One of our first clients was a hospital. They wanted to find a way to keep their patients more engaged and better informed about their own health. Every family practice doctor had a similar story: patients would come in, mention an article they read in a paper like the New York Times, and ask if it was true.
Health education is one of the most effective ways to keep patients healthy, so the hospital saw an opportunity: what if the clinic could recommend important health news directly to patients via social media?
Would they read it? Would doctors participate? And would the hospital support them?
We were brought in to develop a strategy and implement a social media health education program. In this blog post I’m going to explain the principles behind a social media health education strategy, how the strategy
works, and how to implement it successfully. These same principles apply to any large service organization that employs highly educated, highly independent professionals (law firms, accounting firms, consulting firms, etc).
What Patients Want: Personal Relationships, Leveraging the News, Creating ROI
We learned some important principles about what patients want when it comes to health news.
People want health tips from the doctors and nurses they know. Whether it’s a friend or family member or their own doctor or nurse, patients and their families trust them for health advice. “So I saw this on Dr. Oz…” are seven words every health professional has heard before. Patients are influential too. Patients also share news and health advice with their friends and family. Sharing news is just as good as creating new content. People are as likely to read health news from a major publisher as they are press releases or content created by their doctor’s hospital. Unless it’s important to create new content, you can save time and cost by sharing news articles. Email gets the most engagement, followed by Facebook, then Twitter. Patients were most likely to read posts shared via email, but sharing to Facebook was how to reach the most people. The best approach was to combine email + facebook sharing
What Hospitals Need to Know: Doctors are Individuals, Risk Needs to be Managed, and Personal Profiles are Critical
In addition to the principles of what patients wanted, hospitals are large organizations with complex risk profiles. There are some critical considerations for how to make a social media health education program work for them:
Communications teams need to be the quarterbacks: Communications teams are aware of the risks and need to be at the centre. They need to either train the doctors carefully about brand risks or they need to be involved in selecting content (more on how to do that shortly). Total control is not an option: Communications teams can’t control what doctors and employees share to their personal profiles without antagonizing them, so it’s important to make it easier for them to share approved content than to find their own content. Doctor and employee presences often drive more traffic than brand presences: Via personal presences on Facebook and Twitter accounts, many individuals have presences that have higher levels of engagement than brand presences (like the hospital’s official presence). It is especially true if you have any doctors who are frequently quoted by the media. Very large health organizations like Mayo Clinic are exceptions. Email is the most effective channel: The most effective way to engage employees and doctors to share hospital-approved content is by emailing them content they can retweet or like. Relying on them to navigate to the hospital’s approved Twitter account to find what they can retweet is significantly less effective and users won’t do it consistently.
The Playbook: How These Principles Turn into a Strategy
Now that we’ve looked at the principles, here’s the best way to actually run a program that maximizes patient education and engagement while minimizing risk.Find all of your doctor’s and official hospital Twitter accounts. There are usually a few doctors or departments sharing hospital or health related news. These are great sources for health news to share. The communications team should select relevant health news. Working with the doctors to establish criteria, communications professionals should select appropriate news. Share it to Twitter and Facebook. Official presences should be managed by a communications professional to control brand risk. Email out your best Tweets and Facebook posts to your staff and patients. Your staff were probably working when you were tweeting, or maybe they just missed the update. So email them the most important health news so it’s easy for them to share to their own networks.Measure and Repeat. There are two important things to measure: which content is most popular and whose sharing is getting the most engagement. This will will help you identify which topics and sources are working best and who among your staff and patients have the most critical networks. Plus, sometimes it’s nice to thank people for sharing!
So those are the lessons and that’s the strategy. Hospitals and health organizations can use social media as an effective health education channel by using a coordinated strategy that keeps their brands safe, their employees engaged, and their patients healthy.