Step #2: Listen to the Chatter

This blog is part two of an eight-part series on launching your hospital’s social media strategy.

After you establish your social media policy, the next important step in developing your social media strategy is listening. Why listen? Listening to the chatter is important to your strategy for three reasons:

  • It will help you decide what social media tools to use. The social media spectrum of tools is so broad. Knowing what tools your patients are using to engage will help you narrow your choice of tools.
  • It will help you develop and prioritize goals based on what is important to your patients (and not internal politics or pet projects). This will help you focus on achievable outcomes that are important to your patients.
  • It provides you with the “semantics” of your audience. What are the terms they are searching for? How do they refer to your hospital? What phrases do they use (i.e. “oncology” or “cancer”)?

How to Listen?

There are two steps in listening and both are important – offline and online.

First, listen offline. Listen to how patients are talking in the waiting rooms. Listen to the questions new moms in your birthing center are asking nurses. Go to the FAQ web pages created by your Centers to read what they feel are the issues of key concern to patients. Go sit next to the person who answers the hospital’s main phone line. What questions is he or she answering for patients? Listen to the voicemail introductions of each of your centers to give you insight into what the managers think their patients need to know? Listen to the conversations in Emergency Rooms. Listen to what your patients are saying on patient surveys, and listen to how the media talks about your hospital.

Then listen online. Because of the vast social media universe (from blogs, to chat rooms, to Facebook and Twitter) this can seem overwhelming. There are many fee-based tools you can employ to help, but there are also a vast number of free tools to get started. Some offer a scaled down version for free, with the option to upgrade. Once you begin the process, you’ll have to decide which makes more financial sense for you–using staff time to listen or hiring a vendor.

There are several social media monitoring vendors: Actionly, BuzzStream, Hootsuite, Radian6, Sprout Social, Thrive, Trackur.

However, if you want to get your start for free, Google has a host of free services. Use Google Analytics to see how visitors are getting to your website, Google Alerts to find your online mentions, Google Trends to measure the impact that bloggers or a campaign are having and Google Reader to help coordinate RSS feeds of top blogs in your sector, competitors’ sites, news sites, Twitter searches and more, all in one place.

To monitor the blogosphere, try Alltop, BlogPulse, Technorati, Google Advanced Blog Search, BlogPulse or NM Incite.

Want to know how influential a Twitter user is? Try Klout or Twinfluence; and the Daily Blogger has a list of nine other Twitter tools to help analyze influence and engagement.

To compare your sites to others’, try Wildfire, Compete, Alexa or Graphbuzz. To search keywords on multiple platforms try Social Mention. To update multiple social media platforms (like Twitter, Facebook) try HootsuiteFacebook Search or Openbook are useful in helping find mentions in Facebook.

A dashboard streamlines your daily checks on blogs, competitors and news sites by locating rss feeds onto one, easy-to-scan screen. Some options for dashboards include Bloglines, Netvibes or Google Reader.

With all those listening choices, don’t forget why you’re listening.

What are you listening for?

Pay close attention to where the chatter is coming from. Facebook? Twitter? Blogs? This will give you insight to what tools you should use to engage your patients.

Pay close attention to reoccurring topics. Are people looking for physician recommendations? Information about medications? Weight loss or nutrition? This will give you insight to what resources the hospital should consider sharing online to position itself to meet community needs.

Pay close attention to how patients describe their needs. How do they refer to your hospital? You’ll want to make sure you are speaking their language, using terminology that is comfortable and familiar to them.


As you listen, you might be tempted to jump into the conversation. If you jump into the social media waters without a plan, you just might sink. Best to stay listening until you develop your strategy.

You might discover “negative chatter,” and that can be helpful, too. We have a free downloadable position paper on how to respond to negative chatter.

Keyword searches are only as good as the keywords. Maybe your official hospital name is “Mayberry RFD Regional Medical Center,” but locals call it “Mayberry Hospital.” Make sure to search for both…and other combinations so you don’t miss any conversations about your hospital.

Remember, as in any media, you’ll often hear from the most vocal group–the most supportive advocates or biggest detractors–so make sure to filter what you are hearing with other research, like patient surveys and off-line listening.

Once you’ve listened and learned, you are ready to bring your hospital leadership and evangelists to the table, and we’ll cover that in an upcoming blog.

Thanks for listening!

Next up: Step #3 Bring Your Hospital Leadership and Evangelists to the Table

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