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.


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.