Healthcare Marketers: 6 Steps To Blueprint A Social Media Strategy For Increased Patient Volume

Published: May 11, 2011


Most healthcare marketers will agree that social media is a great way to engage patients with helpful information. If done right, social media can do so much more.

HealthNet, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) system in Indianapolis, successfully uses social media to raise much-needed funds to sustain its outreach programs. Since FQHCs operate mostly on Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement and have a high percentage of no-pays, philanthropic support is crucial. HealthNet developed a social media focus on young business professionals who are passionate about specific health issues, and gave them a way to donate small amounts of money that could tangibly help real people.  

Another healthcare organization gained more than $2. 4 million from people who opted-in and asked, “Please have somebody contact me. ”  While $2.4 million was the contribution margin their social media generated initially, three years later it generated an additional $12 million in net-contribution downstream.

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These are just two examples of how social media can be used to engage patients and drive profitable patient volumes at the same time.

What do I mean by social media?  Social media simply is the creation and exchange of consumer-generated conversations online. People exchange information via many different venues:

·       Blogging: publishing their own experiences and inviting comments;

·       Micro-blogging: like Twitter or geo-based like Foursquare;

·       Bookmarking and digital news: sites like StumbledUpon, Digg, Delicious, Reedit, where people with similar interests flag content for others to see;

·       Message boards: where conversations take place in real time. Nearly 115,000 doctors are doing that on Sermo. com right now;

·       Media Sharing: like YouTube or Flickr;

·       Ratings and Review sites: like Yelp or CitySearch, or rating sites specific to doctors, like RateMD and Vitals;

·       Reference sites: like Dictionary. com, WebMD or encyclopedias;

·       Social Networking: such as Facebook, N’ing or LinkedIn.

·       Virtual Worlds: like SecondLife.

Just because you have a Facebook page and tweet does not mean you have a social media framework.  A good framework will allow a social media program to constantly evolve in effectiveness. The six steps needed to implement a social media architecture that increases your profitable patient volumes include the following:

Step One: Audit your program. Auditing your current social media program and content is a necessary first step to understand your opportunities. Examine and document your current program:

·       How you measure success;

·       Conversion tactics used to entice patients to give you their contact information and engage in a conversation with you;

·       How social media aligns with organizational goals;

·       The current program’s strengths and weaknesses;

Chart your weekly numbers, such as conversions, but schedule a complete audit every six months to ensure you are continuing to improve.

Step Two: Develop a strategy. Ask yourself: Where will we play and how will we win?  Examine who you are targeting, what specific things (procedures, diagnosis related groups (DRGs), current procedural terminology (CPTs) you offer, and where you will target your messages and can provide your services. Then you can begin to pinpoint what value you will provide, what you have to say that’s unique, and how patients will benefit by interacting with you.

Step Three:  Automate. The saying “you can’t be in two places at once” doesn’t apply to the online world. With automation tools, you can push your messages out to different channels with little effort. Programs that will allow you to update various channels from a single location include Awareness Networks, SproutSocial, HootSuite and Social Oomph.

Step Four:  Create a comprehensive program. A comprehensive program that increases your patient volumes is much bigger than just Facebook and Twitter. Identify how people search and find information. Look at all social media channels and determine how many you can utilize for your organization.  

Step Five: Monitor your reputation. People are talking about your organization online, are you listening?  Right now, all over your facilities, people are engaged with social media on their smart phone or laptop.  Chances are good that they’re talking about your organization. Listen and respond.

Step Six: Measure results. All social media is focused on return on investment (ROI), so you need to be able to measure it. As we say, “What’s measured grows, and what’s measured and reported grows exponentially. ”  You will discover good news and bad news, but you cannot be afraid of transparency in these programs. You need partners in finance who are willing to track the admissions data and then calculate both the immediate and the downstream revenue.  They can help you think through what needs to happen next to tweak the program.

Continually testing and measuring will enable you to continually evolve your social media program to get the maximum return on investment.

John Luginbill is the founder and CEO of The Heavyweights, an agency that offers a marketing process that helps healthcare achieve rapid growth without breaking the bank.  John’s blog is available at www. turnupyourvolume. com or contact him directly at john@theheavyweights. com.

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