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Are We Trying To Do Too Much in Health Care Social Media?

Guest post by Nancy Cawley Jean

I recently read an article announcing MyBCTeam, a new social network for women with breast cancer. Initially I thought, “What a wonderful idea.” The social network targets a set demographic audience, women uniquely bonded by their experience with breast cancer. It’s this unique shared bond that draws these women to meet, draw strength from others, and share their own experiences, together. This distinct purpose makes it easier for MyBCTeam to attract their target audience.


On the other hand, hospitals typically focus on a wide demographic audience. Hospitals use social media channels to build brand awareness and loyalty, and to position themselves as experts in their key specialty areas. But are hospitals trying to do too much?

Take Rhode Island Hospital (RI Hospital) for example, (one of the accounts I manage as the Social Media Senior Relations Officer for Lifespan) it’s a large, urban teaching hospital, with many specialty areas as well as a research component. Our goal with social media is to:

  • Encourage our local community to make RI Hospital their hospital of choice.
  • Position ourselves as leaders in each of our high priority specialties (as defined in the marketing plan).
  • Continue building and expanding our national reputation as an academic medical center and a leader in research.

But do we need to rethink the way we approach social media for hospitals? Are we losing certain audiences because we’re trying to be everything to everyone? Unlike hospitals, a business such as a parachute company has a very specific audience and they can talk to them all day long about parachutes and velocity, and landing on your feet when you break all records.

Reaching your audience through social media seems much simpler when it’s focused on one product or one service line. But if we’re dealing with a marketing plan that has 20 areas to promote, are we setting ourselves up for a social media fail?

This is not to say that you shouldn’t promote your brand as a whole, which is very important. I’m not suggesting you create different social media accounts for different specialties either, doing this will only dilute your overall brand image. My point is social media affords us the opportunity to build brand loyalty, develop customer relationships and brand advocates, and to continue increasing awareness of your hospital. If you’re not doing that as an overarching message, you’re wasting time and money.

So how do we work around this and support everyone’s needs? Below are four tips I’ve had success with:

1.      Facebook Groups. One of our nurses (who happened to be active on Facebook) approached me about starting an online community for patients who had bariatric surgery for weight loss. I suggested she start a Facebook Group and it’s proven to be a successful form of engagement among this targeted audience.

According to The Facebook blog, Facebook Groups are the place for small group communication and allow people to come together around a common cause, issue or activity to organize, express objectives, discuss issues, post photos and share related content.

The Group administrator posts updates, information, events, and encourages others to share their own experiences and successes through the group. I’ve witnessed its success firsthand, and since it’s only visible to those accepted into the group, it creates a sense of security for members. Weight Loss Success Striders

2.  Twitter chats are a fun way to support specialties that are looking to further their visibility on social media. In order to create a Twitter chat you need to decide on a certain time and day of the week and a specific hashtag for people to use in order to follow and participate in the chat (like recipes for vegans on #MeatlessMonday).

Tip: Develop a content calendar for your chat that supports the specialty you’re trying to promote. Reach out to the folks in that specialty area for ideas about what their patients are looking for to encourage more engagement. When deciding on a hashtag, remember to use a specific and unique hashtag that’s not already being used frequently. For other tips read the Spin Sucks post, Five Tips for Holding a Twitter Chat that Doesn’t Suck.

3.  Google+ Circles makes it easy for users to share certain information with different groups of people. Circles are a natural way to filter information and engage with different communities about their specific interest.

4. Create YouTube Playlists within each of your specialty areas on your channel. By creating specific YouTube Playlists enables users to easily view videos on certain topics. For example, if someone is looking for information on heart health, all they need to do is click on the heart health playlist to find the applicable videos.

What other tips do you have for reaching different audiences with diverse interests through social media? Have you struggled with targeting specific audiences while juggling the overall brand? If so, how did you tackle it?

Nancy Cawley Jean

Nancy Cawley Jean is a senior media relations officer managing social media for the hospitals in the Lifespan health system in Rhode Island and has more than 20 years of health care communications experience. She can be reach at njean@lifespan.org or on Twitter @NancyCawleyJean.



About Rachael Seda:

AE, Health PR @PadillaCRT. Grew up barefoot in Hawaii. Social media geek. #JMU alum. Runner. Creative. Optimist. Cheese=my weakness. I dream of traveling the world.

6 Comments on “Are We Trying To Do Too Much in Health Care Social Media?

  1.  by  Rachael Seda

    Nancy, you’re so right. With such a broad audience, it’s easy to just be sending fluff and not really connecting with more targeted audiences in meaningful ways. These are great tips for hospitals, health care systems, and anyone with a broad target audience that is trying to engage more meaningfully. I think in social media it’s easy to bite off more than you can chew. Start small, see what’s working and go from there.

  2.  by  Nancy Jean

    Thanks, Rachael! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I’d love to hear how others are tackling this too!

  3.  by  Mary

    Thank you Nancy for posting this. I’m definitely retweeting. We’re constantly out there listening to women who are facing breast cancer, and ALSO hospital networks, care centers, nurse navigators and breast care coordinators. I really appreciate what you wrote because it echoes what we’re hearing from hospitals wanting to engage their patients more than what they have (to your point).

    As a result we’re working on ways to solve this. I’d love to learn more from you what would be your wish list. We’re always looking for ways to help forward thinking hospitals do more for their patients.

  4.  by  Tara

    I would recommend too that you realize the POWER of social media to target highly specific groups of people. That and it’s power to aggregate enormous amounts of information about people make it a global tech revolution.

    I would say, start by going straight to the source: start asking for ideas straight from your patients. Put yourself in their shoes to anticipate their needs and help them on their way. Every program should stem from this.

  5.  by  Nancy Jean

    Thanks so much for your comments Mary and Tara and I apologize for the delayed response. Please feel free to email me!

  6. Pingback: Are we doing too much with health care social media? | Articles | Tomorrow

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