Beyond Marketing: Social Media as a Cost-Saving, Life-Saving Healthcare Strategy

flickr: webtreats

Last week I was trolling ProQuest for recently published dissertations. I do this regularly to try and be on the front end of Internet and social media research. Before being published in journals or books, new researchers’ work is often published in dissertation form.

One of the disturbing trends is the prevalence of new reseachers’ assumptions that social media is a dominant force everywhere for everyone talking about everything. One dissertation published last month even claimed the study was an examination of “why we’re obsessed” with social media.

Be careful when making assumptions about social media and our patients

One of the challenges of research is to separate your own experience from the data (the participants’ experiences). In healthcare, we have to be especially careful when making assumptions about social media and our patients. I can tell you, my 83-year old mother is the heaviest user of healthcare services in our family, and she’s not obsessed with social media … however, my sisters and I did go straight to the Internet when researching her dementia diagnosis and care facilities (see e-Sisters: Seeking Care for the Aging).

Last year, Pew released research that indicated more adults seeking social service news did so via their local newspaper than the Internet – apparently another demographic not “obsessed” with social media.

Many administrators are resistant because of a narrow view

With rising costs and other operational challenges currently faced by hospitals and healthcare clinics, many administrators are resistant to spending resources on the adoption of social media because they view it as a marketing cost.

Others are recycling news releases on their Facebook page so they can check off the “social media” box for the Board member who always asks about its use as a marketing tool.

When we think social media is only a marketing tool, we make a mistake

When those of us in healthcare assume that social media is only a marketing tool, we commit the same mistake as the researcher who assumed every demographic is obsessed with social media. If we narrow our view of social media to recognize only its marketing potential, we fail to miss the powerful connectivity, customization and accessibility of social media that lends itself to patient support, empowerment, compliance, and education.

A sampling of recent studies that support the adoption of social media for uses beyond marketing include:

Public Health Interventions: Reaching Latino Adolescents via Short Message Service and Social Media

Designing Digital Games, Social Media, and Mobile Technologies to Motivate and Support Health Behavior Change

Use of Social Media for Health Education: An Example of Online Support Group for Individuals with Atrial Fibrillation

These, and other studies about social media use in patient support, don’t negate the power social media commands as a marketing tool, but they do illustrate the power of social media for patient groups when support, education, and compliance are not only cost-saving, but potentially life-saving.

How we help

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

4 replies
  1. Meredith Gould, PhD
    Meredith Gould, PhD says:

    You’re singing my song, Jean. As a sociologist, I tend to zoom in not only on the misuse/misinterpretation of data, but also the persistent inability of many to understand what “social” means.

    Echoing what Jason notes in his comment, if social media is a tool for anything, it’s for creating, building, and sustaining community. And community is certainly worth “marketing,” especially for patients and caregivers trying to survive healthcare systems, never mind whatever illness/disease they have!

  2. Jean Kelso Sandlin
    Jean Kelso Sandlin says:

    Thanks for your feedback, Jason. You’re right that quantifiable information is key, especially for those who oversee budgets; but the more clinics and hospitals document measurable results in patient outcomes…then things will begin to change, especially in this new healthcare landscape when keeping patients healthy is not only good for patients, but essential for hospital and clinic feasibility. Again, thanks for your thoughtful response.

  3. Jason Boies
    Jason Boies says:

    Nice post as always, Jean. Seems a bit of shame to see social media strictly as another marketing channel. Not that it can’t be effective for marketing purposes when properly integrated into your overall marketing strategy, but still. You’ve nailed it, for healthcare there has to be a focus on connectivity and community. That’s harder to quantify, mind you.

    Thoughtful writing as usual. 🙂

    Jason Boies – Community Team, Salesforce Radian6


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