One in four survey respondents say they are likely to use social media to connect to hospitals in the future. Is your organization investing enough in social media to capture this market?

Social media is increasingly influencing consumer decisions about hospitals and health systems, concludes a YouGov Healthcare report Consumers' Use, Preference and Expectations of Hospital Social Media. Fifty-seven percent of the 2,553 healthcare consumers surveyed said that a social media connection with a hospital was likely to have a major impact on their decision to seek treatment at that hospital.

"Social media can help create and sustain patient loyalty and is an affordable but powerful communication tool to engage with your patient base and community," says Jane Donohue, PhD, senior vice president, YouGov Healthcare. 

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Targeting the Right Users

There is a common misconception that the social media community is dominated by the younger generations; however, women between the ages of 36 and 64 are the most active users of social media, according to YouGove Healthcare's Consumers' Use, Preference and Expectations of Hospital Social Media report. The report also states that women are typically the healthcare decision makers in many families, as well as the ones most likely to connect with a hospital's social media presence.

Choosing in the Right Channels

There are numerous social media platforms, but not all are worth a hospital's investment. Donohue recommends focusing on four specific channels.

  • Facebook: In addition to setting up a general hospital page on Facebook, Donohue recommends having breakout topic pages for specialty service lines that the hospital is trying to grow (e.g., cancer, cardiac)
  • Twitter: An easy way to broadcast hospital news and information in 140 characters or less
  • YouTube: Donohue recommends a YouTube video as a nice add-on but not a must-have; some hospitals provide a "Welcome" video or a "What to Expect" video
  • LinkedIn: While LinkedIn is least popular for hospital patient-relations, it is valuable to hospital leaders and staff for increasing professional networks and communications

Staffing for Valued Content

Hospital leaders need to ensure that the organization has the necessary resources to keep the well of social media content full at all times, to update pages frequently with valuable information, and to encourage interactivity, says Donohue. "An important benchmark for hospitals to remember is that 70 percent of participants are passive within the social media space," she says. "Just because people are posting to a Facebook page wall or retweeting your information is not necessarily the end-all indicator of a healthy social media presence. The key is that a passive audience finds the information you are presenting as valuable and reliable and seeks out your services," says Donohue.

The following content might be promoted via a hospital's social media channels.

  • Treatment information
  • Developing and new technologies
  • Health and wellness tips
  • Patient forums
  • General hospital news and information
  • Hospital experience
  • Q&As with hospital experts
  • General chat options
  • Additional resources and support group information
  • Special incentives (e.g., free healthcare screenings, blood pressure readings, weight management consultations)
  • Health-related quizzes and contests

Donohue offers advice to hospital leaders who are building their social media team. "This cannot be a part-time position. It requires time, effort, and valuable content to have a good social media site. Do it the right way-or why do it at all? Social media is just as good, if not better, a feedback indicator as review sites such as Yelp, E-Opinions, and RateMDs, but with social media you have a voice as well."

Tracking ROI

One way to measure ROI of social media is to list Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels on the hospital's "How Did You Hear About Us?" survey. Active participation on hospital social media sites can also be measured in the number of Facebook likes, Twitter followers, YouTube video views, etc.

Investing the time and resources in social media is key to making an impression on your current and future patients, she says. Eighty-one percent of consumer respondents to the YouGov survey believed hospitals with a strong social media presence are more likely to be on the cutting edge of medicine.  


Interviewed for this article: Jane Donohue, PhD, senior vice president, YouGov Healthcare, Lawrenceville, N.J. (jane.donohue@yougov.com).  

Publication Date: Monday, December 05, 2011