Social media in highly-regulated industries is a hot topic – and healthcare is no exception. The healthcare industry encompasses a wide variety of specialties, making it even more difficult to draw concrete conclusions on the specific use and scope of social media.
The unique challenges – and opportunities – available to healthcare professionals via social media is worthy of review. Regardless of where you are with your online marketing efforts, creating and integrating social media into an overall plan can be fruitful. Let’s break it down!
There are several challenges unique to the healthcare industry and most of them relate to fear of the unknown and the regulations that must be followed.
Many are afraid of violating HIPPA laws and endangering patient protection. Some also fear that any advice they offer could be misinterpreted as ‘medical advice’ without a proper diagnosis.
The rules around what can be said/done on social media as it relates to any regulated industry can be vague. Some would rather not take the chance.
While there are many in the industry who are embracing social media, it’s still a relatively fresh mode of communication. This is an opportunity for medical providers to build authority and become a leader in their industry. And, for those who fear HIPPA, there is still a good amount of wiggle room. For example, social media can be used for the purpose of introducing new staff members to the audience, informing the audience of business happenings, and changes or additions to current service. Using social media effectively is a great way to establish credibility and generate referrals, which are critical to physicians.
For those who are targeting a younger demographic, social media presents a great opportunity as many younger folks use it as a primary form of communication. And young people are not the only ones. Adults ages 35-54 represent one of the fastest growing demographics on most of the major social media.
There are also many collaborative, research and professional-related networking opportunities available to those in the medical field using sites like LinkedIn. The internet poses an abundance of information and resources for medical professionals.
I advise clients in all industries to choose a channel or channels that meet their specific goals and target their ideal clients. There’s no size-fits-all when it comes to social media.
For example, if you’re a physical therapist with a primary goal of communicating valuable tips to your existing patients, I might recommend considering Facebook and an e-newsletter or blog. A doctor or specialist may have a goal to connect with like-minded professionals who can help expand his or her knowledge base. In that case, perhaps creating or jointing a medical LinkedIn group would be effective.
For those who want to use social media effectively, they must set realistic goals, integrate their social media efforts with their traditional marketing efforts and establish an effective plan for managing a consistent presence.
Realistic goals include: driving website traffic, building loyalty among existing customers, establishing credibility, enhancing search engine optimization (SEO), increasing audience engagement, raising awareness/educating, or driving foot traffic to a physical location. I recommend focusing on no more than three goals in the first 90 days.
Once the goals are decided and the channels are active, it will be important to integrate social media with other forms of marketing, like including Facebook URLs on print pieces. Message consistency – throughout all marketing – is also important.
Social media success is something that takes consistent effort and energy, especially as it relates to content development. It will be fundamental to set aside time to execute social media tasks or hire someone who can help with the management. That being said, for those who plan to manage efforts themselves, they don’t have to spend countless hours. Keep in mind that you have the knowledge and expertise to offer value-added information and solutions to your audience – you just need to establish your rhythm for communicating your expertise.
The only thing that makes health care different from other industries is the need to protect patient privacy. That’s something that should be incorporated into in all forms of communications and company policies. I advise all of my clients to have a social media policy, which governs the use of internal and external use of social media, but I stress this with clients in highly-regulated industries.
Regardless of the industry involved, I find that many do not understand social media and its usages and, because of this, are reluctant to embrace it. My hope is that fear of the unknown does not keep anyone – especially those in highly-regulated industries – from establishing themselves on social networks. Check out KevinMD for an example of how healthcare professionals can use social media to meet their goals.
Be looking for more on this topic in the July 2013 issue of Lancaster Physician Magazine.