Healthcare Marketers, Are You Ready For A Social Media Earful?

OK— I consider myself a good listener. But if I heard people talking about me – good or bad – I think I’d want to jump in.  And here at the end of 2009, well into the age of social media, you can hear people talking about your brand all the time. But maybe you haven’t taken the plunge. Maybe you don’t have more than a few Facebook fans and haven’t tweeted a word.  Not to worry. Just take this one piece of advice from the social media gurus and put it at the top of that New Year’s resolution list: Listen before you leap.

Healthcare marketers know about listening. What other industry is required to continuously collect customer satisfaction data and make it publicly available? (HCAHPS) But social media gives us a chance to hear more than survey results. Now we can hear conversations.

While there are sophisticated social media monitoring tools like BuzzStream,  I’d suggest that a healthy dose of curiosity and a few free tools like Google Alerts and Google Blogsearch combined with searches on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook can be a great start.

Listening is a favorite topic of social media gurus like Brian Chappel. Writing on Jim Tobin’s Ignite Social Media blog, he says there are four things to listen for. I’ve added a comment here and there for healthcare marketers.

• Listen to and about your competition and their marketing. You’ll hear them talking. You’ll hear their patients. It’s even HIPPA-compliant to listen!

• Listen for your fans—and do respond. It’s never too early to ask a friend or fan to link to you and ask if you can link them. Grow a relationship. Sooner or later everyone cares about healthcare.

• Listen to what’s on people’s minds—are more people talking about having babies or getting hip replacements? Take note of where you could contribute. Listen for ideas, too. Eventually you’ll want to collaborate with consumers on solving problems or improving services.

• Listen to what people are saying about you. I’m listing this one last because, for many healthcare marketers, it’s the hardest. So practice first. Take notes. Consider the different ways you could respond. Individually or publicly? In words or in actions? At the marketing/PR level, the leadership level or departmental level?

Social media puts a community of healthcare consumers on your desktop—where you can (and should) listen before you leap. Wishing you a happy (and healthful) new year!

Healthcare Marketing Gets Social

I just got off a conference call with  the marketing folks at one of our client hospitals. We were putting together a mini-marketing plan that required a very quick communications program and somebody said, “let’s get it out on our Facebook page.”

If you’re a healthcare marketer who has boldly ventured into social media, you are certainly not alone. Out of about 5,000 U.S. hospitals, 441 are now listed on Ed Bennett’s blog on Hospital Social Networking. That’s up from 367 hospitals just one month earlier. Ed’s list is certainly growing, but I wondered, what are hospitals gaining—how many people are they reaching? So I checked in on several Facebook pages we surveyed in July, 2009, to see how their fan bases have grown over the last four months.

Anderson Cancer Center (Houston) July: 1,314 /  November: 2,248
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center July: 148 / November: 194
Cleveland Clinic July: 2,801 / November: 5,915
Innovis Health
(Fargo) July: 35 / November: 287
Mayo Clinic July: 7,444 / November: 10,206
Scripps Health
.July: 218  / November: 411
St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital
July: 78,839 / November: 108,809

Big or small, national brand or community hospital, looking at this group as a whole, there are a few things I’d take away.

1. Be active. The fastest growing sites have lively participation and exchanges—not just announcements. Facebook’s Discussions tab is an opportunity to interact directly with consumers—both Mayo and Cleveland Clinic take advantage of this feature.

2. Be interesting, but don’t look scattered. It’s tempting to do it all: real time comments and responses, exchanges with experts and other patients, breaking news, video, graphics, photos and links. Mayo’s Facebook postings feature an expert with a short paragraph and a video link. A nice consistent way to call out the hospital “voice.”

3. Be yourself. Whether a hospital is a national icon or a local institution, your social media presence is an extension of your brand strategy, personality and objectives. St. Jude wants donations. Mayo wants to be more personal. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) has a mission “to create a healthy future.” And you see it on their Facebook pages.

From an account planning standpoint, social media is a tremendous opportunity to listen to consumers, personify our brands and make even more connections. How many? Well, the answer to that changes every day.