How to create a Healthcare Social Media Strategy: Part 1

Creating a formal social media strategy and policy is important for all organizations.  Healthcare organizations face unique challenges in communicating over social media, but that does not mean social should be ruled out as a communication and marketing strategy.  In fact, healthcare organizations that use social media are seen as more cutting edge and more patient friendly to consumers than those that don’t.

If you are a marketing manager or a communications strategist building a social media strategy for your healthcare organization, this post is for you.  Welcome to my three part series on how to create a best-in-class healthcare social media content strategy.  This series provides real world recommendations and industry best practices for developing a strong healthcare social media strategy that can be implemented immediately.

Recently, I wrote Breast Care for Washington’s Social Media Handbook using best practices and tips I’ve picked up along the way from colleagues, Stanford’s Medicine X,  and the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development. As I worked through the pieces of our strategy and actually put them to paper, I thought others might find this thought process helpful. Part one covers the building blocks of a social media strategy and provides direction on how to build a strategy from the ground up, (or revamp your current strategy) including:

  1. The purpose of a Healthcare Social Media Strategy Handbook
  2. Creating your organization’s social media goals
  3. Defining a Brand Voice
  4. Using an Editorial Calendar

Part two focuses on content strategies for Facebook and Twitter and paid promotions. Part three focuses on social media crisis management and includes a daily social media to-do checklist that any healthcare organization can adopt, plus an editable template for your organization’s social media strategy handbook.

Over the last couple of years healthcare social media has become increasingly mainstream, particularly healthcare social media policyamong rare disease and specific disease state patient groups.  Patients use social media to learn how others cope with disease, to connect with others going through similar experiences and to gather information, among other uses.

Healthcare organizations use social media as an opportunity to gain real time information from patients, including feedback and preferences that help in tailoring marketing messaging.  Healthcare organizations also use social media to establish a service line or institution as an industry leader.  What was once a broadcast blast-it-out style marketing, healthcare marketing must now include patients in the process in order to be successful.  Noteworthy driving forces of this change include industry consolidation, consumer driven healthcare plans and a thriving patient engagement movement.

The purpose of a Healthcare Social Media Strategy Handbook is the following:

  1. Understand the purpose of your organization’s social media use
  2. Define the brand voice of your organization
  3. Create an editorial calendar and explain how to use it
  4. Create a content strategy for each social media platform your brand intends to use
  5. Define a social media crisis management policy
  6. Leverage paid promotions on social networks

Step One: List out all the major business objectives your organization could achieve on a social network.

  • Examples: sharing information, promoting services, increase traffic to organization website, gather customer information for future marketing efforts, learn about customer preferences

Step Two: Choose your organization’s social media priorities

  • Example: For 2015, Breast Care for Washington’s social media priorities are
    1. Build brand awareness so patients are aware of our services
    2. Build credibility as a best in class breast cancer screening services provider
  • These priorities are much different from our 2014 goals, when we were focused solely on raising funds to be able to open our doors and offer services.  This highlights the importance of integrating social media strategy with the over arching goals of an organization.   Messaging and goals must align.

Step Three: Define a brand voice.

Brand voice has a tone, a character,  a language and a purpose.

  • Tone: Will you communicate your content with an authoritative tone, a scientific tone, a personal tone?  Are your posts more like a conversation and less like a formal presentation?
  • Character:  Similar to tone.  Do you seek to inspire?  To inform?  To teach?
  • Language:  What words will you communicate your information?  Will you use industry terms?  Lay person terms?  Will your audience understand what you are posting?
  • Purpose: Are you attempting to engage, educate or sell your audience?

In choosing all these parts of a brand voice, it is important to keep the brand voice consistent across all platforms.  That means your brand sounds the same whether it’s tweeting 140 characters on twitter or posting a status on Facebook.  Consumers should interact with the same voice, regardless of the social media platform.

Reviewing all posts before they go live is important.  Having more than one person read them is important.  One misused hashtag and it could spell disaster for your brand, which we will discuss later in social media crisis management.

Step Four: Develop an Editorial Calendar

An editorial calendar is a tool that is used to organize social content. It helps with social media content planning to ensure that your brand always has content to post and that your brand is not repeating the same content over and over.  Editorial calendars are also a great place to track what content resonated with your audience, and what content needs to be better tailored to fit your audience or eliminated all together.  In the social media industry, we call this Key Performance Indicators (KPI).  KPIs include but are not limited to:

  • click-throughs to your website,
  • number of patients filling out your survey,
  • number of customers inputting data into a field,
  • number of likes, shares and comments.
  • Other engagement KPIs might be the number of retweets, mentions and replies a piece of content gets on twitter.

Finding an editorial calendar you like for your brand might not be easy.  There are great free editorial calendars for download that you can modify to fit your needs.  It’s important to determine the following information as you build your editorial calendar:

  1. Who will contribute to the content creation and editorial calendar?
  2. How many times a week will your organization post?  This will vary per social platform.
  3. Do you have the capacity to respond to patients in a timely manner, based off of the number of times your brand will post?
  4. Who will give final approval to postings?
  5. Do replies need approval before posting?
  6. Are your postings optimized for search engine optimization (SEO) opportunities?
  7. What holidays (domestic and international if applicable) will your organization post about?
  8. What upcoming events or services provided by your organization will be posted about?
  9. Are your posts HIPAA compliant? If no, do not proceed with the post.
  10. Have any patients mentioned in the post given consent for their information (name, event and service) to be included? Is documentation on file? If no, do not proceed with the post.

As you create your organization’s editorial calendar, it is important to remember that social media is social, and that responding to patient responses in a timely, professional manner, whether they are positive or negative is crucial for your organization to build credibility and an audience that is engaged.

Research has shown that organizations and brands that only sell to their audience are seen as less credible and less trustworthy than their counterparts.  Keeping this in mind, a best practice of social media strategy is to keep promotional posts to no greater than 25-30% of all posts.  While that might seem low, if all a brand does is shove their products down an audience’s throat, that brand can expect low engagement, or worse, unfollows and “hides” or “mutes” in their follower’s newsfeed.

To give you an idea of a social media algorithm that keeps promotional activity to 30% or less, here’s what we are throwing around right now at Breast Care for Washington:

  • Monday: Motivational Monday Quote (AM post), BCW related post (PM post)
  • Tuesday: Post about BCW services. Scientific Journal Article (PM post)
  • Wednesday: Great achievement in breast cancer (AM post), Funny post about going to the dr (PM post)
  • Thursday: Healthy foods for breast cancer patients/prevention, BCW related post
  • Fri: Fun activity happening this weekend in DC (AM post), Funny Meme (PM post)

The benefit of having an algorithm is your content creators (your producers) know what to look for, know what to create, and can fill the calendar in advance.  Keep in mind this algorithm should not be set in stone. As you track your KPIs you can see what types of posts, what type of language and what platforms are driving your success allowing you to tailor your messaging and content for future posts.

Taking time to plan and carefully develop an organization’s social media goals and editorial calendar will result in a sustainable social media plan that increases audience engagement, drives patient loyalty and increases revenue.  See you next time for Part 2: Content Strategies for Facebook and Twitter and Paid Promotions.


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