging with social media on behalf of your brand know exactly how to handle negative situations that arise and are able to act quickly and escalate when necessary. Similarly, they should also know how to use social media to celebrate the successes of a brand in a respectful, compliant manner. As with everything in business, getting the balance right, being genuinely respectful and understanding your patient’s needs is the key to social media success in healthcare.