In any given webinar or lecture on social media, you’ll hear that if used correctly, it can be an incredible tool for hospitals that want to build a conversation with our patients and the community, hearing what people want and how we can improve our services, offering health information for the general public, communicating timely information in a crisis, building loyalty for our brand and even supporting fundraising efforts.
For the past year, the hospitals of the Lifespan health system have maintained Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as a YouTube channel for the system as a whole. Along the way, we’ve found things that are successful and some things that don’t work so well.
On Twitter, we’ve learned to be less self-promotional, almost to the point of really not promoting ourselves. Instead, we are doing things that will engage more people, like asking questions to start a conversation, responding to conversations, finding people to follow who share common interests, retweeting good health information, and recommending people to follow the Twitter #FollowFriday tradition in which Twitter users on Fridays recommend people to follow for good information.
On Facebook, we are engaging our fans by being much more personal, asking questions, wishing them good weekends, and asking for personal stories. We have found that this really is working to increase engagement with our fans and followers because THAT is the social side of social media. And engagement is the true measure of success, not the number of fans or followers you might have.
As non-profit hospitals, we’ve had some fundraising events that we were promoting through these avenues. Of course it was slow going for a while, but a recent event for Hasbro Children’s Hospital taught us a lesson: not only can you gain more awareness of an event through social media, but in return you are more actively engaged with the community and you gain more fans/followers with whom you can engage. That’s a nice outcome that we didn’t see coming!
Each year, Hasbro Children’s Hospital holds a radiothon in partnership with the Children’s Miracle Network and a fantastic local radio group, Citadel Broadcasting. We of course tweeted the event in advance and posted updates and teasers on our Facebook page. During the event, we were live tweeting, posting photos, and doing regular updates with photos on our Facebook page. Of course we were also linking to the streaming broadcasts of the radiothon on the three radio station websites that were involved in the radiothon and sending those out via Twitter and Facebook.
So what were the results?
This year, the total raised increased by about $50,000 over last year’s total before we launched our Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Can we attribute the growth directly to social media? Well, no, but we can guess that it certainly helped. The more interesting results came with the impact to our social media accounts. While we suspected our social media efforts might help to increase awareness of the radiothon, we didn’t expect that the radiothon would impact our engagement within social media. During the month of the radiothon, the hospital’s Twitter account saw 60 new followers (an 8 percent increase) and had one of its highest months of engagement to date.
More surprising was the Facebook account for the hospital. That month, we increased our fans by 1,077, a 70 percent increase, with 80 percent of those new fans joining us during the radiothon or in the days immediately following it. The personal stories, “thank you’s” and other comments began flooding our fan page, and from that, we have already lined up media stories and potential patient stories for next year’s radiothon.
The biggest gain is the connection we are making with real people. People who have experienced what it is like to have a child who needs the care of a pediatric hospital are telling their own stories honestly and openly. It is no longer about a brand, it’s about people. And that, in a nutshell is what social media is all about–connecting with people.
It’s not always easy to dive into social media, especially for a relatively conservative industry like health care. More hospitals are joining the ranks, and there are some clear leaders out there, but we’re all learning together. And while we can use social media outlets to promote our fundraising events, the return on investment is exponential when you consider that you’re actually meeting the people you care for, and getting a better understanding of why you’re really here–to help people.
So now I’m curious. If you’re using social media, what has your experience connecting with your fans and followers been like? And, if you’re not using social media, what’s holding you back?
Nancy Cawley Jean is a senior media relations officer for Lifespan in Providence, RI, where she oversees social media for Lifespan’s five partner hospitals and also manages the national media relations for research at Rhode Island Hospital and its Hasbro Children’s Hospital. Find her at @NancyCawleyJean on Twitter.