Hospitals Dive into Social Media

But are hospitals capitalizing on this marketing opportunity?

The answer may surprise you. In fact, according to Ed Bennett, who manages web operations at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) and tracks hospitals’ activity on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Four Square and blogs, more than 1,000 hospitals are using at least one of these tools.

Here are a few ways healthcare public relations and marketing professionals are using social media:

To build brand loyalty/community: social media tools provide hospitals with direct access to key stakeholders and provide a forum to engage customers online. Johns Hopkins, for example, is using YouTube to share videos of patient stories, physician and employee interviews, and hospital construction updates to keep the community informed and foster brand loyalty. Cleveland Clinic, on the other hand, is using Facebook to engage its key stakeholders with a daily trivia question and updates on important hospital news and events.

To recruit top talent: at hospitals, recruiting and retaining top talent has become increasingly important as the industry focuses more on quality of care. Johns Hopkins is using its Facebook page to share information on careers, among other things, to facilitate recruiting. Similarly, St. Joseph’s Hospital is targeting nurses, physicians and other healthcare professionals online via a Twitter handle, @StJosephsJobs, devoted exclusively to enhancing its recurring efforts. As another example, UNC is using its YouTube channel to promote its Health Professions Recruitment and Exposure Program.

To enhance customer service: social medial tools enable companies to engage customers, solve their problems and build goodwill for their brands in real-time. Hospitals like Mayo Clinic and Scripps Health are taking advantage of this enhanced connectivity, using tools like Twitter to monitor for unsatisfied customers online and quickly step in to resolve problems as they arise.

To support traditional public relations efforts: there have been many studies about the increasing number of journalists who are either on social networks or use them to source stories. Healthcare reporters and outlets are no exception. Many key healthcare publications and their staff have a presence on social media. Some examples include HealthLeaders (Twitter, Facebook & LinkedIn), Hospitals & Health Networks (Twitter, blog & LinkedIn discussion group) and Modern Healthcare (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook & Flickr).

To promote smart thinking and expertise: hospitals conduct extensive research and have exceptionally smart thinkers on staff. Social media provides another marketing channel to promote thought leadership and target key industry influencers. Duke University Medical Center, for example, highlights how its research will impact the future of care on its blog. Other hospitals, including Mount Sinai and Mayo Clinic, use YouTube to highlight physician leaders discussing research, disease prevention and innovative procedures.

To mitigate crisis situations: hospitals, which are often faced with crisis situations to which they need to respond immediately, have been able to use social media to regain control of the message and keep its community and other stakeholders updated in real-time. One of the best examples of this is highlighted in a 2009 article by HealthLeaders on how Innova Health used its blog, website and Twitter feed to effectively communicate with the community and emergency workers during the 2009 Red River floods.

Again, these are just a few examples of how hospitals are using social media to support their marketing programs. Are there other examples you’d add to this list?

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