Delivering Satisfaction: Social Media Opportunities in Birthing Centers

Babies are high involvement

In marketing practices, we discriminate between low involvement products (like selecting tuna off a grocery shelf) and high involvement products (like purchasing a new car). High involvement products give us more opportunities to engage the customer, establish a strong brand presence and foster loyalty. In healthcare, we also have low involvement and high involvement services. A birth of a baby is as “high involvement” as they come. No other healthcare service offers greater potential for bonding a family to your hospital than the birth of their child.

Through the birth, families have multiple encounters with hospital facilities and staff–from ultrasounds assessing the health of the growing baby, childbirth classes, sibling classes, the actual birth, extended family gatherings to view the baby, lactation counseling, and the initial well baby exam. With high involvement comes the potential for high anxiety – How do I explain the birth to our toddler? How do I care for the umbilical cord stump on my newborn? Am I providing enough nourishment for my newborn by breastfeeding? Adopting social media practices as part of a Birthing Center experience offers a way for hospitals to foster and strengthen relationships with families and increase patient satisfaction.

Listen, and let the patients set your goals.

Like any other marketing effort, establishing measureable goals is important, but unlike some other planning processes, social media planning should not emanate from the institution (i.e. “we want to be the premier birthing center in the region”). Goals for social media should emanate from the patients. Although patient surveys can be informative, hearing first-hand from Birthing Center nurses, lactation specialists and birthing class instructors is more valuable. Why? Concerns change as families proceed through the stages of the pregnancy and then into the “parents of a newborn” phase. Birthing Center professionals get the calls and questions throughout this cycle, and their first-hand experiences are often better indicators of these cyclical concerns than a static survey instrument. As you create your goals, think small.

Think small.

Consider small audience segments and projects specific to their needs. Instead of describing your market segment as “expecting and new parents,” consider establishing goals for patients within the various stages. Women in their first trimester of pregnancy have different needs than those who have just given birth. First, identify the meaningful stages of your patients (such as first trimester moms), or sub-groups (such as high-risk pregnancies), and then focus on patient concerns within that stage or sub-group. Once you’ve established those small segments, it’s easier to develop social media tools that address those specific concerns.

Patient-based goals for new parents might be: “Lessening the anxiety about caring for their newborn.” One social media objective under that goal could be to “Provide on online visual guide to cleaning and caring for a newborn’s umbilical chord.” That video, however, would not be of interest to women who just found out they were pregnant. Instead, the goal might change to “Provide tips to maintain the health of the mom and baby during pregnancy.” One objective under that goal could be to “Provide an online pamphlet on “Healthy Eating When Eating for Two.” Marian Medical Center in Santa Maria, California, recognized the power of thinking small when they organized their educational offerings around a timeline called “Childbirth: A Timeline to Ease Your Mind.”

Take a lesson from mommy bloggers: share, share and share some more.

Education, information and conversation reduces anxiety and builds community, and social media is a great tool to deliver both. Technorati, a blog indexing and search engine, lists more than 8,500 blogs under “family” and 9,500 under “health”­–numbers that indicate how interested people are in these issues.

Because hospital birthing centers offer information on both, social media tools hosted by them can have the potential to reduce patient anxiety and foster community – increasing patient satisfaction. Blogs, videos, free online pamphlets, and chat rooms can all be used effectively to address patients’ concerns and build stronger ties with the birthing center staff. But don’t overlook the power of a smaller tool to endear you to a mom-to-be. Mills-Peninsula Health Services in San Mateo and Burlingame, California, offers a “due date calculator” as a link from their family birth center website. El Camino Hospital in Los Gatos offers a weekly email sign-up for expectant and new parents with timely tips, and a beautiful online e-book series including “Journey to Family” and “Labor of Love,” packed full of helpful information to ease the mind of expectant parents. Sharing staff knowledge and resources is a wonderful way to bring new parents to your center and start forming relationships with them.

Partner up and share some more.

If you are concerned about managing your own information hub on your website due to lack of time or resources, you can still connect your patients with useful information through partnering. With texting becoming a more popular way to communicate, especially with younger demographics, hospitals are partnering with Text4baby, a free mobile information service in English and Spanish. An educational program of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, text4baby provides pregnant women and new moms with information they need to take care of their health and give their babies the best possible start in life. Women who sign up for the service receive free text messages each week timed to their due date or their baby’s date of birth. There are also many breast feeding advocacy groups that would likely give permission for their e-books to be made available on your hospital’s birthing center website.

Remarkable connections are …well, remarkable!

As you consider what social media tools to help you connect with your patients, don’t overlook opportunities for engaging patients in remarkable and memorable ways. The remarkable stories are the ones that travel beyond the family and become community stories shared at school bus stops, in grocery store lines and by neighbors at the PTA meetings and might even get written about in the media. Brockton Hospital in Massachusetts created a remarkable story when they used Skype to enable a father, who was stationed in Afghanistan, to watch the birth of his son. To make the Skype session happen, a few hospital policies had to be amended, like allowing cell phones in the birthing room. You can read the details in Amy Littlefield’s article in the Enterprise News. Enabling a dad thousands of miles away to participate in the birth of his son is remarkable, and having the tools at hand to accomplish such a meaningful exchange is no less remarkable.

How can your hospital’s birthing center use social media to be remarkable and deliver satisfaction? Your patients know, ask them.

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