Twitter a Healthcare Marketing Tool? Maybe.

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media , December 10, 2008

So what happened to my reporter's skepticism? Don't worry, it's still there. After the fun of learning something new starts to wear off, you realize that, like any other form of social media, you have to work hard to make it work for you. And one of the biggest hurdles is building that network of followers. How do you reach that audience? And how do you convince them that they want to "follow" you?

Make it work for you
It seems to me the answer is that you must target a specific audience—not shoot for the entire Twitterverse. And then offer that market segment relevant, current content without overwhelming them with information or sounding self-promotional.

Say you have a star obstetrician on staff. You could set up an account for her and send daily tips and the occasional announcement about classes and events to expectant mothers. New OB patients sign up when they first come in (they can get the Twitter updates via their cell phones without ever having to log into the online site).

Here are 13 ways you might use these short-form communications to targeted audiences:

  • Direct followers to the latest posts on your CEO's or patients' blogs. I twittered Levy today and asked him if Twitter is complementary to his blog. "Very," he twittered back. "There's a nice reinforcement between the two mediums."
  • Promote upcoming events such as classes, seminars, and health fairs.
  • Solicit charitable donations and recruit volunteers.
  • Share the results of fundraising events with donors.
  • Post messages targeted at patients in specific service lines—heart healthy tips for cardiology patients, healthy eating and exercise tips for bariatric patients, and so on.
  • Announce awards and quality rankings.
  • Monitor tweets—both positive and negative—about your own organization from employees or customers (just do a search for your own hospital's name).
  • Recruit focus group participants in a special Twitter forum.
  • Give updates on construction projects to neighbors and other stakeholders.
  • Post links to research papers by your physicians.
  • Follow the competitions' tweets.
  • Post job openings and talk about what makes your organization a great place to work.
  • Keep an eye out for job postings in your own field (I won't tell if you don't).

You can follow me on Twitter if you want. But until I can figure out how to segment my audience and only give them the information they need and want, I probably won't be writing any 140-character posts there.

Unless I'm eating a really delicious apple at the airport.

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at
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