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Rules of social media: Define your target audience

September 23, 2013

    Many hospitals and health systems now use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. But are there practical ways to make these technologies work for your organization? The Daily Briefing kicks off a five-part series on strategies to succeed at social media.

    Hanna Jaquith, Daily Briefing

    "We need to connect with patients" isn't a new priority for hospitals; that maxim informed many organizations' marketing strategies through the 20th century. But the 21st century has introduced social networks and technology—think of platforms like Facebook and Twitter—that offer a more targeted means to build brand loyalty, attract new patients, and engage existing ones in ways that traditional media cannot.

    Rules of social media
    Today: Define your audience
    Tuesday: Let patients tell their stories
    Wednesday: Benefit with a blog
    Thursday: Master the metrics
    Friday: Sustain a conversation

    As Lee Aase, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, recently told the Daily Briefing, "For more than 100 years, Mayo Clinic's reputation has always come from word of mouth. Social media is an amplification of that word of mouth."

    However, social media strategies that try to reach "anyone, anywhere" are usually doomed to fail. In recent interviews with the Daily Briefing, officials at five of the nation's most social media-savvy hospitals stressed the importance of having a well-defined audience. According to these experts, while individuals increasingly go online for health information, some future patients are more likely than others to rely on social media when doing so.

    Case study: M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

    In choosing which social media channels to be on, MD Anderson Cancer Center keeps in mind its target audience: cancer patients, caregivers, and survivors, says Laura Nathan-Garner, program manager of integrated media communications. Both are more likely to gravitate toward Facebook and Twitter, rather than Instagram and YouTube, which attract a younger audience.

    "We almost don't have a choice" but to be on Facebook and Twitter, she says, because "that's where our patients are, and they are asking questions. We need to make sure we're answering them."

    M.D. Anderson then tailors its social media content accordingly: Facebook provides a good medium to highlight survivor stories, because "we often hear is that individuals with a cancer diagnosis will go online to seek out people with stories similar to theirs," Nathan-Garner says. The stories that end up getting highlighted often are volunteered by patients, she adds.

    Twitter, on the other hand, is useful to hold live chats with M.D. Anderson experts and provide patients with practical health advice.

    Just as important to your social media strategy is knowing when not to share information, Nathan-Garner says. "We get requests from all over our institution, from 20,000 colleagues, asking us to share information about their clinical trials or an event," but when targeting a global audience of patients, caregivers, and survivors, your organization must be willing to "draw a line."

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