Social Media Networks are a Powerful Tool for Healthcare Communications

LAS VEGAS—As patients increasingly rely on Internet-connected devices like tablets and smartphones for news and information from diverse sources, medical practices and public health organizations are moving into the social media space, using social networking platforms to convey information and build their brands, and delivering those messages directly into the hands of audience members, wherever they are at that moment, according to Jeanette S. Campos, MA.

“Social media tools allow improved outreach and education of patients, and better communication of priorities, values, and information to broader communities,” Campos said. “As social networking platforms proliferate and overlap, building a social media strategy to coherently and efficiently utilize those tools, will be the key to success.”

Text messages can be a valuable one-on-one tool for patient scheduling and monitoring, such as appointment reminders, Campos noted. But unlike text messaging or e-mails, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow direct communication with thousands or tens of thousands of followers at a time.

Twitter and Facebook are among the largest and most familiar online social media platforms. With Twitter and Facebook, updates can be automatically and instantly broadcast to networks of followers, who in turn can share those updates with thousands of others, exponentially extending the reach of a message or piece of information.

Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and Flickr also offer diverse text, photo, and video platforms that also command large memberships or followings. Thousands of public health and medical messaging campaigns employ videos posted on YouTube.com, for example.

These platforms allow rapid, efficient communication of messages to numerous people, and “brand building” instead of one-on-one outreach and education. Increasingly, they are being used to link patients and caregivers to online tools, such as treatment decision aids like www.OptionGrid.org.

The salience of a particular message for a given audience—how frequently it is shared, in other words—can also provide useful information about what messages, approaches and topics resonate with that audience, and what their priorities are, allowing more tailored and responsive communications plans.

Rebroadcasting relevant posts by other practices, organizations and thought leaders oneself, in turn, can increase one's relevance within those networks. Leading platforms also allow direct one-on-one interaction with followers, allowing network members to ask questions or identify a need for clarification.

Social media strategies can pull audiences to a site or push information out to audience networks, she said. A coherent and successful social media strategy begins by addressing several basic elements or questions, Campos said: “Who is your customer? What are your goals? Where is your audience? When will you connect? Why will they chose you? How will you engage?”

The question is not whether or not to adopt a social media strategy, but how to do so well, Campos concluded.