In the past decade, social networks have evolved from “a nice to have” add-on to a necessity for healthcare marketers.
If you haven’t yet integrated social media into your marketing mix, it’s time to do so. Not only is social media marketing more affordable than traditional forms of marketing, but it’s also more accountable, with specific tracking and monitoring options at your disposal.
When using social media for marketing purposes, it’s important to understand that social media marketing is more than just creating social accounts and posting updates once in a while. Nor is it merely a digital tool to broadcast updates. To make social media an effective means to reach patients you need to take a strategic approach.
Before diving into social media, you need to think about what you are actually trying to accomplish. The temptation is to start right away by building a following on one or more of the popular social media platforms. But actually, this is not where you should start.
You need to start with your “why” before your how. In an interview, Lee Aase, communications director for the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network (MCSMN), pointed out that “Everything starts with why you are using social media If you do not have that “why” out there, then it’s going to be easy to not be motivated enough to stay with it.”
When I take on a new client, I always start by working deeply with them to uncover their motivation for wanting to use social media. I believe this step is so critical that on occasion I have to advise some clients that they are not ready to commit to social media.
Social media will only work for you if you are prepared to put the work in.
For those of you reading this who are ready for the challenge and willing to work at it, read on to find out the next steps you need to take to ensure the time and effort you spend on social media will pay off for you.
A Six-Step Approach To Developing A Social Media Strategy For Healthcare Marketing
Step #1 Set SMART Goals
Without goals, it’s hard to know exactly how well your social media strategy is performing. Clear goals will not only propel your strategy forward, but they will also serve as defined metrics when it comes to measuring your progress. Describe the specific goals and outcomes you’re seeking to accomplish with your social media activity. These should be aligned with your business goals and clinical priorities.
Do you want to attract more patients? Communicate more effectively with existing patients? Create and maintain an online reputation? Drive traffic to your website? Chances are you may want to do all of these things, but it’s best to identify your top two to three goals and focus on them first. Whichever goal you wish to pursue, make it as detailed and specific as possible. The more trackable your goal is, the easier it’ll be in a few months to see if you have achieved it.
Take Action: For a goal to become a reality, it needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, and realistic, as well as time specific — these are often called SMART goals.
Step #2 Understand Your Audience
Before you jump into the tactical and practical details of your social media plan, it’s critical that you take the time to understand your audience. Where do your patients go online for research? What health issues concern them the most? Which online communities inform or influence them? What times are they online? Consider your audience’s engagement time, not your work hours.
Take Action: Start by finding data on your existing audience. Use the Demographics and Interests sections of Google Analytics and the audience analytics features contained within Facebook Insights and Twitter to help you.
Step #3 Set Your Marketing Budget
The perception that social media is free is misguided. The days you could make an impact with a few tweets or Facebook posts are long gone. Running a social presence now requires an investment of resources. You may need to buy-in services such as SEO (search engine optimisation), analytics software, content or creative support. You will also need to budget for paid advertising, particularly if you want to make an impact on Facebook, where organic reach has steadily declined over the past few years.
Take Action: Set a realistic budget and create a digital marketing strategy that works within it. Whatever you decide to spend money or time on, be sure to track how your content performs on social media relative to the amount of time and money you put against it. This is your social media return of investment (ROI) and it is closely linked to the goals you set at step #1.
Step #4 Choose Your Social Channels
Armed with information on who makes up your audience, the next step is to determine which social media platforms they use and direct your efforts accordingly. Most marketing efforts are focused on the trifecta of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but visual platforms such as Pinterest, Snapchat, and Instagram are also very popular for healthcare marketing. This doesn’t mean that you have to be everywhere at once. It’s important, especially if your resources are limited, that you’re focusing your social media efforts in places that will generate the most return for your time online.
Take Action: Do your research to determine where best to focus your social media efforts to be successful. Read Which Social Network Is The Right One For Your Medical Practice? for more advice.
Step #5 Create A Content Strategy
If patients are searching for health information online you need to be creating and sharing what they are searching for. Tune into the health stories patients are reading about and be ready to provide context, counter misinformation and dispel myths with medically factual information.
When creating a content strategy for your medical practice consider the following points.
What makes you uniquely you? What values does your organization stand for? Use social media to communicate the “who” and “why” of your practice. What unique qualities make you stand out?
Consider your social media tone and voice. How do you wish to communicate on social media? Do you wish to be seen as authoritative, inspiring, friendly, approachable, or helpful? Authentic communication and engagement are highly valued traits online as much as offline. Look to build and strengthen trust and credibility in all your online interactions. The tone and voice you use should be consistent through all social channels. Your patients should be able to instantly recognize the tone in your social media messages as identifiably you. Establishing a clear and identifiable voice can also make it easier for others in your office to post on social media for your practice.
Consider the type of content that works best on each platform. Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest require high-quality visuals to stand out. A blog, on the other hand, is better suited to long-form thought pieces. Think about how you can vary your message delivery to complement how people like to consume online information. Alternate between written content, video, infographics, and podcasts to match your audience’s preferences.
Take Action: Create content that truly resonates with your patients. Generally speaking, patients are less interested in your brand, your physicians or your technology, than they are in how you can help them solve their problems. Great content is not about you, but about what you can do for your patients to improve their quality of life. Use a mix of original content and content curated from highly credible evidence-based sources.
Step #6 Track And Measure Social Media Activities
How will you know if you achieve your social media goals? To determine how effective your social media efforts are, you will need to measure your results. Some key metrics to track are the number of followers you attract and retain, what people are saying about you, your company, or brand, and which social media channels drive the most traffic to your website. Social media metrics should always be tied to your social media marketing goals and your target audience.
Take Action: Use built-in tools such as Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics, third-party tools, and measurement of social traffic and conversion with Google Analytics to track and measure your progress.
With currently 2.8 billion social media users globally, expected to rise to almost 3 billion users by 2020, social media’s influence has still not reached its peak. It’s a dynamic environment in which new networks emerge, old networks evolve, and user bases continue to grow exponentially. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by this rapidly moving landscape and unsure of your progress. By building your social media strategy on a solid foundation you are less likely to become distracted by shiny new tools, and more likely to see results over the long-term.