Social media is no longer a marketing afterthought for companies and organizations. Every major brand is present across the major social media platforms, and they are actively planning strategic campaigns around social activity. Companies from every industry have made the leap into social media, but healthcare lagged behind. In fact, a survey by Greystone in 2015 reported that most healthcare marketers considered their efforts behind the curve compared to other industries.
The good news is that there has since been a large adoption of social media since this report with 96% of respondents (up from 80%) showing an active Facebook account at the very least.
Why so late, though, when social media has been a viable market strategy for much longer? Part of the reason was a lack of understanding about what social media is and how it is integrated with marketing efforts for healthcare, legal marketing, and other professional industries. Another part was a fear of how it affects patient privacy and compliance with regulations such as HIPAA.
Healthcare Social Media Marketing
With the internet and social media, patients are more empowered than ever to make their own healthcare decisions. With 72% of adults actively using social media in 2019 and 47% of internet users making health-related searches (according to Pew Research), social media marketing is more important than ever to healthcare providers.
Pros and Cons of Social Media in Healthcare
You might be considering whether or not social media is right for your practice or organization when there are so many other less risky channels. At the same time, it seems as though the good might outweigh the bad.
- Increasing professional network
- Attracting higher patient count
- Increasing awareness for health topics and issues
- Connecting patients with health education
- Disseminating information quickly
- Maintaining compliance
- Balancing professionalism while being engaging and approachable
- Avoiding negative responses
All of this means healthcare social media marketing is a growing opportunity for providers. However, it must be done right. Here are some tips that you can implement into your social media strategy today:
Best Practices for Social Media in Healthcare
- You still have to comply with HIPAA.
- Give your organization a voice.
- Educate your audience.
- Counteract misinformation.
- Share public health and crisis monitoring information.
- When it does come time to promote your services, don't be afraid to advertise.
- Take every opportunity to engage.
- Share resources and support.
- Give your audience content they can't get elsewhere.
1. You still have to comply with HIPAA.
Always remember that to comply with HIPAA regulations, as well as medical ethics codes, you must protect the privacy of your patients at all times. Don't share any information about patients, or information that could potentially identify patients, such as physical descriptions or mannerisms.
2. Give your organization a voice.
Healthcare companies can come across as a bit sterile, which is great when they're talking about the cleanliness of the equipment but not so great when communicating with patients and the public. Here are some tips to liven your social media copy:
- Use social media as a way to interact and engage with your patients or customers.
- Show a bit of personality by choosing a specific tone and using language that provides levity.
- Humanize your organization by showing the faces behind the organization.
- Respond to all reviews and inquiries.
3. Educate your audience.
One interest most of your audience has in common is health and fitness, yet the human body is complex. Social media is a great way to inform individuals about health, reduce risky behavior, and help prevent or reduce the effects of disease and other health hazards.
Don’t solely create self-promotional posts when you can focus on ways that you can help your audience. Making your organization a rich resource establishes trust, which is great positioning once it's time to find a healthcare provider.
4. Counteract misinformation.
There's a lot of misinformation on the internet about health and fitness. In fact, a study in 2019 found that the top 50 viral news articles perpetuating fake health information earned more than 12 million shares, comments, and reactions. This free information age is largely a good thing, but it has led to serious issues with false narratives in healthcare, which can be extremely harmful. Think about ways in which your organization can combat this and use social media to positively impact patients and the public.
5. Share public health and crisis monitoring information.
According to Pew Research, social media outpaced print newspapers as a news source in mid-2016. In 2018, 20% of U.S. adults said they get their news from social media, making it a prime platform to distribute critical information. As a healthcare professional, you may find yourself in a unique position to provide information in times of breaking news or crisis. Just remember to keep the health and safety of your audience in mind.
6. When it does come time to promote your services, don't be afraid to advertise.
Apparently, the average young American is projected to spend nearly 7 years on social media during their lifetime. It's kind of a no brainer, then, that advertising online is a sustainable way to reach your audience now and in the future. On many platforms, sponsored content outpaces organic reach by a significant amount. On Facebook, for example, the organic reach of a post is just 6.4% of a page’s likes. This almost necessitates a pay-to-play strategy to expand your reach to new and existing audiences.
Your social media ads need to be relevant, well-written and accompanied by an image that will grab your audience's attention. In addition, you must ensure that any content you produce and promote is HIPAA and FDA compliant (not to mention compliant with each platform’s terms of service regarding health content).
7. Take every opportunity to engage.
Instead of publishing into the void, ensure that you take the time to foster connections with those who engage with you. Responding to their comments, posting polls, and asking them open-ended questions related to your content are all ways to get social media users to stop and consider your content and your brand. A smaller engaged audience is much more valuable than a large unengaged audience. Fostering a relationship leads to trust, and as mentioned earlier, trust leads to business.
8. Share resources and support.
A section of your audience may very well include some of our community's most vulnerable members or even individuals just looking for help. As you choose to produce content that serves a purpose for your audience and helps them, you might want to include promoting awareness for support and resources.
For example, your organization may have resources already in place that you can promote such as free or low-cost classes, seminars, or webinars around related topics. You can also consider boosting local charity organizations or support communities. As some individuals may be dealing with stress related to their health situation, having access to this information may be a source of relief and have a positive impact that they won't forget.
9. Give your audience content they can't get elsewhere.
The sky is the limit here: video tutorials for how to use at-home healthcare monitoring devices, product demos for equipment that you're selling to hospitals, and infographics with tips and fitness exercises for wheelchair-bound patients are all great examples of helpful content.
No matter which industry segment your healthcare organization is in, whether it's patient-facing or B2B, whether you're a company selling state-of-the-art stethoscopes or a hospital performing cutting-edge surgeries, you have something unique to offer your audience. When it comes down to it, this is what will get you shares, likes, retweets and favorites.
Social media isn't so scary once you get started. If it helps, monitor other healthcare companies on social for a month or two first, and see what they post. Make notes of what resonates with you and their audience. From there, you can build your own voice and start engaging with your audience on social media.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on Apr 3, 2015 but was updated on Mar 25, 2020 for comprehensiveness.