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Ten Rules for Health Care Organizations Interested in Using Social Media

Posted May 04 2011 10:16pm
Include social media like "Facebook" or "Twitter" in health care business plan, and you'll probably prompt glazed looks from the average health care administrator. Those who recognize the terms will want to know what they have to do with filling up that new heart catheterization suite or increasing referrals to their infusion center.  They're too busy with marketing flotsam like "Top 100" billboard campaigns or convincing the local news media to mention that newly renovated lobby. These functionaries look, but they do not see.

Case in point: during a recent work-out at the local fitness center, the Disease Management Care Blog  witnessed two elder women chatting while speed-walking on side-by-side treadmills.  Down the row were two younger women on side-by-side exercise bicycles, also chatting.  The difference was that the two younger women had ear plugs in place, their cell phones out and were simultaneously texting.  All four women were continuously talking at the same time, but that's not the point.  The point is that two-way web-based cellular communication is fast becoming a 24-7 standard for tens of millions of people.  Those two elders may currently command greater purchasing power, but those texting youngsters is where the future lies.

As mentioned in yesterday's post , health care organizations that realize that they need to get the attention of the two women on those exercise bikes will find it extremely challenging.  That's because those ladies will have to "opt-in" and agree to "friend" or "follow" you.

While social media is just as new to population health providers, the DMCB thinks they'll have a leg up because they have been in the "opt-in" business for over a decade.  After doing some reading and talking to some colleagues in the disease management industry, here are ten insights that can help other health care organizations such as accountable care organizations, integrated delivery systems, medical homes or other provider organizations build followers, tweeps, and friends the opt-in world of social media
1) Offer brief, personalized, meaningful and relevant content: mass messaging and links to milquetoast advice offer little value.  Efficiently written humor, unique insights and actionable information need to make the effort it takes for your customers to pay attention worthwhile. Being snarky , rude and pushy isn't necessarily bad. Extra points for catering to "micro" communities. 

2) Expect slow uptake, one person at a time: adoption is non-linear, starting slowly and building as awareness grows to, if you do this right, a tipping point.  While big Twitter communities weren't built in a day, the good news is that once a base of readers/friends/followers is established, it won't easily go away.

3) It's a part of a larger coherent marketing and branding strategy: traditional communication "channels" still have a role to play.  Print, email and phone calls should continue in addition to tweets and postings.

4) Aim it relevant generational health issues - current younger users of social media are more likely to be interested in personally important issues like health promotion, obesity or child care.  Chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension are less relevant.... for now.

5) Incentives are OK: assuming you can get past the kick-back, privacy and insurance rules, think gift certificates or raffles for sign-ups as well as referrals. It works in employer settings, why not out on the net?

6) Worries?  Yes, including HIPAA, creepy data mining, hacking, surveillance, cyber-bullying and predatory behavior.  You'll need to be up-front with friends and tweeples about this and promptly notify them of any problems.

7) It's messy: the likelihood that this can be predictably planned is very low.  Flexible adaptation and trying to get buy-in from a skeptical audience means this will be more of a journey than a destination.

8) Social media networking is important: in addition to building your community of individuals, you'll need to interact with other Twitterers, Facebook pages and blogs.  Play nice with them and they'll notify others about you.

9) Prize relationships: this is a two-way street, which means you have to have a reputation for listening. That means being aware of any community "buzz" and promptly answering all individual questions, comments and concerns.

10) It isn't cheap: This takes time. This has to be supported with policy and procedure. This requires training and staffing. This needs money.
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