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Adapt to a Changing Healthcare Market: A Social Media Case Study

Innovate and Adjust or Be Left Behind

The evolving state of healthcare marketing brings new opportunities that exist to capitalize on growing brand awareness and increasing patient case volumes.

Executive Summary

As healthcare continues to change, so do the ways in which we must market and promote our organizations. With the introduction and rapid evolution of social media, traditional media outlets are no longer aggressive or interesting enough to maintain our customer bases, and certainly not robust enough to grow patient volumes. Just eight years ago, Facebook entered the market as a revolutionary communication channel for young adults attending select colleges across the country for the purpose of interaction and networking. In 2012, the social media site boasted more than 901 million users across the world. In 2007, Facebook added the "Fan Page" feature in which organizations and fan clubs could introduce their own subject-centered pages and obtain "likes" from users. These pages have grown to what we now know as Facebook Business Pages.

Although most Internet users are aware of Facebook, an impressive 80% of Americans have adopted at least one social network. What does this mean for your organization and why should you entertain the idea of investing in a social media strategy?

The need for social media in the healthcare field continues to grow. Every day, anywhere from 300,000-700,000 new users register for Facebook and nearly 500,000 browsers sign up for Twitter, with the average Facebook user logging on for nearly 700 minutes (11.6 hours) each month1.With the key to marketing an organization revolving around getting a product in front of consumers, we can begin to truly see where the value in Facebook lies: this is where consumers are.

Another strong argument for online presence is the substantial number of information seekers directing their searches to the Internet. With traditional sources losing popularity, google.com and other high volume search engines are becoming gateways to a potential patient’s decision making process. Nearly 40% of those looking for healthcare providers online are seeking reviews to determine where they are taking their business2. It is important to note that with additional online traffic and the continued number of Internet users involved in healthcare-related searches and reviews, information regarding your organization will inevitably begin to appear online. Information and judgments regarding your practice and physicians are controlled by patients; however, those without an online presence will never know about negative reviews affecting a potential  patient’s  opinion. Maintaining a persistent presence online can ensure the practice will be aware of comments (negative or positive) being made about the patient experience, the practice’s physicians or overall satisfaction and allow the organization to respond in an appropriate and timely manner to address the situation. One question we must ask ourselves as practice administrators is, “Are  we  involved  in  the  conversations  that are taking place which involve our practice?”

Case Study

What does a successful social media campaign look like? How does it begin? What level of time commitment is required to maintain a Facebook or Twitter page? In order to best answer these frequently asked questions, we will examine a well- known  OB-GYN  practice  based  in  Shawnee  Mission,  KS.    Women’s  Health  Associates   (WHA) ended 2009 with a crucial question: how do we grow our patient bases over the next 5, 10, 20+ years? Throughout 2009, WHA implemented several traditional marketing campaigns—using editorial YellowBook pages and other basic promotional channels to no avail. By the end of the year, administration was frustrated with the lack of results and was eager to find an innovative strategy.

The underlying concern for the organization was finding where their patients were located and which media outlets they were viewing. With magazines and other local promotional items presenting lackluster results, it became imperative to locate the outlets that potential patients were entertaining. Another component to the WHA 2010 marketing strategy was not only targeting women that needed immediate OB attention but also targeting younger females in an attempt to form a relationship with the practice on the GYN side of the practice. This new relationship could then be nurtured and over time build a relationship which would naturally lead this new patient into the OB side of the practice.

With these demographics in mind, we began our research to determine the proper media outlets for our client. Once we began looking into the demographics Facebook and Twitter were engaging, it became clear to the WHA practice administrators that social media was indeed the path they needed to take.

Foremost, we discovered that 16% of females ages 18-22, 33% of those ages 23-35 and 25% of those ages 35-49 are currently using Facebook and 57% of all Facebook users are female. More than half of Facebook users (53%) are currently supporting a brand they prefer by liking their page and engaging with the organization. Businesses are seeing positive returns from their interactions with users via Facebook and brand following has doubled in the past two years, with 48% of small businesses seeing a boost in sales through the use of social media.

Currently, 58% of Fortune 500 companies have Facebook pages and 62% are using Twitter. Overall, 51% of Facebook users say they are more likely to buy from a brand that they like on Facebook and 60% say they are more likely to recommend a brand they follow to others. So, what makes a Facebook user decide to follow a brand? A few of the top reasons found were that they liked the brand, they had a favorable opinion about the brand and their product(s), and they wanted to stay informed of new products or offerings from the brand.

Although a presence on various social media outlets is important for organic traffic created by patients engaging with the organization, another valuable aspect to the process lies in search engine optimization and being found when potential patients begin their online search for a new physician. One third of consumers use social media for health-related content, and with the growing presence of the Internet, phone books have become an antiquated resource. With the demise of phone books, the Internet and word of mouth have become primary sources for patient referrals. Of those searching online for information on healthcare, 45% say social media affects their decisions on choosing a provider. An online presence shows relevance and innovation that consumers have come to expect and demand.

When looking at the bottom line, social media is the easiest, fastest and least expensive way to gain exposure and potential patient traffic. One must keep in mind that simply creating a Facebook page or Twitter account will not amount to sudden success and heavy volumes of new patient phone calls. What you do with those accounts will be the deciding factor in your campaign results. In the case of Women’s Health Associates, what was done with the Facebook page resulted in massive exposure and steadily increasing page likes. Fans have taken to this communication channel and openly chat with the practice staff and other patients about their questions, experiences and praises. The page has reached a stage of organic growth, where new likes steadily flow in and patients take it among themselves to readily interact without being prompted.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s go back to when WHA first decided they needed a social media presence. As discussed earlier in this article, we determined the demographic was online (Facebook, YouTube, blogging, search engines, etc.). To begin reaching out to this target market, we created the Women's Health Associates' Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/WomensHealthAssociates) and filmed a variety of videos for the WHA YouTube channel (womenshealthkc).

When officially launching the pages in early 2010, garnering attention was difficult and took the cooperation of practice employees and administration. Inserting signage into the practice’s waiting room and making mention on the organization’s website began driving traffic to the pages. For search engine optimization (SEO) purposes, these pages were linked together, as well as linked to the practice webpage. In doing so, traffic increased once more and engagement began to appear.  Current patients and unique viewers of the web page began watching the uploaded YouTube videos and commenting on informative links posted to the WHA Facebook page. A few months after the pages and links were live, engagement grew and the number of new likes we saw was positive (organizations can expect growth to appear after roughly 6 months). Another space for interaction and SEO that was soon added was a practice blog. Here, we were able to inform viewers of the various educational aspects WHA had to offer on both the gynecological and obstetric sides. Linking the blog to the practice website proved to be a valuable source for search optimization and, once again, traffic to all new outlets increased.

After a year of growth and promotion of the new spaces for patients to interact with the practice, WHA administration made the decision to enter into a management role of their social media outlets. With our help, we have integrated the practice manager, Sylvia Haverty, into an administration role on the WHA Facebook page and blog. For the past year, we have partnered with Sylvia to keep a constant watch on all postings, comments and continued growth. We have created a successful partnership that allows the practice staff to involve themselves with patients and offer our input of content development. The arrangement has worked well for both sides. Sylvia is able to maintain an educated eye on correct verbiage and offer insight on industry happenings and developments, while we are able to use our social media expertise to carry out her ideas and requests. The key to our relationship is constant communication. Checking with one another and comparing opinions on user posts, responses to various comments and the variety of educational information keeps both sides informed and efficient.

Facebook  has served as a promotional  aspect  for Women’s  Health Associates  as   well. To create greater physician/patient relationships and to increase engagement between clients and the organization, a variety of events have taken place at the practice. Through the use of the WHA Facebook page, we are able to promote these events to current and potential clients and answer questions without patients having to take the time to call into the practice. Those wishing to attend these events are able to RSVP immediately and simultaneously post and share their excitement and questions about the event for others to see.

Promoted contests have also served as a tool for fan engagement. This past holiday season, WHA invited fans to submit photos of their children for the "Best Dressed for the Holidays" contest. The contest was a success and numerous submissions were gathered; also, fans seemed to take extreme pleasure in commenting and liking the photos they preferred. Patients and Facebook users were given a reason to check in with the practice on a daily basis and keep tabs on how their entries were fairing. With the increased traffic, we were able to create a variety of spin-off conversations about more practice and health-related topics. As fans developed a habit of checking with the page for contest results, the act of doing so became instilled in their actions and engagement continued at peak levels after the winning photo was announced.

Currently, the Women's Health Associates Facebook page boasts 956 fans. Growth is steady and likes increase on a daily basis. We, as well as WHA administrators, have been pleased with the results of this social media campaign. Providing current and potential patients, as well as other referring physicians, with a variety of educational resources has improved the practice's patient base, communication and engagement. With 22% of all time spent online dedicated to social networking, it becomes clear how valuable these channels have become. When we look at the sheer volume of content these outlets produce, the need for involvement becomes apparent. Daily, Facebook users share more than 4 billion items through their social network, and on Twitter, every second, an average of 175,000 tweets are sent worldwide. The information shared consists of personal information and opinions, business news and reviews and educational materials. As more users continue to jump into social networking, these astounding figures will continue to grow, along with the volume of information shared. Social influence is a force; those, such as Women’s Health Associates, choosing to participate in the movement are seeing the fruits of their labor whether it is in the form of greater patient referrals or improved revenues.

In Closing

As social media continues to prove itself as the new  “norm”  for communication in this fast-paced, immediate gratification society, healthcare leaders find themselves convinced that they must participate and become engaged in the online conversations taking place. However, many feel they do not understand the tools and have no clear direction on the initial steps to get started. How do we get off the starting block? Where does implementation of a social media strategy begin?

As we look for guidance and answers, many of our questions can be answered by looking at the healthcare organizations that are leading the way by example. Take some time to review practices similar to yours and see what they are doing online. What do you like about their online presence? What do you not feel comfortable with? We have much to learn from watching each other as the collective healthcare industry finds its way in this new media frontier.

As a speaker, trainer and consultant, Jamie Verkamp energizes audiences at more than 50 live events each year. Her knowledge as it relates to healthcare social media and marketing, customer service and the patient experience are published in many industry publications, including the Journal of Medical Practice Management, MGMA Connexion and Modern Practice Digest. Verkamp is Chief Speaking Officer at (e)Merge Medical Marketing Consultants, Inc. Contact: jamie@emergewithus.com, Phone: 816.326.8464

1Socialnomics by Erik Qualman, published 2012 and revised 2014, //www.socialnomics.net/the-book/

2Socialnomics by Erik Qualman, published 2012 and revised 2014, //www.socialnomics.net/the-book/

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