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The applications of social media for healthcare are endless. It’s a new patient acquisition tool, a brand management tool and a public awareness tool all rolled into one.
Nevertheless, harnessing its power is notoriously challenging. The healthcare industry is highly regulated, with distinct target audiences and specific objectives. Most social media marketing advice primarily focuses on industries that offer clearer paths to return on investment (ROI), leaving healthcare marketers on their own when building strategies.
When healthcare organizations succeed on social media, they help communities succeed in the real world. We put together this guide to support those missions, and supply you with the best practices and advice needed to grow your audience on social.
What are the benefits of social media in healthcare?
As patient questions, concerns and recommendations continue to go digital, social media has become a crucial tool for healthcare providers. Here are five key ways organizations benefit from the channel.
Build your reputation within a community
Social can play a significant role in helping healthcare organizations effectively reach with diverse audiences across generations. Through social, healthcare providers can engage in direct, transparent communication with a community, whether they be local, circumstantial or interest-based.
This active engagement acts as a form of reputation management, positioning your organization as a reliable provider of healthcare services and information. This way, when a patient is exploring care options, your organization is top of mind.
The concept of competition in the health sector is a touchy one. Even so, any given speciality is full of providers and it’s only natural for prospective patients to “shop around.”
It only makes sense for healthcare marketers to present their practices as leaders in their respective specialties. From showing off employees in action to local advocacy efforts, social media allows practices to be more personable to prospective patients.
Raise awareness on public health topics
Most major and minor events come with various health risks to consider. Even something as common as the start of summer presents new dangers for vulnerable communities.
Providers are responsible for boosting timely, factual information for patients needing guidance. That includes:
- Recommendations for those experiencing symptoms or side effects
- Self-help and external resources to navigate a diagnosis
- Links to new studies and treatment options
Healthcare and social media go hand-in-hand when it comes to raising awareness about public health topics. A standard health advisory can be repurposed into countless types of content, increasing the likelihood of it resonating with its target audience.
Mitigate panic during crises or emergencies
The internet takes to a health crisis like a spark takes to a ball of lint. It doesn't take long for feeds to spiral into misinformation and panic.
Healthcare providers are responsible for guiding the public during crises. They act as a broadcast network for vetted updates people can trust.
Sparse social profiles can reduce credibility, hindering your ability to support the community. That's why it's crucial to have an active social media presence as part of any crisis response plan. Established social profiles provide a platform to share important information, address community concerns and even coordinate relief efforts.
Attract top talent
As providers continue to grapple with staffing shortages, attracting talent has become one of most important applications of social media for healthcare organizations.
Social networks provide a platform to shape and strengthen your employer brand. Sharing updates on awards and behind-the-scenes content can get candidates excited about working with your organization, expanding your talent pool and expediting the hiring process.
Sharpen communications on and offline
Healthcare marketers can use social listening to gain a clear understanding of their audience's sentiments, opinions and needs.
For example, say your community is facing a recent outbreak of Hand-foot-and-mouth disease. Using a social listening tool, an organization can track conversations relevant to the outbreak. That data can then be used to identify common questions around the diagnosis, as well as any false claims on treatments gaining traction online.
These insights can be used to tailor communication across channels so that they’re rooted in exactly what your community needs.
Social media for healthcare marketing best practices
Given that the role of social media in healthcare primarily focuses on educating followers, you’re afforded the opportunity to focus on meaningful, compelling content first and foremost. Let's look at some examples below.
1. Publish educational content to keep patients in the loop
Whether it's blog posts, videos or general health tips, anything you can do to provide your followers with bite-sized information is a plus.
Health tips and fast facts are especially helpful when a timely topic is driving conversation relevant to your organization. For example, after NFL player Damar Hamlin mid-game collapse in January 2023 was attributed to a rare condition called Commotio cordis, football fans and casual viewers alike began to search for more information on its causes and symptoms.
The American Heart Association capitalized on this interest by creating content around the topic designed to increase awareness and emphasize the importance of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training.
Next time you can chime into a trending health conversation with expertise and advice, do it. Your followers will appreciate it.
2. Use inspirational content to motivate followers
Healthcare social media accounts don’t have to be boring or purely educational. You have the privilege of working in an incredibly fast-paced field that makes a real, tangible difference in people’s lives. Your social accounts should celebrate that.
Showcase patient wins, staff celebrations and any other moments that highlight the good work done by your team. These posts provide your audience with a much-needed dose of inspiration by giving them something to rally around.
3. Post infographics for increased engagement
Mastering infographic marketing is a must-do for those working in social media and healthcare. Infographics allow healthcare marketers to break down otherwise dense information in an engaging and memorable way.
Next time a report or study is making waves within your organization or specialty, consider how you might be able to present that information visually. You can even work with creative teams to build templates with your preferred design tool, so you can produce them quickly without any blockers.
4. Harness the power of health-related hashtags
Hashtags are a staple of social media at large. Healthcare companies have plenty of opportunities to use them, too.
Whether it's your own organizational hashtags (Northwestern Medicine's #NMBetter, for example) or healthcare-specific tags (#CancerSucks), promoting a tag does double duty of extending your content's reach while also making it easier for followers to share that content.
Hashtag holidays are a major opportunity for healthcare providers. Virtually every focus has its own awareness or observance period, creating ample opportunities to reach a wider audience.
A social listening tool can help healthcare organizations zero in on the hashtags and keywords that will increase reach and make an impact with audiences. Create topics around your specific organization, or trending healthcare topics within your community. The data surfaced can help you uncover new opportunities to connect with your target audience.
5. Take your audience behind-the-scenes
Giving your various audiences—whether that be prospective patients, volunteers or staff—a peek behind the curtain can increase their interest and give your organization a more human appeal.
If you’re looking for inspiration, look to the nurses at Mayo Clinic on TikTok. They've found a way to bring some levity into the hospital setting through short-form videos that showcase the friendly faces that make up the organization.
These small glimpses of your practice's day-to-day life are crucial for making a connection with followers.
6. Publish patient shout-outs to spread positivity
Sometimes the best way to highlight your practice is by letting others do the talking.
Through user-generated content, like testimonials or reviews, you can provide an unfiltered view of how you're helping patients and supporters.
Sharing user-generated content is also an important relationship-building tactic for healthcare organizations looking to build loyalty with their audience. A simple repost alongside a genuine message of appreciation can go a long way in the eyes of a patient.
HIPAA compliance and social media
To wrap things up, we need to talk about HIPAA.
The most important best practice of social media in healthcare is ensuring patient confidentiality.
In short, you need to take special care when publishing patient content which would potentially reveal sensitive information or otherwise violate HIPAA. For example, did you know that using your patients as part of your marketing materials requires explicit written consent?
There's a lot that goes into HIPAA compliance on social media, but here are some of the basics:
- You're allowed to engage with clients via social, but doing so means being sensitive about health information shared via direct message.
- Publishing patient stories or photos requires written consent.
- Posting sensitive or identifying information publicly can land you in trouble.
With all of this in mind, we urge you to check out our HIPAA and social media cheat sheet for more information.
Social media keeps your organization in good health
Healthcare providers need to meet their communities where they are: on social media.
Thoughtful use of social media in healthcare can tackle some of the industry’s biggest challenges. It’s where leading organizations are connecting with communities, building their reputations and becoming local providers (and employers) of choice.
The healthcare companies that embed social throughout their organizations will reap returns, but not without the right infrastructure. To learn more about how your team can deliver on the full power of the channel, check out this guide to maximizing the ROI of your organization’s social media strategy.
Additional resources for Social Media for Healthcare
The power of social listening for healthcare organizations
Social media for healthcare: How to keep patients engaged in the digital age
How to realize the ROI of social media in healthcare
Social media and mental health: how to find a healthy balance