Tweet, pin, share, favorite, snap−these are the social
media buzzwords that are changing the healthcare
industry. Gone are the days when social media was used as
a passive tool of exposure; today it has emerged as an
integral part of a healthcare facility's daily
Social media, although relatively new, has captured the
interest of people across industries for meeting business
goals and objectives, and promoting client interaction.
The healthcare industry is no different.
By harnessing this impactful form of two-way
communication, providers have the opportunity to reach
their patients and community in quick, personal, and
efficient ways. More people are now turning to social
media to inform decisions regarding selecting a doctor,
hospital, or medical facility.
If rural facilities fail to promote themselves, patients
may choose to travel to urban areas to receive medical
Engaging the Community
Rural hospitals and clinics might be leery to venture too
deeply into the world of social media. Some may fear the
lack of control and the commitment needed, while others
may doubt its impact. But take it from Speare Memorial
Hospital's Director of Community Relations, Michele
Hutchins, who stresses that social media can make a world
of difference when trying to attract and satisfy
“At the end of the day it's about
choice,” said Hutchins. “That choice
can be influenced by word-of-mouth created from social
Hospital, located in the rural town of Plymouth, New
Hampshire, is active on Facebook,
LinkedIn, and YouTube.
According to Hutchins, these tools have been essential
for “…educating the community on what services
Speare Memorial Hospital provides so that we may become
the hospital of choice.”
Dr. Jennifer Brull, physician owner of Prairie Star
Family Practice in Plainville, Kansas, uses social media
as a convenient way to reach patients in her town of
about 2,000 people.
“Social media is woven into the fiber of my
practice,” said Brull. “It's a quick
and easy way to remind people that flu season is around
the corner or that it's about time that your child gets
his/her sports physical done.”
Aside from friendly reminders, Brull uses social media as
a way to “…meet patients where they're
at.” Social media presents a direct, timely
form of communication, according to Brull.
Social media is not only used for community engagement,
but also for shedding light on important health topics
and trends, as well as early prevention methods.
Social media provides a platform that gets people
talking about local healthcare issues because the
virtual world can be a more comfortable place to have a
The information provided on social media channels is
often unique and engaging, but perhaps more importantly,
participatory. The author of the content is able to
easily seek feedback from the audience.
“Basically, we are trying to start a
conversation,” said Hutchins. “Social
media provides a platform that gets people talking about
local healthcare issues because the virtual world can be
a more comfortable place to have a
Armed with this information, Hutchins and Online Content
Coordinator Amy Lyn Kench use Speare Memorial Hospital's
social media to serve as a health resource, directing
people to local programs and services available to them.
This strategy has paid off. Since early 2014, engagement
with the hospital's social media has increased 20
Social media use is not something to be taken lightly. If
a provider chooses to implement social media channels, it
needs to have a well-defined strategy driving their use.
Otherwise, the message can be lost in a sea of other
Each form of social media has its own audience and
function. Content needs to be evaluated in the context of
the facility's communications needs. Facebook and Twitter
are the two most used social media channels. Facebook has
approximately 1.19 billion monthly active global users,
according to the November 2014 article titled “Use
of Social Media Across US Hospitals: Descriptive Analysis
of Adoption and Utilization”. This study
revealed that more than 99 percent of U.S. hospitals have
a Facebook presence. Healthcare facilities can use
Facebook to create lengthier messages, post photos,
upload videos, and link to articles and other information
in order to showcase particular services, facilities, and
community health activities. Speare Memorial Hospital
uses Facebook to
promote local health programs and events, give healthy
living tidbits, and expose followers to evidence-based
information on various health symptoms and procedures.
Twitter is also quickly gaining ground in the world of
healthcare. About half of U.S. hospitals have a Twitter
account, according to the aforementioned article. Twitter
posts are limited to 140 characters, thus contain shorter
messages. Many hospitals use this platform to quickly
inform users of local safety concerns, such as weather
warnings. Twitter can also be a convenient tool to gauge
patient satisfaction. The organizations can actively
listen to what is being said about them through searching
for the use of certain
hashtags and watching for when the organization is
mentioned in other users' tweets. These tools give
facilities eye-opening information about what people have
to say about certain topics. Speare Memorial Hospital
often uses Twitter to
connect its other social media platforms by sharing
similar content as its Facebook page or by linking its
YouTube videos right to its Twitter page.
Speare Memorial Hospital is also active in using
LinkedIn and YouTube.
LinkedIn is a site most often utilized for professional
networking and recruitment. LinkedIn allows the hospital
to share job opportunities for recruitment purposes and,
similarly, healthcare professionals can get information
on the hospital as a potential employer.
YouTube is a useful tool for telling stories about a
healthcare facility and the people it serves through
videos. Many of the videos on Speare Memorial Hospital's
YouTube channel contain personal testimonies of patients
who have had positive experiences with the organization.
Others videos give patients the opportunity to become
more familiar with the facility's medical providers and
So what if rural facilities don't have the time to manage
every social media outlet at their disposal?
Hutchins and Kench recommend only operating the social
media channels that meet the organization's direct
communications needs and that can be kept up in a timely
Social media has been, and will continue to be, a
Social media is ever-evolving. Today's biggest platforms
could be replaced tomorrow, so it is important to keep
up-to-date with ways in which healthcare consumers seek
out health information. Organizations should invest in
training opportunities for employees who have access to
social media accounts, as well as remain vigilant on
following emerging research regarding social media in the
“Social media has been, and will continue to
be, a moving target,” said Brull.
Social media can be a tricky field to navigate. People
have the ability to overshare on social media, thus
bringing privacy concerns and HIPAA regulations into
In order to combat this, Hutchins advised that hospitals
and clinics set up strict policies on what can and cannot
be posted, as well as how to address negative feedback.
Brull added that it's important that medical
professionals and practices refrain from initiating
direct conversations with a patient about his/her
personal health over social media.
It needs to be planned, controlled, and monitored to
fit within the [organization's] communication strategy.
“In every industry, social media can be used
improperly,” said Hutchins. “It needs
to be planned, controlled, and monitored to fit within
the [organization's] communication strategy.”
Social media is an important marketing tool for
healthcare facilities to attract and retain patients. It
gives providers a chance to get creative in connecting
with patients in a more personal manner, but it takes
time, resources, and a clear strategy.
As Speare Memorial Hospital's Kench notes, “If
you're going to do social media, you have to do it