Last week I attended 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!