Research-Based, Budget-Sensitive Online Strategy for Hospital Facebook Engagement

If you are involved with hospital marketing, you already know that as budgets tighten, interest in expanding social media engagement wanes. Yet research indicates 80% of Internet users have looked online for information on health topics – that’s 59% of all adults – so ignoring online engagement isn’t an option.

For some hospitals, having a Facebook page has become a quick fix to assure stakeholders that they are engaged in social media. Yet, if not used strategically, Facebook pages can have the opposite impact – a testament to your hospital’s underfunded, understaffed and underutilized social media program.

One study, conducted by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and Harvard’s Center for American Political Studies, illustrates how patients with diabetes are using Facebook groups. By considering the results, this study can inform the way hospitals utilize Facebook, and help shape a social media strategy that includes real Facebook engagement.

Study analyzed Facebook “diabetes” groups

The study, Online Social Networking by Patients with Diabetes: A Qualitative Evaluation of Communication with Facebook, analyzed the 15 largest Facebook groups with “diabetes” in the title. They coded the activities happening within those posts and found that 66% were information sharing, 13% were requesting information, and 28% were offering support.

However, of concern were the 27% of posts that were explicit product promotion, and of those, 36% related to advertisements for non-FDA approved products.

“Offers tentative support”

The researchers concluded that their study “offers tentative support of the proposed public health benefits of social networking media in the management of chronic disease.”  Among the advantages social networks provide users are interpersonal and community support and access to specialized knowledge on disease management from peers.

Researchers, too, expressed concern regarding the promotion of non-FDA-approved therapeutic modalities that pose “a significant problem to the trustworthiness … on this widely used online social networking tool.”

This study provides social media strategists an up-close look of the advantages and failings of social networks in disease management…and wherever there is a failing, there is an opportunity.

Engage with these social support networks

By engaging with these social networks, your hospital can provide a trustworthy source of information and advocacy: direct users to reliable sources; share early results of studies and stories of patients who successfully managed their disease; and post current information on legislation, medication and advocacy efforts that may impact their care. Those are all activities that can position your hospital as a trustworthy source that understands the obstacles patients and their families face.

Obviously, this type of engagement requires a level of expertise and training, and that means choices need to be made about what areas you can fully engage in.

Consider using patient leaders

If you are short on staffing, consider approaching patient leaders who have a history of involvement with face-to-face support groups at your hospital to be your hospital’s on-line liaison to disease-specific sites. Provide adequate training and guidelines, give them access to hospital experts, clearly articulate their role, and pay them.

Direct them to be transparent about their official role as your hospital’s patient liaison.  Highlight them and their personal stories on your hospital’s website and in local media to foster local engagement.

Too often social media has been adopted as an appendage to marketing efforts. Tight budgets are forcing the integration of social media into the overall marketing strategy. By focusing on research-based insights, hospitals can design social media engagement that helps patients get trustworthy information and helps hospitals build trustworthy reputations.


How we help

Hive Strategies helps health systems create HIPAA-compliant online communities for better health, lower costs and greater loyalty.

4 replies
  1. Jean Kelso Sandlin
    Jean Kelso Sandlin says:

    Nancy, Thank you for your comment. Ahh, a 48-hour day. On one hand it excites me, on the other it makes me weary just thinking about it! That’s often how I feel about the new possibilities surrounding social media. Some days I am giddy reading about the latest tool…and other days I am overwhelmed with the choices. But if we think first of patients – those key audiences you mention- I think they will lead us to make the right choices. Thanks for your insight.

    Reply
  2. Nancy Cawley Jean
    Nancy Cawley Jean says:

    Jean, always love your posts, and this one is no exception. I think there’s still so much we can tap into in social to reach key audiences, if only there were 48 hours in a day!

    Reply
  3. Jason Boies
    Jason Boies says:

    “36% related to advertisements for non-FDA approved products.” – Yikes!
    Great post as usual, Jean. Education and engagement, that’s the key to effective use of social in the healthcare industry, IMO.
    Cheers – Jason Boies Radian6 Community

    Reply

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