Social Media in Healthcare is More Effective When It Drives Knowledge Not Marketing

Topic 1 for the Sunday nights #HCSM Chat: There’s been a lot of talk about physicians and patients in HCSM lately – but what about HC organizations?

Let’s define social media:

Wiki: ”Social media are media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social media uses web-based technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogues.” This is what happen Sunday night during our #HCSM chats, in our Tweeter feeds and posts.

Wiki also identified:
Social Media Marketing “Social media marketing is a recent addition to organizations’ integrated marketing communications plans. Integrated marketing communications is a principle organizations follow to connect with their targeted markets. Integrated marketing communications coordinates the elements of the promotional mix; advertising, personal selling, public relations, publicity, direct marketing, and sales promotion.” This is using SM as part of business plan. It is the intersection of SM and marketing,

Many of the comments Sunday night captured the essence of these definitions.

nickdawson @bjoconnell agree. “Some still haven’t left the 1-way push and use the “we” voice non-stop.”

@RichmondDoc T1: “The only orgs I follow are those that provide me w/useful and consistently valuable info; I follow relatively few for that reason.”

@HealthSocMed “I’m not sure I *do* want to engage with the organization. I want to engage with people, maybe orgs should B blind?”

@jacquehealth: “Agree with @quality1 – Use SM to increase awareness, understanding, and health behaviors, not mktg.”

Brands and corporations realized that various SM platforms are valuable listening tools to identify trends, find loyal customers, drive brand messages into conversations, etc. And that is what SM became to these organizations, part of their marketing mix. Social media for brands is a way to use people/patients as extensions of marketing plans.

How active are HC organizations in SM? Ed Bennet continues to compile a frequently updated list of Hospital Social Networks. As of October 19, 2010 there are 2,259 Hospital Social Networking Sites. His page has it broken down by various media (e.g. YouTube, FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Blogs) and by state. This is a great resource worth monitoring.

Frequently SM in HC organizations takes on a single goal and strategy: business development. A HC organization might look at a SM strategy based on a narrowly focused set of objectives: increase awareness, improve image, change census, increase use of a new piece of equipment, etc. This is not 100% of the time, Mayo Clinic uses SM to drive knowledge and improve patient-care as do other HC organizations.

Consider the following segments of a marketing plan: Broadcast (print, radio, outdoor), Digital Marketing (banners, Web sites, e-mail, search, etc.) and Social Media (networks, communities, blogs, microblogs). Each segment serves a specific set of strategies within a marketing plan. These are not fixed. They are flexible but their power to achieve objectives is maximized when they are applied appropriately. Broadcast is passive and used to promote messages. It can be used to engage readers but engagement is less effective. SM offers higher engagement between participants but has a low broadcast potential.

I believe HC organizations may be short sighted when they use SM to drive a message that can be best achieved via Broadcast and to fail to use SM to achieve what it can do best, actively engage participants in knowledge seeking behaviors.

SM is all about dialogue, interactivity, spontaneity, people and technology. It offers HC organizations the chance to not only listen and market, but to position itself at the center of HC knowledge and information for a unique network, their patients’ current and future knowledge and behavior. I have advocated that we need to help patients and people who are seeking solutions to HC problems move beyond WebMD etc. as single sources of knowledge and have them learn instead from their MD, their hospital, specialty societies, and networks of friends who share similar HC concerns. Make no mistake that patients are reaching out for answers using all of these resources. HC organizations should step in and become the final resource for them. A place to focus what they want to solve and what they have solved. Who do patients trust more than their own physician and the hospital they are affiliated with? If they don’t, then HC organizations need to position themselves that way in the mind of the patient and caregiver community.

For example, there is no reason why an oncology department in a regional hospital cannot create a network for breast cancer patients. This network uses resources in and outside the hospital to improve and share knowledge. Bi-monthly the department can hold tweet chats to discuss issues in breast cancer. Results and reviews of the topics can be posted with references. This site becomes a resource for patients and the hospital. It is less about marketing and more about knowledge. It is a resource for patients seeking solutions to problems in HC. HC organizations are not pushing a message they are the message. The medium becomes the message.

HC organizations should consider SM as a tool to educate and improve patient care, not an extension of the marketing department. Ultimately patients will trust and respect where they find knowledge, understanding, and people they share common problems with. Success, if measured in marketing terms will follow.

5 Responses to Social Media in Healthcare is More Effective When It Drives Knowledge Not Marketing

  1. carmen2u says:


    You hit on the elephant in the room. Most uses of social media are driven by those with the greatest knowledge and understadning of them: marketing folks. Consequently, it is not surprising that that limited view of the potential of social media dampens its wider application. Essential to harnessing this medium is having a champion from the health care provider vantage point who can take up the mantle. That’s a rare bird. That is also why leaders like the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic stand out. I suspect that given the active members to #HCSM on Twitter that the broader uses of social media for improved care and outcomes will naturally develop in time.

    • marksphone says:

      I agree SM as a tool for education and behavior change will be organic. It will be organizations that are struggling right now to find solutions and use SM to its fullest potential who will find its power for patients and their own economic health.

  2. It is clear that social media is not going away. I enjoyed the points you made about how SM is most effective in building relationships with patients. We have also noted that many healthcare providers are not getting online because they are concerned with legality of SM and violating HIPAA. We are hosting a free webinar to address some of these HIPAA issues on Dec 9. If you’d like to join us here is the link:

  3. marksphone says:

    Kristen I agree that HIPAA is a major impediment for HC Organizations and until organizations find solutions to this problem they will continue to use/see SM as a voice to talk at or listen without responding. SM is one of the most powerful tools we have to build trust, engage, and teach. SM is not about practicing medicine but engaging in HC. That is one solution to the HIPAA conundrum.

  4. richmonddoc says:

    Mark and Carmen: I think you’re right; the value for social media in health care will develop as organizations and health care providers begin to engage in true, honest, bilateral communication. The institutional barriers to this, though, are many: more time and commitment from the health care system, increased need to ensure that private information is not inappropriately revealed and that organization priorities are maintained, etc.

    Having said that, until that communication is present I agree that the impact of organization use of social media will have less impact than desired. Champions–from the health care system, health care provider, and patient communities–need to continue working toward establishing the necessary communication.

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