The most popular online social platforms serve as a budding environment for the healthcare industry, providing arguably the most timely and reliable places for consumers to find the information they need.

Despite this, the healthcare industry had been relatively slow on the draw in developing robust and effective social and digital strategies for their organizations. (Keep in mind; the first-ever direct to consumer pharmaceutical ad, as we know them today, was only in 1981). This, coupled with strict regulations to consider (primarily HIPAA and the FDA) and the threat of exposing patient complaints and service evaluations to the masses, made many fear their presence would be too much to handle.

The tides have changed in the last few years, however. Why is going digital so important? There are over 2 billion active social media accounts worldwide, and about 1 in 3 people online are using social media as a natural habitat for health discussions. If healthcare is, indeed, to follow its audience, it’s safe to say that social is the new frontier for healthcare communications.

So what are healthcare organizations doing online that has led to their recent success?

BUILDING COMMUNITIES

First and foremost, healthcare organizations have established online communities that are continuously growing. These communities serve as an active resource for patients and the community, sharing and discussing, showcasing community involvement, and highlighting quality of care.

In order to continually grow their communities, healthcare organizations have tailored their approaches to segmented audiences based on the multitude of information that each social platform makes available to businesses and advertisers. This works especially well considering the organizations that are #winning on social media are also not focused on selling.

Rather than pitching products and services, time is spent connecting with the audience and building relationships. Even better, the audience is actively looking for them, 72% of internet users say they looked online for health information within the last year.

A great example of digital engagement in healthcare is Pfizer’s GetOld.com project and it’s accompanying social media initiative. “Get Old” does not sell or advertise a single product or service, but rather a brand promise. So far, their efforts have earned them a Facebook following of almost 190,000 people.

“We’re able to reach people in a new and different way,” says Brenna Robinson, Pfizer’s Director of Global Reputation, Media Relations, and Digital Strategy. Using positivity, humor, and empathy allows Robinson’s company to relate to consumers and be viewed positively by providing valuable, personable information and experience.

But why would you want to spend valuable budget dollars on a program that isn’t promoting a hard sell? Because you’re investing in the building and maintenance of a strong relationship. In times of positive or negative change for your organization, communities like this can foster support and mitigate crises.

MANAGING REPUTATIONS

Once a community has been established, it becomes necessary for brands to actively manage their reputation.

Managing your reputation helps harness the value of social media as a two-way communications channel; actively establishing and maintaining trust with your audience.

According to PwC’s Social Media Consumer survey, this type of engagement is where medical professionals shine.  61% of people surveyed are inclined to trust information published by doctors on social media, and 41% of people are likely share that information.

Out of necessity, the healthcare industry is doing very well managing their reputations while still adhering to government imposed regulations, such as HIPAA and those from the FDA.

For doctors, hospitals, health insurers, and pharmaceutical companies, successfully managing their reputation involves exerting a degree of control over the conversation within their communities. Carefully managed conversations help avoid violations of governing regulations, manage the brand’s overall reputation, and building relationships with their consumer.

But it’s not always that simple. Commentary on your properties can come in a variety of forms. Examples include positive interactions such as users praising your latest product or asking for a recommendation.  Feedback can also be negative, including complaints about products and services, or content that violates regulations. The good news is, the majority of conversation on a social media property will be neutral in nature; for instance, a person may post to a page asking a question about hours of operation, or other FAQs.

It’s important to reply to users consistently and thoughtfully, always keeping in mind the old (new?) adage “The Internet is written in ink” – nothing said online ever goes away.

When handled properly, managing your brand’s reputation on social media leads to potentially huge benefits with very little risk.

IMPROVING ACCESSIBILITY

Providing turnkey accessibility is the third trend that the healthcare industry has adopted. Simply being available when needed makes an immeasurable difference to your audience; impacting their willingness to follow you, engage with you, and continue their patient relationship.

Waning are the days of waiting on hold to speak with a doctor, driving to their office to get a prescription refilled, and faxing records from one doctor to the next.

Since the introduction of Electronic Medical Records and Electronic Health Records, the overall speed at which the healthcare system can move has greatly increased. Data is efficiently tracked and monitored. Doctors and nurses have instant access to a patient’s medical records and patients can log in to their respective accounts and see everything from their personal medical history to when they are due to go in for a check-up or screening.

Across the board, organizations are beginning to offer programs like Steward Health Care’s StewardCONNECT, which keeps all of the patient’s information in one place, and provides them with a variety of contact and information options.

Increased accessibility also means that patients and consumers can reach out directly to doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare organizations online, through email and web portals. Healthcare brands that are succeeding on social media have community managers regularly monitoring their pages, ready and willing to respond to users as quickly as possible.

There have been many advances in the way healthcare companies are able to manage their presence online. Through social media communities, reputation management, and digital accessibility, their services are more accessible than ever before.

Have you seen healthcare organizations succeeding in these new areas? What challenges do they face that you feel are important to reaching their audience? Let us know!