This article was originally posted in Express Healthcare (The Indian Express Group) by our CEO, Rohan Chandrashekhar. Click here to read the original post.
With social media having gone mainstream across the world, organisations – small and large, are not only looking for aggressive ownership in this new media pie, but also working out unique ways of keeping their constituents informed and engaged across multiple channels that predominantly include Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Youtube, Tumblr, and Flickr. The premise obviously being that the world is shifting to a new form of communication and interaction, and people (in this case, patients) are in need of simple yet transparent ways of learning and sharing information. Amidst tight regulations and fears of massive PR backlash, some of the best hospitals in the US are unabashedly embracing social media in their marketing mix to achieve actionable goals this year. As Marc Needham, Director of Web Technology for Scripps Health says, “Try new things, be nice to people and don’t say anything that your legal department would object to.” Ambitious leadership teams realise that with a robust infrastructure in social media strategy and a deep understanding of tangible objectives, not only can social media be adopted as a catalyst for sharing meaningful information, physician-patient collaboration, training medical personnel, gathering visitor feedback, boosting CSR initiatives, recruiting top-quality staff and so forth, but also as a dominant driver in building new/existing relationships by educating and informing patients about new discoveries, communicating wait times before patients get to the hospital, responding to and preparing for emergencies, reducing patient anxiety by offering a preview of what to expect when they arrive, and sharing timely health/safety tips for the holidays among many others.
Consider the classic case of Henry Ford Hospital, regarded as the No.1 hospital on Twitter by Ed Bennett who manages web operations at the University of Maryland Medical Center and sits on the Advisory Board of the Mayo Clinic Center for Health Care Social Media. Surgeons at Henry Ford live-tweeted through an entire surgery, giving short real-time updates about a procedure involving the removal of a cancerous tumour from a patient’s kidney. The impetus for their Twittering was to let their audience know that a tumour can be removed without taking out the entire kidney. This ended up being an exercise in bold and transparent communication for the hospital, making people feel more connected and engaged with them.
Another case where Twitter helped to prevent a possible PR nightmare was that of Greater Baltimore Medical Center where a Baltimore television station incorrectly reported that security at the hospital had been breached by an armed robber. Following this outbreak, had it not been for their media relations manager who sent out a flurry of tweets correcting the misinformation, patients would have falsely assumed that the hospital had below-par security and safety standards. On a platform where critical news spreads like wildfire, responding at breakneck speed with accurate information saved the day by preventing an unverified rumour aimed at tarnishing the brand’s image.
Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital (commonly referred to as ‘MGH’) is an organisation to learn from. Widely considered among the most prestigious medical institutions in the world, MGH has heavily invested in its online properties which include the corporate website, 10 Facebook pages, eight Twitter accounts, three Youtube channels, one Foursquare page and a LinkedIn company page. The coveted hospital does not stop here though. They focus on building a sense of community around these social networks, running contests frequently and connecting with their fans on Facebook and Twitter (even on nights and weekends), for instance the “#tweetforacure” campaign led by MGH’s Cancer Center where $1 went to cancer research for every tweet carrying that hashtag. They also have a reason to stand out in the sea of applications available in the Apple iStore with an iPhone application that is designed to help people find the closest emergency room anywhere in the US. These initiatives ensure that patient engagement and satisfaction always remain on top of the institution’s checklist.
Among major national medical centers, Cleveland Clinic ranks behind Mayo Clinic (which has its own social media network) and Johns Hopkins Medical Center in awareness. To bring a lot of new patients into their fraternity, they have structured a cross-functional team that enables education, collaboration, and smart governance. The hospital, which manages a global following (patients come from over 100 countries) uses Facebook, Twitter and Youtube in a major way, not just to share real-life stories, ground-breaking research and news that are rich in content but also to connect its 2,800 full-time staff of physicians and researchers with the masses. The corporate website offers virtual tours of the hospital’s campus and opportunities to meet the physicians. Their healthcare content draws 2.2 million visitors a month, making them one of the most trafficked hospital websites in the country. In addition, they also run the Cleveland Clinic Online Health Chats, two online channels dedicated to providing consumers with professional-grade healthcare information. One chat is devoted to connecting consumers live, with nurses. The other is a resource for people—not necessarily Cleveland Clinic patients—to connect with a physician regarding a given healthcare topic. The chats allow people to ask questions anonymously, gain information from a trusted source, and access archived conversations from a central place. To manage their vast and highly diverse social media programmes, Cleveland Clinic employs a core digital team of more than 15 people, with over 200 approved users across the clinic who are free to add content daily, based on appropriate guidelines, making it the ‘content king of the healthcare industry’. The hospital also offers Android and iPad apps for managing stress, sleep, exercise and healthful eating, all in efforts to deliver a truly cohesive and complete experience to patients.
Another area where social media really shines is ‘fund raising’. UCSF Medical Center launched a fundraising competition titled “Challenge for the Children” to raise money for the new UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. The eight-week competition was designed in collaboration with online fundraising platform Causes.com to reach out through Facebook and Twitter and encourage people to contribute as individuals or become team leaders in support of the children’s hospital. The campaign’s success (raised over $1 million) was also attributed to Farmville – a popular Facebook game developed by Zynga, which released “Candy Cane crops” into the game as part of the fundraiser, allowing 100 per cent of the proceeds from the sale of the crops to be donated directly to the hospital. To extend this example is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, one of the world’s premier centres for the research and treatment of paediatric cancer and other catastrophic childhood diseases.
GRAMMY award-winning artist Sheryl Crow and other popular musicians including Stone Temple Pilots and Kings of Leon showed their support by trailblazing a music campaign called “Music Gives to St. Jude Kids” and partnering with web-based concert ticket sites Ticketmaster and Livenation that provided people with an add-on donation to the hospital. Another social media campaign titled “50K to Cancer” was launched based around dedicating $1 to cancer research for every Twitter follower gained during the drive, allowing for all 21,800 new followers to then vote on which cancer research organisation would receive the funding. St. Jude won the drive enlisting the support of social media heavyweights, celebrities, athletes and other research organisations with large followings of their own, who helped propel the drive along the way. These efforts show that the hospital is committed to providing not only patients, but also family and loved ones with the highest levels of treatment and care.
“Though respectable hospital chains in India have forayed into social media, we are yet to see notable strides being taken in this part of the world. While there remains no doubt that social media cannot be ignored anymore, merely having a few thousand fans on Facebook or Twitter and occasionally publishing a friendly status update does not deliver on the social media promise” explains Dr M Chandrashekhar, an independent healthcare consultant and advisor to BUZZVALVE’s healthcare clients.
One of the dominant reasons why hospitals in India are not seeing substantial results in social media is because it is being exploited by PR teams as a unidirectional medium to enforce brand messages on receptive audiences.
Another reason is the closed investment being made into it. While digital marketing budgets among their US/UK counterparts usually range from tens of thousands to millions of dollars, hospital administrators are hardly devoting a fraction of that into their online properties. Investing in the right people is also a continually nagging challenge.
Other prominent challenges include resistance from internal culture, measuring ROI, lack of talented resources, and frequent changes in business demands.
So what does it take to overcome these challenges and take control? At the very least, hospitals need an in-house ‘Corporate Social Strategist’ — a business decision maker for social media programmes who provides leadership, roadmap definition, and governance; and directly influences the spending on technology vendors and service agencies. They also need to hire a competent agency that specialises in executing and providing accountability to social media initiatives alongside helping the social strategist build the hospital’s internal infrastructure and social footprint. It essentially requires a highly-collaborative work culture that is willing to forge the mechanics of social media into the fabric of everyday operations to become a Healthcare 2.0 “juggernaut”. An in-depth look at some of the core elements of a well structured social media programme followed by leading hospitals in the US can shed light into what Indian hospitals could be doing wrong, and address some important questions.
To make a practical case for a substantial buy-in, here are several reasons for super-speciality hospitals to adopt (and if they have already adopted, then lead) social media in 2012. It is better to start now than later. To add some perspective, there are over 1,300 hospitals in the US that have an active social presence. That is a substantial number, with many of them executing differentiated programmes and generating tangible results.
Secondly, patients are online in huge numbers, furiously searching for medical information or seeking answers to pertinent health/wellness-related questions. A recent study shows that 80 per cent of those diagnosed with a disease search the Internet first for information.
Consequently, there are not many Indian sources (i.e. physicians) who can answer these questions where or when they are asked. Thirdly, according to a report by YouGov Healthcare – a professional research and consulting organisation, 57 per cent of consumers said that a social media connection with a hospital was likely to have a strong impact on their decision to seek treatment at that hospital, and 81 per cent of them believe that if a hospital has a strong social media presence, they are likely to be more cutting edge, creating a halo effect across clinical functions. “Social media gives hospitals an opportunity to find new, shareable ways to present information and allows them the opportunity to develop a voice and set themselves apart from their competitors”, adds Dr Chandrashekhar.
The big news this year for healthcare service providers will be that social media marketing finally gets taken seriously to stand a chance against mounting competition. Hospital leadership will approach social media with more realistic expectations and accept that their brands can’t be social without delivering valuable, relevant content and engaging people across multiple social networks. Decision makers will also make better choices with in-house and agency hires considering their need to be highly differentiated in the market and execute in compliance with regulations. Social media campaigns will not be executed in isolation, but as part of an integrated communication strategy, with attainable goals and processes in place to track their return on investment.