When you look up from your smartphone for a couple nano-seconds, it’s obvious that social media is ubiquitous in the culture…and pervasive enough to have crossed over to other media. There are at least a dozen major media television programs based primarily on social media. And nearly every major network drama, professional sports broadcast and sitcom is littered with #hashtags and at-signs.
Cultural pundits have observed that social media is like cotton candy—it’s appealing, difficult to resist—and stretching the analogy a bit—it has become the fabric of our lives. For better or for worse, it seems that nearly everyone has embraced social media as a preferred form of communications.
For business enterprises in general—and for cash-based healthcare businesses specifically—social media represents a large marketing venue for reaching, recruiting and retaining private pay and elective care patients. In short: It’s where people (your audience) spend time these days.
Strategies and Tactics to Grow Your Social Presence
The road from concept to completion—successfully building engaging and enduring relationships—requires time, attention and a fair amount of patience. It’s not a marketing “quick fix.” Episodic direct response advertising, as one comparison, produces brief encounters. The nature of social, on the other hand, is longer-term and more enduring. Essentially, the difference is inspiring a one-time buyer versus retaining an established customer.
Following are many of the important and practical strategies and tactics that make social media effective for health care providers.
Comply with rules and regulations. It almost goes without saying, but…here’s a quick reminder that responsible use of social media demands strict observance of, and concern for, HIPAA and similar regulations and guidelines. Interpretation of patient information and privacy issues can be subtle and seemingly obscure. What’s more, social media is relatively new territory for healthcare.
For peace of mind, and to avoid landmines, have a clear policy for everyone in the organization, and seek professional legal counsel as needed.
Speak from one person to one person. While you may be reaching many, never lose sight of the individual. Carefully tailored content—consumed one person at a time—requires a deep understanding of the individual’s interests, problems and perspective. Ask how can you communicate in a way that touches their daily lives, triggers an emotional response, or feeds a personal need.
Identify influencers and opinion leaders. Ultimately, quantity is not as important as quality in a social media audience. In the course of time you’ll discover—through active listening and awareness—those audience members who have the strongest influence and are most inclined to share and/or extend your reach. Among your visitors and followers, specific people or groups will demonstrate a tendency to extend and grow your exposure.
Follow your competition and peers. Take note of how other professionals and voices of pertinent industries interact via social media to help identify topics, patterns and timely discussions. (Differentiate, don’t copy.)
Post regularly and consistently. Focus your available resources on social interaction that you can sustain. Here-today-gone-tomorrow erodes all hope of a lasting foundation. It’s better to master and do an outstanding job with one or two of your most important social platforms than to be anemic (and ineffective) in many. Post with dependable regularity.
Telling vs. Selling. Growing a strong presence depends on establishing a trusting relationship with individuals. And sharing is the gateway to making connections. Said another way, people resonate with things that benefit them (i.e., not you). “Telling” is shorthand for offering beneficial content that answers the question: What’s in it for them?
Be authoritative, relevant and timely. A doctor’s credentials and reputation convey a voice of authority, provided that your social content is pertinent, credible and relevant to the audience at a time they need and want it. These are important building blocks to “being interesting.”
Differentiate yourself with unique content. There is no distinction in content that simply echos everyone else. Stand head and shoulders above the clutter of same-ness with original ideas and material that helps the reader. Dare—at least a little—to be provocative.
Practical tips and techniques for social success…
The operating mechanics of social media can, at first, appear daunting. But virtually all platforms work to simplify access and use. Some of the best ways to be more visible and to gain greater social traction include:
- Ask questions and invite opinions
- Be sensitive, compassionate and helpful
- Begin or join conversations and discussions
- Contribute and invite guest posts
- Contribute meaningful comments to blogs
- Don’t plead for likes, shares, retweets
- Provide direction for action or additional information
- Reflect your brand with consistency
- Share and retweet often
- Spice-up the mix with podcasts, videos and other techniques
- Tweet with 100 characters allow space for comments and tags
- Use visuals, including video, whenever possible
For healthcare marketers, social media represents a robust and growing opportunity to reach selective audience members within a large and active universe. The creative and effective use of social media reveals the human side of healthcare; engenders trust, which reduces barriers; and enhances your professional reputation. Social media is people-to-people communications that creates enduring relationships between provider and patient.