Ed Bennett’s Hospital Social Network List (http://ebennett.org/hsnl/) points out a fact you may be trying to ignore: 719 hospitals have Facebook pages, 674 have Twitter accounts, and 448 have YouTube channels. As of January, more than 900 hospitals were using 3,000-plus social networking sites. Those facilities make up just 15% of U.S. hospitals, but it’s a percentage worth noting, says Bennett, Web strategy director for the 757-licensed-bed University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
“It’s a fundamental change in how people are using the Internet,” he says. “There’s been a fundamental shift. People are spending more of their time in social media spaces. Any organization, whether it’s a hospital or commercial organization, should be giving this some thought.”
That social networking is here isn’t news. But according to the 2011 HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey, 53% of healthcare marketing leaders feel neutral about the tool’s effectiveness in helping their marketing efforts. What’s more, the majority say that social media plays a role in 10% or less of their efforts. So how can you reconcile the attitude toward social media with an ever-growing need to use
it? Incorporate it into overall marketing strategies. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Don’t panic. Though the plethora of sites and tools and applications can overwhelm the new user, the best antidote is to leap right in, says Marla Mayer, marketing and community relations director for 25-bed critical access Queen of Peace Hospital in New Prague, MN. “We need to keep up with the way people are accessing information,” she says. “Increasingly, it’s moving toward these online engagement and … social media avenues.”
Whether Facebook and Twitter stay the buzzwords or some undiscovered tool overthrows them, conversing with patients via the Internet is here. The more marketers up their comfort level, Mayer adds, the better they’ll understand their patient base. And remember, all hospitals are in the same creaky boat when it comes to social media, Bennett says: “The best way to stay abreast of it is to start getting involved.” Bennett predicts that, like the fax machine, social media will upset the balance for a period, then become just another part of a hospital marketer’s job.