Healthcare Marketing & the Sandwich Generation

How to Reach Consumers Who Make Healthcare Decisions for Many

The Sandwich Generation comprises Gen Xers and Boomers who are providing care and support for parents as well as children/teens.

My mom, my daughter and me on Mother’s Day 2015

Like most wives and mothers, I have a say in all healthcare decisions for my husband, my teenager, and myself – but my influence doesn’t end there. As my 80-something mother becomes increasingly reliant on loved ones to take the reins for her well-being, I now play a role in her healthcare choices as well. This makes me a member of the “Sandwich Generation,” tasked with caring for a parent as well as a dependent.

It’s a well-populated place, this Sandwich Generation. According to Pew Research Center, nearly half of all U.S. adults age 40-59 fit the definition. Smart healthcare marketers will seek our attention and recognize that:

  • We are key decision-makers as healthcare consumers, given our involvement in multi-generational healthcare needs; and
  • This position we occupy in our families can be stressful, so sometimes what we need most is helpful guidance from trusted sources that bring information to us in easily digestible formats, rather than waiting and hoping we’ll find it ourselves.

Gaining the Attention – and Trust – of the Sandwich Generation

From one healthcare marketer to another, here are some tactics to consider when you want to win the hearts and minds of this influential market segment (the majority of whom are Gen X):

Go digital. Not surprisingly, people in the Sandwich Generation are busy. Pew found that nearly one in three (31%) report “always feeling rushed,” compared to less than one in four adults (23%) outside the Sandwich Gen. Because we are more pressed for time, trying to reach us via traditional print channels won’t bring much return – particularly during the busy work/school week. How and where you will find us online:

  • Social media – target the Sandwich Generation with paid advertising on social media outlets to reach beyond your following. Facebook is Gen X’s favorite social site, and Pinterest – with its small-but-growing user base largely comprised of women (often the household’s primary decision-maker in matters of health/healthcare) – is worth consideration as you plan your social content calendar. Time your posts and ads to catch us in the evenings and on weekends when we have more time to engage and dive in. [Check out these tips for directing the conversation on social media.]
  • Advertise on news websites and blogs – digital display ads grab our attention when we’re catching up on news, looking up how-to’s, etc. Search and/or site retargeting tactics will keep your ads in front of us as we go about our business online.
  • Host your own blog – post relevant, helpful content, such as topics around parenting and managing the health, wellness, and fitness of our children (mostly tweens, teens and young adults), ourselves (42% Gen X; 33% Boomers), and our parents (age 65+).
  • Online videos – whether it’s pre-roll advertising (those :15 and :30 ads that play before the main video), or clips you host on YouTube and include in your blog and social shares, videos can be a great way to expand reach, and even go viral if done well. [Check out these best practices from Advertising Age on determining video length.]

Let us know where you can offer value. Be as forthcoming and accurate as possible about the costs for a given exam, test, procedure, hospital stay, etc. This will be much appreciated by the Sandwich Gen because the dual caregiving roles impose financial strain for some. When asked by Pew, only 28% of Sandwich Generation respondents described their financial situations as comfortable, compared to 41% of non-Sandwichers (and the former outnumbered the latter by nearly 2:1 in the “just meet basic expenses” category).

Speaking for my fellow Sandwichers, we do not want to cut corners when it comes to our loved ones’ well-being. But, as we save/pay for kids’ college educations and in some cases provide financial support for aging parents, we do actively look for ways to avoid spending more out-of-pocket than necessary. If you can offer greater savings/higher value, let us know about it. And, if your organization is in a position to teach us how to self-manage the health and wellness concerns of our aging parents to the fullest extent we are able, that’s value. Make it known.

Be transparent about quality, too. Value is important, but so is quality. We don’t take our role as healthcare consumers lightly, and we want to rest assured that we’re providing quality care for the people we love. If your organization is a hospital, publish your quality rankings/recognition online. If you’re a surgery center, publish your low complication and infection rates, and outcomes data. Help us make truly informed healthcare decisions for the good of our families, and you’ll be that much closer to making loyal customers out of us.

When you let the unique needs, wants, and demands of your target consumer base drive your advertising messages and tactical plan, you give your healthcare company much better odds of getting noticed. And, when your target consumers do take action and you follow through with exceptional experiences at every encounter, you gain their trust and loyalty – and they, being mostly Gen Xers, will reward you with positive online reviews, social shares and word-of-mouth referrals. Content development people like me live and breathe this notion every day. We let the needs and perspectives of our audience lay the foundation for a tactical approach that serves meaningful, on-point content and gets results.

Measuring Your Facebook Marketing Efforts

Track Insights to See What Connects with Healthcare Consumers

Facebook InsightsResearch shows healthcare consumers look to social media for health information – and more than 40% take action based on health advice they find through social media. And that’s not just the younger demographics – for example, a 2013 Florida poll of adult internet users revealed that more than one third (36%) of individuals over the age of 50 have used social media to find and share health information. If done right, social media marketing and advertising can provide worthwhile opportunities to increase reach and engage individuals.

Facebook is an effective tool for reaching multiple demographics and provides meaningful insight to monitor the success of your messaging. Clicking on the Facebook Insights tab will give you a nice overview of how your posts are performing, including information on page likes, post reach and overall engagement. Here are a few insights to consider when using Facebook to engage with healthcare consumers:

Reach

Reach—or the number of people who are served your Facebook post, both organically and through paid advertising—means actual people, not impressions. In other words, if one person sees your organization’s Facebook post 30 times, it counts as one person reached, not 30.

You can find information about the people your Facebook posts are reaching by clicking “People Reached” in the People section of your Facebook Insights:

Monitor reach with Facebook Insights

You can reach people organically for free, meaning individuals will naturally see your post when their Facebook friend(s) “like” or comment on your post. You can also use paid posts — which include advertisements as well as boosted posts — to expand your audience based on your budget and number of active users in your specified target area.

Engagement

Another important insight to track is engagement, or the number of people who “like,” comment, or share your organization’s Facebook post. You can see the breakout of engagement on a post itself or under the Posts section of Facebook Insights. This statistic is also included in the total number of “clicks” on your post (unlike traditional display ads, in which clicks usually indicate the number of users sent to your campaign’s landing page). If you want to track clicks to your landing page, you can use a custom URL in your post like you would with a display ad.

Monitor engagement with Facebook Insights

Likes, Comments and Shares

You will receive notifications (either by email or directly to your Facebook account) for “likes,” comments and shares on your health organization’s paid and unpaid posts. Facebook breaks down paid “likes” as those that occur within one day of viewing your paid post or 28 days of clicking on your paid post. So, even if an individual doesn’t get to your Facebook page directly by clicking your paid post, you can still monitor his or her activity with Facebook Insights.

Monitoring comments and shares on your posts provides great qualitative feedback. Responding to viewer’s remarks creates meaningful dialogue and shows consumers you are listening.

Negative Feedback

Facebook also monitors negative feedback, including the number of times a user hides your post, reports your post as spam or un-likes your health organization’s Facebook page. If you notice negative feedback, take action to understand and alleviate or correct the matter responsibly. Sometimes negativity is caused by an issue that can easily be resolved if addressed professionally and in a timely manner. If ignored, it may lead to bigger issues.

Monitor negative feedback on Facebook

As digital media becomes more and more integrated into our everyday lives, healthcare marketers are getting increasingly comfortable using it as a tool to engage with consumers. By monitoring insights such as reach, engagement, likes, comments and shares, you can adapt your social media marketing efforts to better reach and resonate with your target audience.

#Winning: 5 Ways Doctors Can Benefit from Twitter

Note to our readers: If you’re a physician using Twitter a lot, you already know what we’re about to tell you – and we encourage you to share it with a colleague who doesn’t tweet, but should. However, if you’re new to Twitter, read on… 

Tweet KeyboardWe’ve been getting a lot of questions from our healthcare provider clients about what works, what doesn’t work, and what to expect with social media – particularly with regard to getting physicians to actively embrace it. Because social sites are not one size fits all, each platform should be addressed and approached a little differently to optimize the content physicians share and the benefits they derive from having that social presence. That’s why I’ve decided to take each social media property one at a time to discuss how physicians can benefit from “going social.” Today, let’s explore…

Top 5 Ways Physicians Can Benefit from Using Twitter:

1. Boost search engine rankings

According to research from the Pew Research Center, 77% of online healthcare searches begin at a search engine. Because sites like Google, Yahoo! or Bing are the first place internet users go for information, increasing SERPs (search engine results pages) will help patients find you. How does Twitter help achieve better results? Search engine “spiders” comb the internet for keywords, so if you frequently tweet about heart disease prevention and you’re a cardiologist, you will gain higher relevance – and ideally, more web traffic, from searches related to the topics of your tweets. Those tweets will push your name higher in search rankings.

2. “Attend” conferences on your own time

Twitter users are great at “live-tweeting,” which benefits busy people who don’t have time to attend conferences. The beauty of Twitter is that other people do, and they will live-tweet events. To attend virtually, learn the hashtags that conference attendees will use in their tweets. Usually you can find this by going to the conference’s Twitter handle or searching the conference name for the associated hashtags. Then, follow the hashtags to keep up with new developments and information imparted at the event in relative real-time. You might even be able to watch presentation videos or download slides, all without attending the conference.

3. Stay on top of innovative technology

Many medical journals or healthcare publications will publish links to research or news stories, and Twitter is a great place to stay on top of breaking news without visiting multiple news sites. Staying informed without spending lots of time is much easier with Twitter. If you find interesting content on Twitter, share it. Chances are your colleagues will enjoy it also.

Another Twitter advantage is the ability to “favorite” stories of interest. If you see an article you’d like to read but are short on time, click the star below a tweet. It will be saved under “favorites” for when you have more time to read.

4. Network

Twitter is a great tool for networking with fellow physicians who share research, advice, reviews and opinions you may find useful. You can also use Twitter as an observation tool to see conversations between colleagues and notice what competitors or other physicians are doing online. This is particularly beneficial as you’re getting used to Twitter and learning the lingo.

5. Gain visibility not tied to ad dollars

To gain visibility on Twitter, you’ll have to consistently use Twitter, share content others find valuable and spend a couple of minutes here and there engaging with other users. With greater visibility, you will gain followers and boost your SERPS without spending ad dollars. Think about it this way: sometimes, a retweet from a follower to a large audience can have a much broader reach than paid advertising.

Getting the hang of Twitter might take some time. At first, it can look like a digital land of gibberish filled with RT (that’s retweet, by the way) and symbols like @ and #. Gaining followers will also take some time. The most important thing to remember is to use Twitter at your comfort level. If you don’t have much to say, that’s fine. You can still follow hashtags that interest you and see what your colleagues are saying. Have fun and feel free to follow us @DobiesGroup.

Healthcare Marketers: Listen and Engage through Social Media to Learn About Your Audience

This week in our Healthcare Branding Series, let’s concentrate on the importance of listening and engaging with your social media audience.DHG-blog-ProTips-v3

To engage healthcare consumers who visit your website, you must know what types of content they want. If you’re unsure, try engaging them in various ways on social media, and listen to their feedback and input to gain insights that can help drive your digital content strategy. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Create social posts that interest your followers. Do you have something relevant to say about a trending healthcare topic, such as the flu or a popular news story? Share tips and information on a wide range of issues – from health-related facts and warnings to health promotions and educational events. Pay attention to likes, comments or shares – people read click because they find something interesting; they share because they’re convinced others will find it interesting too. Likes and shares, then, are decent indicators of what types of content people want to see. Use that information to steer the direction of your future blog posts.
  • Ask questions. You don’t have to be hard-hitting. The questions can be light and fun. And since photos have an engagement rate of 87 percent (as opposed to four percent with links), why not share a photo with a question to get followers talking. The answers have the potential to offer great insight.
  • Generate engaging moments. Social networks are for sharing. Engage your followers by encouraging them to post something. After all, you must give to get. For example, during American Heart Month you could urge followers to share selfies of their favorite ways to exercise for heart health. You can ask for photos of their best all-pink outfits for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It could even be a simple question, such as, “What are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving?” Take the responses as indications of where and how to invite and inspire people into a conversation, to take part in a community forum, so to speak. Low response rates mean people don’t find it a worthwhile topic to act on.
  • Observe patient connections. Patients sharing their experiences with one another can be a very powerful thing. Not only can they receive emotional support from others with their condition, but patients can also offer word-of-mouth recommendations for physicians or services. Watch and listen to the conversations they’re having. What questions are they asking other patients? What are their concerns? This insight may provide ways to improve on and offline patient experiences.

When you engage with followers, you may at times receive very honest opinions about your organization. If  you receive praise, don’t forget to say thanks. If you get a complaint, recognize that it’s an opportunity for informed improvements driven by customer feedback. Always acknowledge patient or visitor concerns.  If there are multiple similar complaints, review how your hospital or practice is living your healthcare brand.

For more information, visit our other topics in this series:

Going Viral in Healthcare Marketing

5 Tips for Creating Content People Will Share

Going ViralGoing viral…it’s the holy grail of modern-day mass marketing. How do you breathe enough life into your content for it to touch thousands or even millions of people beyond your reach? It’s not easy, but it does become easier if you know what you’re doing before you start production. Follow these five tips to boost your marketing content into the hallowed halls of virality:

#1: Put the right emotions in play.

Researchers have identified some common denominators when studying emotions evoked in highly viral content:

  • The overarching message should be positive. The subject matter may provoke sadness, fear, frustration, or some other not-so-jolly feeling, but the outcome and/or call to action should be positive or uplifting.
  • Anticipation and surprise are highly effective. When content drives curiosity, creates a sense of astonishment or makes people uncertain about what’s coming next, it has higher potential to go viral.
  • Evoking admiration also works well to increase social shares.

#2: Tug on heartstrings quickly, but weave in some “normal,” less emotional moments, too.

If you want a video to go viral, be compelling from the outset…the easiest way to lose your audience is to make them wait while you set the stage. And, because you want people to watch and share, your video should take them on a little ride – the proverbial emotional roller coaster, if you will – so they’re driven to offer friends and family the same experience by sharing it.

#3: Don’t inject too much of your brand in the content.

You can put your stamp on it, but keep it minimal – company name, logo and maybe a quick line of copy at the end to tie the messenger in with the message. Go too far beyond that, and people will decline to share your content just as they would if you asked them pass out promotional flyers on the street. Emotional branding in healthcare is so much more about what you do than what you say, so keep your footprint small on viral content and save your role for where it matters most: real-life patient experiences.

#4: Consider your options with Influencers.

Who out there can help you reach – and influence – enough people to make your campaign go viral? Think local celebrities (or national celebs who grew up in your community). Think relevant thought leaders with significant social followings. Think bloggers and reporters with lots of engaged subscribers – and ask yourself who among them may take an interest in your message and reach thousands of potential “sharers” with just one click? Give it some thought…you may find you have more options with Influence Marketing than meet the eye.

#5: Make your content useful and helpful.

Whether or not it goes vital, content with practical applications helps you garner attention as an expert or helpful resource. The same researchers who identified the most effective emotions for viral content also discovered that PSA-style messages – those that serve the “public good” – have potential to go viral. This claim aligns with separate findings that suggest many people are happy to support health-related causes by sharing on social media.

What’s your favorite viral campaign and why? Leave a comment to keep this conversation going about captivating the masses in ways traditional mass marketing never could.

Healthcare Social Media: Directing the Conversation

Healthcare Social Media (#HCSM)We know, we know – you’ve heard it many times: your healthcare organization needs an active social media presence. There’s plenty of information out there about best practices for healthcare social media (#HCSM), so the last thing you need is another how-to blog post. Instead, let’s take a look at how people say they’re using social media in matters related to their health, and how providers are
joining – even leading – the conversation.

To quote the creators of this infographic that illustrates social media in healthcare, “People will talk about anything on Facebook – even their surgery or their doctor.” Those are important conversations to know about, and it’s equally important to make your own messages heard. With that in mind, here’s our take on the key findings presented in the infographic:

Patients can share their own health experiences freely…and many do. One in four people will post socially about health experiences or updates, and one in six will post reviews about factors related to those experiences, including doctors and treatments (yet another underlying incentive to make sure your customer service and/or patient care is at the top of its game).

Also worth noting is video shares. When we wrote last year about healthcare marketers expanding reach with online videos, we reported that 32 percent of people watch health videos online. Research shows at least half of those people don’t just watch – they also share, provided they feel it’s something others want or need to see. Take, for example, the popular Cleveland Clinic video called “Empathy” – no doubt you’ve seen or heard of it, since it made the rounds on several social sites thanks to social sharing:

On a side note, the Cleveland Clinic video is also a great example of emotional branding in healthcare, but that’s a whole other blog topic (read it now!).

Of course, smaller scale messages get noticed and spread on social media, too. To build awareness for a fundraiser, blood drive, health fair or any other event your organization is involved in, post about it socially and encourage your followers to share. You won’t waste your time – research shows “supporting health-related causes” is the number one answer when people are asked which health-related topics they’ll talk about on social media.

Blog. Blog. Blog. Far too few healthcare providers are doing it. What a great opportunity for you to emerge as a thought leader in various dialogues related to healthcare! Yes, it needs to be good content, and yes, it takes planning, processes, oversight, people and time. But if you can become a trustworthy voice of healthcare information in a sea of relative silence, by all means, you should.

Just one blog will do, but some take it further with multiple blogs, like Boston Children’s Hospital (six blogs for patients and families, sorted by topic areas), Holy Cross Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale (a separate blog for each service line), and of course, the many blogs of Mayo Clinic, a well-known thought leader in #HCSM. Mayo Clinic’s blogs incorporate patient stories, podcasts, news and research, student perspectives, guest bloggers and more.

People trust healthcare providers more than any other group that’s writing and posting professionally about health-related topics. Among them, doctors are trusted the most (60 percent), followed closely by nurses (56 percent) and hospitals (55 percent). Providers outrank patient advocates, pharmacies and drug manufacturers, insurers, fitness centers and other patients when it comes to trustworthy sources for accurate, helpful online information about health-related issues.

Encourage your expert care teams to contribute to your organization’s blog. Share each contribution on your social media outlets, and make it obvious at the newsfeed-level that it’s authored by a doctor, nurse, therapist or whatever the case may be. This will increase the likelihood that people recognize it early on as a reputable resource, and therefore worth sharing. Be sure to feature clinicians in your online videos, too.

Take time to provide the information people really want, and they’ll take time to listen and share. During a shooting rampage a few years ago in central Texas, Scott & White Healthcare tweeted ongoing, real-time updates on ER access, hospital status, Red Cross news and more. Knowing what information people wanted to find at that moment in time – and delivering it in full throttle – boosted the healthcare system’s Twitter following by nearly 80 percent.

Another powerful example: in the aftermath of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, Rush University Medical Center sent a team of doctors to help. The doctors provided first-hand accounts, and the situation unfolded across a new category on the Rush News Blog: Mission to Haiti. In the wake of a tragedy, people want to know what’s going on and how things are being handled, so this was a great way to share what their doctors were seeing and doing.

Those two examples are disaster-related, but the concept applies to any content you share. The key is knowing what people want from you, and delivering it when and where they’re looking for it.

Do you have any #HCSM success stories or insights of your own to share? If so, let us hear from you in the comments! We’d love to hear from patients and providers alike.

Healthcare Marketers: Expand Your Reach with Online Videos

In our last blog post, we discussed the importance of giving patients what they want to see on your healthcare provider website. As you plan your content strategies, think about the rapidly growing reach of online videos. They’re an effective way to build your brand by engaging your audience.

Check out these related insights from a health consumer study by Google and OTX:

  • One in three people (32 percent) watch health videos online. That outranks the number of people watching videos about food, celebrities, beauty and fashion, sports and many other content categories.
  • More than half (54 percent) of patients want information on specific conditions when they watch health videos online. Additionally, 49 percent express interest in videos featuring experts, e.g. physicians (like these videos we helped create to introduce the doctors of Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s affiliated OB-GYN practice).
  • Four in 10 patients (43 percent) say they used a search engine for more information on health topics featured in online videos. Many took further action as well: 21 percent signed up for a health-related newsletter, 12 percent clicked on an ad, 10-16 percent recommended a website or forwarded a video link to someone, while another 7 percent shared a video via chat or blog. When you look at it this way, it’s easy to see how online videos make a very effective ‘gateway’ touch point between your organization and the people you want to reach.

In addition to being easy and relatively inexpensive to distribute, online videos excite and resonate with people who prefer to learn by watching (roughly two-thirds of the population). For your audience, videos are more closely linked to a storytelling experience than text on a screen, which makes video a more engaging and memorable medium by its very nature. Videos also offer a great deal of flexibility when it comes to production and execution:

  • They can be made on any budget. If spending is an issue, consider using a flipcam in a quiet work space with an attractive backdrop and good lighting. Feature your physicians speaking naturally (albeit from a well-prepared script) to deliver a clear, concise message with minimal post-production editing.
  • They can be repurposed for a variety of applications. Think outside your website and YouTube – your video content could be integrated into a webinar, included in e-newsletters, featured on your facebook page, displayed on tabletops at recruitment fairs and more.
  • They make very compelling online ads. If your budget allows it, go beyond educational videos and into the advertising arena. Video ad spending is projected to increase by 40 percent this year alone. Public service announcement videos are also effective at building brands by reaching out to people in meaningful ways – like this PSA we produced for Saint Luke’s Muriel I. Kauffman Women’s Heart Center, an oldie but goodie that moved the dial on heart awareness among Kansas City women.

If you’re new to video content creation and optimization, contact us for some useful tips. Then start planning – and producing – to establish new connections using online videos.

Real-Life Lessons in Social Media and Healthcare

In a social media panel discussion moderated by Carol Dobies at the KCHCS Fall Conference, the three panelists – who represented two hospitals and a local firm that monitors, measures and analyzes digital content – shared their experiences and expertise with online patient interaction. Together they provided some important takeaways for healthcare organizations looking to expand their online presence. Highlights include:

Listening should be a key part of your social media strategy, and your efforts should go beyond the content you generate. It’s easy to know what people say directly to you online, but are you also watching what they say about you? “Sites like Facebook and Twitter are great for engagement, but that’s not where Google searches send people,” according to panelist Aaron Weber of Spiral16. “It’s critical to know where people land and what language they encounter when you come up in a search.” A valid point, considering 92% of adults online use search engines, and nearly 60% report using them daily, according to recent research by Pew Internet.

Healthcare-specialized SEO and marketing firms understand that patients search and read content from multiple sources (Yelp, YellowPages.com, Wikipedia, etc.) in addition to the messages you’re putting out there. The key to establishing meaningful patient engagement online is an effective mix of SEO tactics, highly targeted direct marketing and social media strategies that encompass your entire digital presence. Read more about the importance of listening to patient comments from HealthLeaders.

Back up your strategy with social media policies. Social media policies govern your use of social media, from employee access to procedures for triaging patient comments (negative and positive). Front-line employees are the face of your organization, so if you’re comfortable letting them post and interact with patients online, it’s your choice to allow it. In order to protect your brand image and ensure total compliance with all patient-privacy laws, however, usage policies should be clearly articulated and enforced.

In fact, panelist Shawn Arni of Children’s Mercy Hospital advises two separate policy documents: one for page admins/hospital use and another for employee use. For example, staff members are not allowed to post or share anything during work hours. Regardless of how well-intended any given post may be, if it’s made by patient-facing staff in the middle of a shift, it can be perceived as interfering with patient care.

Needless to say, there are many factors to consider when developing social media use policies, but having the right rules in place is well worth the effort. Panelist Belinda Rehmer of Lawrence Memorial Hospital (LMH), agrees. As the hospital’s Community Relations Social Media Lead, she speaks from experience, and LMH’s social media policy has been used as a best practice example by many other hospitals in Kansas.

Studies show that people with the low levels of social interaction have high rates of mortality. With so many networking tools now available online, the obvious question for healthcare providers is how can we use social media to engage patients in ways that improve health? We welcome all input on the topic, so if you have insight to share about patient engagement and social media, let us hear from you!

Engaging Patients through Social Media

Later this week, I will moderate an interactive panel for Kansas City Healthcare Communicators Society.The topic: How to Deploy Social Media to Improve Patient Engagement. With expert input spanning a wide range of social networking tools and best practices from our healthcare marketing panelists, the session promises to provide an eye-opening look at what it takes to continuously engage patients online.

Here are highlights from colleagues in the healthcare social media field:

Two-fifths of adult internet users in the U.S. have read someone else’s online commentary about health. Many thanks to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, who published a report earlier this year revealing that 80% of internet users search online for health information, and a growing number rely on the internet to connect peer-to-peer. Among the findings:

  • Symptoms and treatments dominate health searches (66% and 56% respectively).
  • 44% of internet users look online for information about doctors or other health professionals.
  • 25% of adult web users look online for people with a chronic illness.
  • 24% have consulted online rankings of doctors and hospitals.
  • 20% look online for people with similar health issues.

There are 140 uses for your 140 characters if your healthcare organization tweets. Phil Baumann, a social media strategist and advisory board member for Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, studied the challenges and opportunities available for providers via Twitter. In the end, he identified 140 different healthcare uses for Twitter – an oldie but goodie for those in need of ideas when it comes to tweeting for and about health.

More than 1,200 U.S. hospitals are now actively using social media sites. And that number is climbing every day. If so many healthcare providers are putting it out there on so many sites, it must be simple, right? Wrong. We all know representing an organization via social media is much more complex than managing personal accounts, so it’s important to know what you’re doing behind the scenes. Fortunately, help is out there, like this list of 20 Excellent Social Media Networking Resources for Health Professionals, compiled recently by HealthWorks Collective.

I’m looking forward to a thought-provoking discussion by our panelists this week. We will update you with the biggest takeaways and lessons learned next week.

Facebooking for Better Health

Despite having more than 400 million active users, Facebook still has its skeptics. Some common complaints I’ve heard:

  • “It’s a waste of time!”
  • “Who needs an update on what I’m eating for lunch?”
  • “Why do I need to be a Fan of anything?”

Okay, sure. My status updates aren’t always riveting or note-worthy (see: “Dear Coffee, Marry me. Xoxo, Kelly”) and I’m not ashamed to say I “like” a Fan Page called “I Don’t Feel Like Folding My Laundry So I Just Restart The Dryer.”

But while I’m not alone in using the Status Update and Fan Page for innocuous fun, some people are using these basic Facebook features to help improve their health…and even save their own lives.

Like this guy, who decided to quit smoking and inadvertently created a support group among his Facebook friends simply by updating his status with the number of days he’d been smoke free. As his friends followed his progress, they “liked” his status as the number of days increased and left comments of encouragement when his updates expressed wavering resolve. Having a virtual audience to not only hold him accountable but also to offer him support no doubt helped contribute to his continued success.

Then there’s the woman who iused Facebook to help her find a kidney donor. Living in a state that ranks among the nation’s lowest in percentage of licensed drivers who are registered organ donors, she got creative and set up a Page called “Mel Needs a Kidney.” As of the end of May, she had heard from about 100 people who offered to get tested to see if they were a match. In addition to increasing her chances of finding a donor, her efforts are also helping raise awareness of organ donation and registration in Michigan.

So while it’s true many Facebook users limit their activities to tending virtual farms or tagging friends in party photos, there are some who are using the platform to improve their lives. And that’s something I’ll “like” any day.