It’s a whole new world of technology, communications, promotions and mobile networking. Those hospitals that have discovered this fact and are diving in are way out in front. They’re getting recognition for their brand, pulling in more patients through referrals and networking, and connecting with their communities.
What strategies are hospitals using to benefit from their social media connections? What promotional ideas have they used to beat out the competition and get their name out there?
Here’s 10 ways you can use social media at your hospital:
1. Reporting a live transplant operation. Children’s Medical Center in Dallas used Twitter to communicate a kidney transplant between father and son. Both UT Southwestern Medical Center (where the kidney was removed from the father) and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas (where the kidney was transplanted into the son) tweeted about these events. According to reports from the hospitals, Children’s Twitter followers had increased 370 percent, 40 interviews were scheduled over the next nine days, and more than 900 stories were distributed with more than 60 million impressions. On top of that, 20 people contacted Children’s about becoming organ donors.
2. Mobile help finding the closest ER. At Massachusetts General Hospital, a hospital on the forefront of groundbreaking research, a talented group of researchers from the Emergency Department created a free app for the iPhone that lets users find the closest emergency room to their location anywhere in the United States. Social media helped promote this, according to Mike Morrison, who oversees social media for MGH’s public relations department. “Our strategy here was to create this YouTube video and then pitch to bloggers encouraging them to use our embed code for their stories … Although it’s tough to get publicity among a sea of apps, our video allowed us to provide more content for bloggers and increased our chances of getting attention. Even if we didn’t have the pitching success we did, we were able to tweet the video and the link to download, as well as post to our Facebook page. It was a great combination of traditional pitching, content creation, and social media.”
3. Helping people find a doctor and setting up appointments. Bon Secours Hospital in Richmond, Va., has racked up some impressive social media statistics. According to Nick Dawson, director of communications and community engagement, the hospital made $250,000 through social media referrals alone. Dawson says 85 percent of those referrals—50 patients—came through Twitter; the rest came through Facebook and YouTube. Dawson’s team uses Twitter to:
5. Raising charitable donations. Lowell General Hospital in Lowell, Mass., held a TeamWalk for Cancer Care in May 2011 to raise money for various cancers treated at the hospital. Walkers registered and posted their entries to Facebook and Twitter, while encouraging their friends and followers to donate online. In addition, walkers set up their cell phones to post to Twitter or Facebook for status updates while they were walking: “I’m at the three-mile mark of Lowell General Hospital’s TeamWalk. Only four more miles to go! Please be sure to donate now!”
6. Sharing health tips. The Children’s Hospital of Alabama corporate communications department developed a social media strategy using Facebook and Twitter, targeting both internal and external audiences. The hospital shares health tips and statistics on a daily basis, getting the community involved with its Health and Wellness campaign. A key messaging tool is past patient testimonials. “I think it is vital to a health care organization’s success to engage both their employees and the public in effective messaging,” says Rachel Olis, corporate communications coordinator for Children’s. “Corporate communications departments can be the link between reputation, credibility and effectiveness. In today’s changing health care world, it is vital that the correct message gets to the correct audience—a communications team is the piece of the puzzle that can get that done.”
7. New medical social networking community. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., has been one of the biggest proponents of social media use by hospitals. Mayo Clinic Social Media Manager Lee Aase says, “for more than 100 years, the most important factor responsible for patient preference for Mayo Clinic has been word of mouth; satisfied patients telling their friends and neighbors about their experiences. We’ve had strong data on that point, and that news media stories and physician recommendations are the second and third most significant reasons for Mayo Clinic preference,” Aase says. “So in our case, it wasn’t a ‘prove the value in advance’ situation. We emphasized that social media are just the way word of mouth happens in the 21st century.” On July 11, 2011, The Mayo Clinic launched the first free, open social networking community. With Mayo’s 500,000 patients and 50,000 employees and students around the world, the social community is aimed at “connect[ing] patients with each other and with others interested in learning more about Mayo Clinic or a particular health interest,” according to the Mayo website.
8. Videos on many topics. The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, based in Baltimore, Maryland, has a YouTube Channel with a very large and diverse mix of videos primarily geared towards patients and consumers. A recent video shows one of its doctors explaining next steps for patients diagnosed with a brain tumor. Many of the videos address conditions patients may be dealing with such as liver cancer, warfarin and neuroendocrine tumors—with doctors explaining options for treatment. One of the many fascinating videos is a brief overview of the milestones in stem cell research over the past 100 years. To date, the hospital has 765 YouTube channel subscribers and 290,000 total upload views.
9. Spread the word during crisis communications. Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas, found a very unusual and somewhat terrifying way to use its social media connections for crisis communications during the Ft. Hood shootings in 2009. Scott & White is one of the hospitals which provide services to Fort Hood, and on that day 10 victims of the shooting attack were immediately sent to its Emergency Department. As the shootings were occurring, Scott & White began posting messages on its Facebook and Twitter accounts. This was followed by a continuous string of updates that included information on emergency room access, hospital operation status, re-tweets from the Red Cross, dialogue with local reporters and other resources for visitors. In addition to Twitter and Facebook, Scott & White used its Blog and YouTube to keep people informed.
10. Partner with sports figures for health. The Inova Healthcare System started an innovative Facebook page called FIT FOR 50, which includes a number of specific “challenges.” FIT FOR SUMMER, for example, is an interactive page with former NFL Washington Redskins player, Darrell Green. This web-based fitness program is designed to keep people fit during the hot days of summer. Friends of the page are encouraged to register to gain access to exclusive health and fitness videos from Darrell Green and Inova physicians. Also, people can set their own personal wellness goals and track their daily progress in their very own online playbook.