4 Questions to Ask When Targeting Healthcare Consumers on Social Media

When targeting healthcare consumers in social media to market your health system, it’s important to know who you are targeting, how to reach them, where they engage online, and what implications your tactics will have on their emotional behavior.  Ask yourself:

1. What is my health system’s target online healthcare audience?

The target demographic for your health system’s marketing efforts has most likely already been defined for other mediums, and for most health systems, you’re looking to reach women who are aged 35 or older, and are the healthcare decision maker for their families, including children, themselves and their spouses, as well as elderly parents.

When we boil it down to statistics, we know that:

  • click image properties to edit the alt tag, include keyword healthcare [jd]Women account for 80% of all healthcare consumer purchases, according to She-comony.
  • 57% of women older than 35 years of age are moms, according to Edison Research.
  • 66% of women feel misunderstood by healthcare marketers, according to She-comony.
  • 72% of internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year, according to the Pew Internet study.
  • Women searched online for health data at a higher rate than men across nearly all age groups, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.
  • 74% of online women use social networking sites, according to a Pew Internet study.

2. On what networks should I be engaging with these online healthcare consumers?

Demographic studies of social network usage tell us just what networks are most appealing and most used by women in the target demographic. According to research from Pew Internet, women are found most predominantly on:

  • Facebook. First things first, Facebook is ubiquitous. If your organization – regardless of industry – is engaging in social media marketing, you need a presence on Facebook. According to the Pew Internet study, “Facebook remains the most-used social networking platform, as two-thirds of online adults say that they are Facebook users.” In addition, the study also states that, “Women are more likely than men to be Facebook users.”
  • Pinterest. Not only is Pinterest the fastest growing social network (at a growth rate of 88% over the past year), but it is also widely popular among the target demographic. According to the information presented in the Pew Internet study, “Women are about five times as likely to be on the site as men.” In addition, Pinterest is incredibly conducive to health-related content, including tips for eating healthy and exercising, as well as a myriad of other topics appealing to healthcare consumers.
  • Instagram. While Instagram is far less popular among the target demographic than Facebook and Pinterest, there is definitely a place for it in a healthcare social media marketer’s arsenal.

3. How do I plan my content strategy?

Women – moms in particular – are busy people. In order to reach them, healthcare marketers must be sure to create content that is not only compelling, but also easily digestible. It’s also important to evaluate when and where your content will be disseminated. To create content that will resonate well with the target demographic, focus on:click image properties to edit the alt tag, include keyword healthcare [jd]

  • Types of content. More often than not, busy moms are going to respond best to fewer words and more images. They may not have time to read anything more than a few bullet points, but an image may stick in their minds for hours, days, or weeks to come. To top it off, it’s no secret to social media marketers that images are the highest engaging form of content we can push out. According to Hubspot, visual content – photos and videos – drive more engagement, especially on Facebook.
  • Timing. Have I mentioned that moms are busy? They most likely don’t have time to check their Facebook news feed at 7:30 a.m. when they’re getting kids on the busy or at 6:00 p.m. when they’ve just gotten home from work and need to get dinner on the table. Fortunately, moms are incredibly connected. According to Edison Research, in 2013, 90% of moms had internet access at any location and have, on average, about 5 devices.
  • Cross-channel promotion. When you’ve created a piece of compelling content, it’s important that you remember to repurpose that content for other networks and other mediums. Cross-promote your content across different social networks, and using information gathered from social media to identify what may resonate with your audience through different digital or even traditional marketing tactics.

4. What emotional implications should engagement with consumers have to maximize impact?

When engaging in social media marketing for your healthcare organization, you want to do a few things:

  • Convey authenticity
  • Practice empathy
  • Build trust

There is nothing worse than a brand on social media that is afraid to be authentic. Social media is, at its very nature, social. Talk to people like you would in every day conversations, empathize with them, and don’t shy away from topics that may be difficult to discuss. Consumers want to be heard and they want to engage. Be there for them.

And while it’s important to remain conversational and engaging with your followers online, it’s equally as important to build trust by demonstrating your organization as a thought leader and as a reliable source of information. By balancing the two, healthcare consumers will be more likely to trust your organization with one of the most important behavioral decisions they will make: choosing who will be responsible for the health of their family.

This post was originally published on The Social Observer


Future Implications

It’s no secret that the social media landscape changes in the blink of an eye. So how can you prepare for the unknown? It’s important to understand current trends in anticipation of what’s to come in the future.


  1. Visually appealing content is becoming more and more prevalent across networks from the introduction of networks like Pinterest and Instagram into mainstream social media channels to the insight brands have interpreted regarding engagement on photo posts.
  2. Search, social, and paid advertising are becoming more closely related than ever with the alignment of Google+ pages, local listings, reviews, ads, etc.
  3. Increasingly more conversations about a brand are being authorized by its consumers across a variety of networks.

Future Implications

  1. Brands need to focus more on their visual identity when it comes to social media. Users are making visual connections between messages, campaigns, and the overall brand that must be mirrored on social sources. Social posts accompanied by branded images, cover photos with CTAs, and visuals directly aligned with other external campaigns will help align the brand across all channels, promote a sense of unity to your followers, and improve overall engagement.
  2. Google+ is no longer only for the “tech savvy.” If you have any hope at all of your brand showing up in search results higher than your competitors who are engaging on the channel, it will be crucial to engage with users from a brand page and create highly engaging content containing keywords.
  3. In order to effectively partake in the conversations being authored about brands by other online users, it’s important to set up effective monitoring and listening processes. A variety of tools can be helpful in accomplishing this, and will ultimately lead to a stronger online presence. Once online influencers have been identified, a crucial next step is to conduct outreach to encourage positive conversations about the brand.

Viral Marketing Initiatives

What makes a great viral marketing campaign? It all starts with thinking, planning, and strategy.

A good viral marketing campaign can inject new life into a business and make a large impact on a business’s bottom line. Using social media to spread a message through a viral process can reach great deal of people within a short amount of time, generating buzz that can translate to both increased brand awareness and new leads or sales.

Developing a successful strategy for a viral campaign requires excellent content as well as exceptional social networking skills. In 2010, Old Spice launched its “The Man Your Man Can Smell Like” campaign with a video ad that mixed humor with product promotion targeting woman.

The video was well-produced and garnered a great deal of viral buzz on social med. Old Spice leveraged the viral buzz to extend the campaign by replying to influencers and average social media users with more than 180 personalized videos in one day.

In the first 24 hours, the Old Spice responses videos generated nearly 6 million viral video views – that’s more views than Obama’s victory speech received in the first 24 hours after it was given.

The short time frame on the campaign kept it fresh and unique, which garnered an extreme amount of buzz in that short time. The buzz the campaign created not only increased brand awareness, but the rise in conversations could also be tied to an increase in sales if one existed.

While the Old Spice campaign had a unique follow up process, Charles Verhoeff, CEO of World Class Media, identified three tactics to drive leads and sales with viral marketing campaigns:

  • “Capture Identities (drive viewers to take action, fill out a form, call or get something free – contests are great ways to do this)… You have to offer something in exchange and they will give you their name and phone number for your salesmen to follow up on.”
  • “You have to follow up. We have found that once you capture the identities, it can take up to 18 emails to get people to trust you – even if you have great content, people have to read it and trust you. People forget you exist if you don’t continue to remind them why they should be doing business with you.”
  • “Once you captured the identity and followed up – you need to ask for reviews and referrals. Reviews are the new deal-breakers. A whole shift in the buying cycle of consumers was documented by some engineers at Google in their recent book “ZMOT – The Zero Moment of Truth” where they found that there is a whole new step in the buying cycle of consumers – they look for the truth on the Internet before they buy. Before I bought a RAM – I would definitely look for reviews and if they break down for consumers or not. Therefor if I found Tundra’s had better reviews. I’d go straight to Toyota. Even if I were a Farmer…”

What other viral marketing campaigns effective incorporate these elements into their strategy?


In the healthcare industry, there is a clear giant in the social media space. Mayo Clinic has positioned itself as a leader in social media strategy for healthcare. Other health systems across the country benchmark themselves against Mayo Clinic, and oftentimes, mirror their efforts after Mayo Clinic, as well.

Currently, Mayo Clinic has a presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and Flickr. The system also has a patient story blog and its own social network for discussions, news and videos hosted it on its website. Mayo Clinic uses their social presence to drive website and blog traffic, as well as to promote scheduling appointments, downloading their mobile application, and upcoming events. In addition, Mayo Clinic cross promotes their networks using Facebook applications, URLS in their Twitter background, and placing social networking icons on their website very visibly.

Cleveland Clinic, a health system in northern Ohio, has a similar social strategy with a presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest. Cleveland Clinic also has a blog; however, it is focused more on sharing health advice as opposed to patient stories. In addition to promoting blog posts on their social networks, Cleveland Clinic also promotes their health newsletter to encourage subscriptions. The Cleveland Clinic does not, however, visibly promote their social networks from their website as Mayo does.

When looking at performance metrics on each of the system’s networks, we can clearly see that both systems have exceptional brand recognition and large followings. While Mayo Clinic’s following as a whole is much larger than the Cleveland Clinic’s, the Cleveland Clinic does have more Facebook fans than Mayo and a much larger rate of engagement (“people talking about this” in relation to “likes”).

At a high level, Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic execute their social strategy very similarly. Both have identified the appropriate networks to reach their target audiences and execute their efforts around driving blog and website traffic, as well as promoting services and encouraging appointments.

Mastering the Twitterverse with Best Practices and Tools

Some say you can master Twitter in just 20 minutes a day; others say it only takes 12 minutes.

The fact of the matter is that creating a strong presence on Twitter does not take an excessive amount of time, but it does require dedication. You can learn how to effectively use your time by educating yourself on best practices and helpful tools.

For beginners, Mark Schaefer – author of the The Tao of Twitter – recommends for quick and easy ways to become a Twitter pro in just twenty minutes a day:

  1. Tweet three times per day at three different times of the day and vary your content. Send a tweet about: something interesting you saw, heard, or read that is non-work related; news related to your business or industry; and your opinion about something going on in the news.
  2. Monitor and respond to mentions and direct messages.
  3. Read through your Twitter timeline and retweet a few of the people you follow.
  4. Tweet a Follow Friday mention on Fridays.

If you’ve mastered the basics, Socially Stacked has tips on maintaining your Twitter presence in just twelve minutes a day!

Regardless of your level of expertise, Social Media Today has some quick tips and tricks to boost engagement with your Twitter handle.

  • Tweet from your brand’s handle on Saturday and Sunday; engagement rates are 17% higher on the weekends.
  • Send your tweets between 8am and 7pm; engagement rates are 30% higher.
  • Include image links in your tweets; they double engagement rates.
  • Trim your tweets to 100 characters or less for a 17% higher engagement rate.
  • Send a tweet with a link in it; tweets with links receive and 86% higher retweet rate.
  • Include hashtags in your tweets for two times more engagement.
  • Spell out “retweet” as opposed to using the shorthand of “RT” for a 23 times higher engagement rate.

Lastly, it’s important to monitor the metrics around your Twitter presence. There are a slew of free tools available that provide basic metrics including link clicks, retweets, mentions, followers, etc. My favorite is HootSuite. Not only does it provide metrics and reports with visually appealing graphs, but it also serves as a monitoring and publishing tool.

What other best practices and tools have helped you build and maintain a strong Twitter presence?

Risks of Taking Your Health System Social

In a recent post about the state of social media in the healthcare industry, I talked briefly about the major risks and challenges associated with taking a healthcare system social. But, there can also be immense benefits.

What are the risks?

The risk that gets the most attention from C-level executives is managing patient privacy.

Being a social health system requires that the proper people, policies, and protocol are in place in order to avoid HIPAA violations.


Make sure that you have a team identified for managing communication if a HIPAA violation is at risk, especially if you have a large social media workforce. These concerns are not something to be trifled with, and it’s important that each individual knows their place in mitigating the risk. Do you have a member of your organizations legal team available to review digital conversations? Who is responsible for crafting messages to social media users who have addressed a specific and personal health concern via social media? Whose final approval is needed before interacting with a user on social media that could potentially involve Protected Health Information (PHI) being shared?


Having a social media policy for both users who interact with your health system on social media is just as important as having a social media policy for your employees.

For the public:

It’s important to note in your social media policy that dialogue on social changes should not be construed as medical advice, professional services or recommendations. It’s also important to point out that social media is not a place for patients to post their own Protected Health Information. While this is not a fool-proof method for avoiding HIPAA violations, it is important to remind users and patients that their information cannot remain private if they share it publically via social channels.

For Employees:

While I am a firm believer that employees of any organization should be able to use personal social media accounts without interference from their employers, I am also a firm believer that the use of social media should not negatively reflect the image of your employer.  For healthcare professionals, there are greater risks involved. At the end of the day, all you really need to remember is: DO NOT post ANYTHING related to your day at work or the patients you encountered. Something as simple as communicating gender and symptoms can be considered a HIPAA violation, and it will result in the loss of your job.


While I’ve never been an advocate of “canned” social media responses, they are important to have on-hand when a possible HIPAA violation occurs. Sit down with your social media team and legal counsel to determine the best course of action if the risk of a HIPAA violation is imminent. Talk about things like messaging, terminology, and phrasing to be used in responses and protocol for removing posts, comments, tweets, etc. containing PHI from the digital space. Unfortunately, as we all know, once it’s posted, it’s never truly deleted, but it’s important to have a process in for mitigating the risks associated with PHI being shared.

What are the rewards?

With proper education for your social media team and organization employees, social media can be truly beneficial to a health system. Having a social presence allows a health system to build trust, place itself as a thought leader, and cultivate a digital community. Let’s discuss the rewards – and how to measure them – at a later date.

Managing the Online Reputation of Physicians

In a world increasingly dominated by social media and smart phones, it’s important to remember that prospective patients can access information about a physician almost instantaneously. As marketers, it is important to focus on the online reputation of employed physicians.

For restaurants, bars and spas, we look to Yelp to find out what other people are saying about local destinations. But what about healthcare? While Yelp has a home for health and medical reviews, we can’t forget about niche review sites dedicated to reviewing and rating specific physicians like Vitals and Healthgrades. Fortunately, a study by the folks at DocSpot shows that 65% of online reviews of healthcare professionals gave the highest rating possible, and 3 out of 4 reviews rated the physicians either a 4 or a 5 on a 5-point scale.

That being said, it’s important to ensure that physicians have listings on the popular review sites; they can be a very powerful tool in promoting a physician and building their online and mobile presence.

One of the more popular healthcare review sites – Vitals – even has a mobile app tailored to show the user the top 10 rated physicians within their area. The app has received 54 reviews in the App Story with an average rating of 3 out of 6 stars. One user reviewed the app saying, “A lot of useful information if you’ve had trouble finding good doctors.” Another user said, “Tried to schedule initial Dr. visit but was provided inaccurate contact information.” Both of these comments teach us very valuable lessons: consumers find physician reviews to be useful in making an informed decision about choosing a healthcare provider, and not leveraging these tools to provide current information for your physicians could be deterring prospective patients.

As a consumer, do you utilize review sites when searching for healthcare providers? As a marketer, have you built managing online review sites for physicians into your strategy?

The State of Social Media in the Healthcare Industry

Recently, the digital marketing agency I am lucky enough to work for – Fathom – published a whitepaper on the state of social media in the healthcare industry, accompanied by an infographic depicting the results of our findings (created by yours truly).

Some key findings of the study included:

  • 9 out of 10 consumers between the ages of 18 and 24 said they would trust health information they found on social media
  • 87% of the top 15 health systems have an official social media presence for their system as a whole
  • Only 4 of the top 15 health systems have an official Pinterest account, despite its massive growth of the past year
  • Only 2 of the top 15 health systems have an official system blog
  • Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are the most commonly used social networks among the top 15 health systems, with more than 80% of the top systems having a presence on each network

Do these numbers shock your, or were you expecting a majority of healthcare systems to have a presence on three of the top social networks? A few years ago, most of these health systems wouldn’t have dreamed of taking the risks associated with engaging in social media, because the fact remains: because the healthcare industry is so highly regulated, social media is a scary, scary place for healthcare executives. However, with the right strategy, the right tools, and the right advice, social media can be an alarmingly powerful tool for health systems to have in their arsenal.

One of the most unique challenges to the healthcare industry is the fear of violating HIPAA laws and patient privacy, especially when customer service issues need addressed via a publish social media channel. In contrast, there are also some very unique opportunities. Adults between the ages of 35 and 54 represent one of the fastest growing demographics on most of the major social media channels. As a healthcare marketer most likely targeting mothers in this age group, how can you not engage on social media? It also presents healthcare brands with the opportunity to demonstrate their organizations as thought leaders and gain the trust of a community.

To begin improve the standing of an organization within the healthcare industry on social media, take the follow advice:

  • Go to where the consumers are. Clearly identify your target audience, and create a presence for your organization on the channels through which they interact. Social media is not a “one size fits all” marketing program.
  • Content is King (as if we all haven’t heard that one before). Create and curate content that is going to interest your audience. Don’t spend an inordinate amount of time boasting about your brand; consumers will infer the strength and goodness of your organization through the ways you go about improving their health from a 360 degree angle. Share content from other sources that may not promote your brand, but will improve the health and lives of your consumer and your online audiences.
  • Invest in tools to help you maintain a solid strategy. Social media management and listening tools are crucial to ensuring success. Take advantage of online tools like Sysomos and HootSuite, among so many others, that can help you monitor and maintain the presence of your healthcare organization on social media.

Top 3 Social Media Management Tools for Publishing, Monitoring & Analytics

One of the most time-consuming tasks for a social media marketer is maintaining his/her company’s presence. This can be managed effectively using social media management and publishing tools. As a social media marketer, the top three tools I recommend for brands to use for social publishing are as follows:

SpredFast Logo#3: SpredFast is a social media management system targeted toward large, “enterprise” brands likes Weight Watchers, Whole Foods Markets and the Warner Brothers network. With SpreadFast, users are able to:

  • Segment activity into social initiatives by team, business objective, or geography
  • Manage all social media accounts in one location
  • Publish an plan content distribution across multiple social networks
  • Monitor real-time social activity
  • Discover social profile data, including Klout scores
  • Engage directly with comments, likes, retweets
  • Coordinate with team members by assigning activity, highlighting interesting items
  • Archive all conversation histories and activity to never lose social data
  • Measure the impact of programs across all social channels
  • Integrate with Google Analytics, bit.ly and Omniture

SpredFast currently only integrates with 4 of the top social networks for publishing purposes (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube), but does have listening capabilities for Google+ and Pinterest.

Pricing information for SpredFast is not readily available.

Sprout Social Logo#2: Sprout Social is another great option for social media management, including publishing, listening, and analytics. Sprout Social offers:

  • A unified “Smart Inbox” that collects messages from all networks to streamline engagement
  • Social CRM tools including shared customer records that allow users to save contact records and keep editable contact notes
  • Advanced scheduling & publishing tools that allow the user to shorten links, attach photos, target the audience on Facebook and customize posts
  • A Team Content Calendar with a comprehensive view of scheduled messages across, allowing the entire team to review posts, make changes to the existing schedule and add content where needed
  • Sophisticated analytics & unlimited custom reports for both high-level and low-level data
  • Customer support features like tasks and Helpdesk integration
  • Team collaboration tools including live activity updates
  • Mobile apps for easy access to the tools from any device

SproutSocial’s downfall lies in the fact that it can only integrate with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. However, its list of extensive features for its modest price is appealing to smaller brands with fewer networks to manage.

Sprout Social is competitively priced with three plans ranging from $39 per user per month to $99 per user per month.

HootSuite Logo#1: HootSuite is one of the most popular management tools, specifically for twitter. It allows you to manage multiple accounts across multiple social platforms, and is my go-to choice of tools for social media management. HootSuite allows users to:

  • Listen and engage from one, comprehensive dashboard
  • Create custom reports utilizing Facebook Insights, Google Analytics, Ow.ly Click Stats, Twitter Profile Stats and Google+ Page Analytics
  • Manage large-scale teams as well as the granular level of control suited to smaller teams that is designed to match any unique organizational setup
  • Coordinate with team members by assigning activity
  • Draft, schedule and publish messages, with additional bulk upload and geo-targeting for Facebook posts features
  • Use mobile apps for easy access to the tools from any device
  • Use the tool minimally for free

HootSuite is the least customizable but most extensive tool. It integrates with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn profile and company pages, YouTube, Instagram, Google+ Pages, Foursquare, Yammer, Evernote, Reddit, Vimeo, MySpace, WordPress and others. HootSuite also integrates with other apps including: Salesforce, HubSpot, Statigram, MailChimp, Constant Contact, and others.

HootSuite is the cheapest of the three tools, offering a limited, free version, a Pro version for $9.99 per month and an enterprise version for larger organizations.

What is your go-to tool for social media management?