The number of social networking sites has grown so much over so little time that one can get lost among the vast array and wide variety of platforms. So,before picking which social media to engage in, consider the two Cs: content and culture.
Content is the bread and butter of social media. Content is the information you plan on sharing with your audience. Superior content will always win because those of us using social media do so because of the content's quality and how it can impact our lives and those of our community. Quality content can come in many forms, but there are definitely things it is not. Good content is not advertising. Unless you have a wildly successful ad campaign, a la the Old Spice guy, advertisements aren't the type of information social media audiences are looking to share.
Equally important to consider is the type of meaningful content you can produce on a consistent basis. If you only have the capacity to create two videos a year, perhaps YouTube isn't the best place to start. If your content is short, quick bursts of information, then maybe Twitter is the way to go. Are you seeking to build a community with enhanced interaction? Starting with Facebook may be your best bet. So, before engaging in social media, ask yourself what you plan on sharing, how you can effectively and consistently share it, and would you as a consumer benefit from this information.
The good news is hospitals are in a fantastic position to create and share quality content. Health is a topic of interest to everyone and hospitals are full of experts in various fields who are authorities on different health topics. Can your experts share health tips? Can they interpret breaking medical research for your audience? Are they conducting new clinical trials? Have they recently given a media interview? Cultivate that information, share it with your social media audience, and do so in the spirit of education, service and awareness.
Second, before embracing a social media platform, be sure to understand the culture of that specific network, and how it matches up with the culture of your hospital. For example, if a hospital launches a twitter account with the sole intent of one-way broadcasting about itself, it will fail to capitalize on relationships fostered by two-way interaction on Twitter--which includes following back, retweets and replies. Another example is choosing to link Twitter posts with Facebook. Do you know if your Facebook "likers" want to see Twitter posts in their news feed? In my own experience, I've found that people on Facebook who do not understand Twitter find seeing tweets extremely frustrating and are quick to unsubscribe from your content.
In general, the best advice for choosing social media platforms is to first become part of these communities yourself. Do your research. Figure out what you like and what annoys you. Put yourself in your audience's shoes and then decide the best way to deliver quality content to them. Be it a blog, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, or YouTube, always remember that the spirit of social media is about sharing valuable information and fostering relationships through mutual interaction.
Mike Morrison is a media relations officer at a large Boston teaching hospital. You can follow him on Twitter @MDMorrison82 .