A few years ago, the idea of following your doctor on Facebook may have seemed flat-out ridiculous.
Fast-forward to present day and it’s clear that times have changed.
According to Deloitte’s 2018 global healthcare outlook, more and more providers are making their presence known on social media.
This migration isn’t due to dollars and cents, though. Instead, the overarching purpose of social media in healthcare is to improve the patient experience and form a “customer-centric relationship” with followers.
And just as people are researching products and services via social, they’re doing the same when searching for a doctor.
But the role of social media in healthcare isn’t as simple as attracting new patients. Providers need to not only understand the best practices of using social media, but also the challenges and responsibilities of doing so, too.
Educating the public. Creating communities for patients. Providing stellar customer care. The list goes on and on.
In this guide to social media in healthcare, we’re going to tackle these challenges head-on. Breaking down how healthcare professionals can use social media as a force for good, we’ll highlight what a fine-tuned presence for medical providers looks like in action.
And with that, let’s dive right in!
The Role of Social Media in Healthcare
Healthcare providers are in a unique position when it comes to their social presence.
After all, you’re marketing a service that represents a human necessity rather than a potential impulse buy.
And between rising healthcare premiums and patient anxiety, winning over your target audience is easier said than done.
Social media is a key component of how your practice is perceived by current and prospective patients alike. Practices of all shapes and sizes should therefore prioritize the following to market themselves as a top-tier provider.
Educating the Public
According to a recent Pew Research study, 36% of Americans haven’t visited a doctor within the past year.
This stat signals the need for education among the general public when it comes to check-ups, seasonal wellness and preventative care. The good news? The same Pew study notes that 87% of people hold doctors and their opinions in high regard.
Educating the public isn’t just as an expectation: it’s a duty. Healthcare marketers actors are therefore tasked with keeping current and prospective patients alike informed year-round about treatments. Topical posts like this one from Florida Hospital represent a much-needed dose of education for their followers.
Making Patients Feel Comfortable
Spoiler alert: not everyone is exactly jazzed about going to the doctor.
Something as seemingly simple as a check-up can be incredibly daunting on a prospective patient. In fact, white coat syndrome impacts approximately 30% of the public.
And so you can imagine the need for practices to display their empathy when it comes to patients dealing with terminal illnesses. Social media represents a great avenue to both show off the measures you take to make patients feel at home in their time of need.
Posts like this one from Northwestern Medicine prove that it’s possible to put on a smiling face regardless of the prognosis.
Signaling Yourself as a Staple in the Community
The concept of competition in the health sector is a touchy one. Even so, any given community 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 the go-to for their respective communities. From showing off employees in action to local advocacy efforts, social media allows practices to be more transparent and personable to prospective patients.
Posts like this one from Massachusetts General Hospital are a shining example of the much-needed personal touch that patients want to see from their providers.
Understanding the big-picture goals of social media in healthcare is key to honing in on a content strategy, which leads us directly to our next point.
Which Types of Content Should Healthcare Providers Publish?
As highlighted by the examples above, healthcare content on social doesn’t have to be all gloom and doom.
Nor should it be.
A diverse content strategy is a smart move for any type of marketing and healthcare providers are no different. For the sake of diversifying your content calendar and keeping your followers happy, consider the following types of content which are fair game for healthcare marketers:
1. Educational Content
The growing phenomenon of self-diagnosis and letting Google serve as a doctor again signals the need for practices to educate the public.
Whether it’s the tips for the latest bug going around or touching on health-related news, marketers should strive to keep followers in the loop.
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Health tips and “Did you know?”-style content is also popular for encouraging interactions and debate among your followers. Whether it’s busting myths or quizzing your followers, posts like Instagram Story from Cleveland Clinic are prime for healthy (pun intended) discussion.
And although not related to content directly, educating potential patients about your practice is a vital piece of social customer care. If someone has a question about treatment options or what your practice can do to help, strive to respond in a timely manner.
2. Inspirational Content
Especially in the face of progressive diseases such as cancer, patients and their family members could often use a dose of inspiration and motivation.
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“Don’t let the diagnosis scare you beyond the initial shock. Be stubborn. Deal with the cancer, and find doctors you can trust. Don’t be afraid to ask for support, and don’t give up. That’s become my mantra: Don’t ever give up.” – Suzanne Stone, a glioblastoma survivor who ran her first half-marathon two years after her diagnosis #cancer #braintumor #braincancer #glioblastoma #survivor #runner #halfmarathon #cancersurvivor #mdanderson #endcancer
As such, you’ll oftentimes find patient success stories sprinkled through any given practice’s feed to provide a much-needed sense of hope. These types of posts are oftentimes the ones that get shared around the most, expanding your reach and telling a compelling tale at the same time.
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At 22, college athlete and elite runner Gabriele Grunewald was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Today she continues to run, not only for her health but as a way to support other patients and raise funds for research. In August 2016 — seven years after her initial diagnosis — Gabriele learned her cancer had returned. This time, it metastasized to her liver. She had another surgery, and doctors believed Gabriele was cancer-free. But in March 2017, follow-up tests revealed more tumors in her liver. That's when doctors recommended she head to Mayo Clinic, where she now has biweekly immunotherapy infusions, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Through it all, Gabriele has continued to run, applying lessons learned on the track to her approach to treatment. "You have to take running one day at a time, and it's not easy every single day," she tells us. "Running has served me well in this. Gabriele believes it could serve others well, too. She recently launched a foundation, Brave Like Gabe, in part to encourage cancer survivors to incorporate physical activity into their lives. But the most important goals of the foundation, Gabriele tells us, are raising awareness of rare diseases and funds to support the research that may lead to their cures. "So many things are uncertain for me right now, but one thing I can do is work to make a difference," Gabriele tells us. "I have been inspired by so many people and organizations, and that made me want to try to inspire others. I'm trying to do as much as I can by sharing my life story. I'm trying to make some good come out of this diagnosis." Read the full story on https://mayocl.in/2rKVdGK. . . . #MayoClinic #MayoClinicMN #Cancer #PatientStory #BraveLikeGabe
3. Harnessing Hashtags
Despite popular belief, social media in healthcare isn’t completely divorced from the world of social marketing at large.
For example, you can totally take advantage of clever captions and Instagram hashtags while still being totally tasteful about it. This post from Northwestern Medicine for #NationalDonutDay is a prime example of how to do just that.
Additionally, there are tons of community-specific health hashtags such as #cancersucks and #cancerfree in which patients and providers alike can show their support to each other. Including such tags on your posts helps you expand your reach and likewise show off your practice in action.
4. ‘Behind the Scenes’ Content
Speaking of practices in action, highlighting the “fun” side of your team by taking followers behind the scenes is always a smart move. Posts like this one from Johns Hopkins serve as both wholesome content and the brighter side of working in healthcare.
5. User-Generated Content
Sometimes the best way to highlight your practice is by letting others do the talking. Through user-generated content, you can provide an unfiltered view of what your practice looks like from the eyes of your patients.
This is why geotagging on Instagram and allowing followers to tag your location via social is so important. People are checking in en masse to let their friends and family know what’s going on, and such tags are critical to spotting UGC in the wild.
Don’t Forget Your Practice’s Reputation
Beyond publishing content, we need to briefly touch on reputation management and its place within social media and healthcare.
Social comments and sounding boards such as Facebook reviews provide an avenue for patients to share their experiences both good and bad.
Since these comments are out in the open, it’s crucial that you respond in a timely manner and address any negative feedback with grace. Just as practices are expected to handle patient concerns in-person with extraordinary care, the same rings true online.
The takeaway? Prospective patients will undoubtedly check out comments and reviews prior to checking out your practice, so just keep social reputation management in the back of your mind.
Important: A Note on HIPAA Compliance
By now your head is probably swirling with ideas.
But also, don’t forget about the need to stay compliant with HIPAA in terms of social media and healthcare. This is perhaps one of the biggest challenges of practices which often flies under the radar.
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?
As such, we really urge you to check out our HIPAA and social media cheat sheet to ensure that what you’re doing is on the up and up.
How Does Your Practice Mix Social Media & Healthcare?
Healthcare marketers have a distinct set of challenges when it comes to social media and healthcare. That being said, there are tons of opportunities for educating the public, creating a sense of community and using your social presence as a force for good. Hopefully this guide was helpful in providing both directions in what you should do in terms of your own social media strategy.
We want to hear from you, though! What do you think is the biggest responsibility for healthcare providers via social media? What’s your biggest challenge? Let us know in the comments below.