A new study published this month in Journal of Medical Internet Research analyzes the types of content US hospitals post on their Facebook pages and how hospitals’ Facebook activities differ with regard to content types.
The study authors, Nima Kordzadeh and Diana K. Young, point out that whilst health care organizations “have widely embraced social media as a means to educate the community on health topics and increase patient loyalty and satisfaction, little is known about the content these organizations actually share when using social media channels.”
The researchers collected and thematically analyzed more than 1700 Facebook posts made over a 3-month period by 17 US hospitals. They identified a list of 13 unique health social media post themes and classified those themes into thematic groups.
The most frequently used theme was sharing health information, which appeared in 35.81% of the posts analyzed. Such posts sought to provide health tips and advice to community members.
Recognizing special days and recognizing employees were the second and third most frequently used themes, respectively, with 14.95% and 11.82% of the posts containing those themes. The researchers expressed surprised at the frequency of these themes, nothing “the content was geared more toward stakeholders internal to the organization, although most previous literature has focused on social media as a tool to connect with external stakeholders.”
In addition, the researchers found many of the posts involved more than one theme, and selected sets of themes co-occurred frequently. For example, 25.4% of the posts recognizing special days also included content to share health information, and approximately 38% of the posts announcing research activities also included content to share health information.
The results of this study showed most posts in the sample could be classified as serving 3 purpose groups:
- announcing and reporting
- sharing activities
Within the announcing and reporting purpose group, the authors found the sampled institutions used Facebook to broadcast information relating to donations opportunities, upcoming events, research activities, and organizational news. They further found that recognizing posts were used to acknowledge employees and special days, whereas sharing posts were used to disseminate health information as well as patient success and feel good stories.
The study concludes with a recommendation that hospitals and clinics that are expanding their social media activities or are starting to embark on social media strategies can use the results of this study to better formulate their activities on Facebook.
These results can be used as a benchmark for the health care institutions that want to establish a social media presence to communicate with the public audience and for the smaller clinics and hospitals that want to further expand and improve their activities on social media websites.
The authors point to further research opportunities including investigating the following questions:
- Does announcing events on Facebook increase attendance?
- Does acknowledging employees increase their organizational commitment, morale, and satisfaction?
- Is sharing health information via Facebook an effective approach in raising awareness about diseases and medical issues in the community?
Another avenue for future research, suggested by the authors is to examine the content generation process in terms of who is responsible for posting contents on health care organizations’ Facebook pages, and whether their expertise is in health care (eg, physicians, dentists, and nurse practitioners) or in social media marketing.
Such research should investigate how the content provider impacts the type of content shared, the manner in which it is shared, and the resulting level of audience engagement. This can ultimately influence the overall effectiveness of health care organizations’ activities on Facebook and other social media platforms.
Furthermore, future research can examine user engagement in different types of posts to understand the extent to which each content type can draw users’ attention and trigger their reactions in terms of liking a post, leaving a comment on it, or sharing it with others on Facebook.
In a statement that will have many of us nodding our heads in agreement, the authors conclude that “understanding user engagement is important because it can transform one-way, provider-to-consumer information dissemination activities into two-way or many-to-many communication processes. In this way, the “social” aspect of such platforms as Facebook can be realized more meaningfully, adding value to the health care organizations’ activities in virtual environments.”