Social media marketers often spend a lot of time selecting the right social media tool to use – Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, etc. Instead, they should be focusing on ways to engage online “communities of interest.”
What are “communities of interest?”
Social media and social networks provide the ways people can connect online. “Communities of interest” are why we connect. The very concept of social media is in allowing online groups to form around a particular topic or idea, and connect with others that have a similar interest. These are communities of interest.
It’s clear: “health” is the most significant area for which “communities of interest” seek online information today. And hospital marketers should recognize the importance of participating and engaging in these communities.
How can we do this?
There are many ways to engage online communities of interest. Here are three simple things to help you get started:
Identify if the community already exists. If it does, begin to participate in it. If it does not, determine if the need for a community exists. If there is a need (it fills an online niche your patients could benefit from), create one.
Don’t market – build trust. Instead of broadcasting your marketing messages, find ways the community can interact and engage with you. Ask questions and participate in conversations.
Remember: size doesn’t matter but interactivity does. Building a community online takes time – don’t expect it to grow overnight. Be patient and persistent and not only will your community size grow, but so will the trust they have in you.
I’ve been taking swing dance lessons and have found that I can Charleston pretty well. This surprises me, as I’ve never been light on my feet. But my instructors were persistent and taught me to not only keep practicing, but they gave me a couple of tricks – steps – to make me look professional.
First step: Always be prepared
On the dance floor, you never know when your partner might want to switch the move. Or what the next song the band will play. For dancing, you always have to be ready. Keep yourself framed, and have a slight bend to your knees. It sometimes helps to lower your center of gravity.
When building or engaging a social media community, you also have to be prepared. Get to know the language of the social network – participate and listen. At any given moment, your community might go an unexpected way and you have to sway with it. You cannot predict when or where you have to respond, so be ready.
Second step: Communicate clearly
Whether you are a “lead” or “follow” on the dance floor, you have to communicate clearly with your partner. Much of the communication comes in non-verbal clues – a hand up signaling a turn, a rock-step to guide you to start to do the Charleston. And the cues have to come in a timely way – you can’t communicate a change in step too late, because your partner won’t know what to do.
Social media communities also appreciate communication that is conversational and appropriate. Be brief, be relevant and be clear. Get to the point – and get to it quickly, or else your message may be lost. Unlike dancing, however, sometimes in social networks you might lead and other times you may follow.
Third step: Be consistent
When swing dancing, it’s important to do your moves consistently and regularly. When you spin, it’s important for the lead to be there in a consistent spot, with his hand in the right position. There’s nothing worse than having your partner throw in an inconsistent move or gesture. It can sometimes through off the whole move, if not end your dance prematurely.
When communicating through social media, you also need to be consistent. If one day you post five updates to your Facebook page and then leave it neglected for two weeks, no one will know what to expect and stop following. Consistency helps followers feel your posts are real and genuine (like there’s a person behind the posts and not some automated robot or RSS feed). Plus, the more you provide consistent contributions to social media, the more interaction you will draw…which leads to engagement.
Fourth step: Be interactive
Swing dancing is most fun when both partners engage with each other – responding to one another, and adding energy and excitement to the dance! Take a look at good dance partners – they always work off one another, smiling and laughing and making verbal and non-verbal cues.
In social media marketing, the best interactions lead to the highest levels of engagement. Respond to posts, thank people for participating, ask questions, read your audience. Make non-verbal cues by showing how fun and interactive your community can be. More people will want to jump in and dance with you!
Fifth step: Know when enough’s enough
Even the best dancers know when to stop. You can’t do the same step over and over – your partner will get bored and probably not dance with you again. You also have to know when to switch it up, when to switch to a Lindy Whip or dance the Shim Sham. You don’t always have to Charleston.
The same is true for social media. Know when to stop posting certain types of content. Change it up – share stories, then pictures, then videos. Take a poll. Ask a question. Keep your community exciting and interesting.
Knowing these simple, yet effective steps, will not only guarantee that you’ll be taking good care of your community, but it will also guarantee your dance card will always be full.
I’ve visited many hospital websites. Some are designed in nice, clean ways and allow you to easily find content. Some have added interactive tools that allow patients to take quizzes and online screenings. Some sites are basic and straightforward. Regardless of how their sites look, feel or function, I am sad to report that most hospital websites have lost “site” of the basics.
I am not talking about SEO (Search Engine Optimization). SEO is important and can sometimes be executed artfully (remember, most websites are found through social media or search engines). I am referring to something even more basic – what I call the “www” (the “Who,” “Why” and “What”) of your website.
This refers who you are – not only the features of your hospital: your key service lines, your staff, your hours of operation, your role in the community. The Who can also illustrate who you will be in the future…and why this is important to the community you serve.
When people get to your website, they are “searching with intent.” Some people perusing your hospital website are looking for a reason why they should use your hospital over others. It’s important to use your website to tell them why they should choose your hospital over others. Why are you different? Is it the quality of your staff, your technologies and procedures? Is it your accreditations and/or your third-party awards? By giving them a clear illustration as to why your hospital is different – or better – than others, is critical.
The one thing that is often overlooked is perhaps the most important – now that they know the who’s and the why’s of your hospital, what do you want them to do? Consider this the business development portion of your site. What should they do to further engage with your hospital? Download additional brochures to share with their friends/family? Contact your physician referral line? Sign up for a community seminar or lecture? Hospitals that don’t give web consumers a “call to action” are leaving potential revenue on the table.
If people visiting your website can’t find the answers to these three questions, you’re not optimizing your online presence. Once your hospital site has addressed the who, why and what, you are free to focus on other elements of your site.
While many hospital marketers have already accepted and/or embraced the use of social media, there continue to be holdouts in the “C-suite” who struggle to accept social media as a valid strategic tool. Why this reluctance? I have a theory…
Stage 1: Denial
At first, hospital leadership has a tendency to deny the very fact that social media greatly impacts how people search online for healthcare information. Rather than accept that:
YouTube comprises 25% of all Google searches
Facebook is a valid source for millions of online healthcare searchers
Twitter has become an acceptable and trusted form of communication
…hospital leaders continue to reject the mainstream use of social media.
Examples: ”No one uses social media to look for health problems.” . . . “Why would anyone look at YouTube for hospitals? It’s preposterous!!” . . . “Twitter is only for leaking unverified news stories and facilitating revolutions in the Middle East – not for healthcare!”
Stage 2: Anger
Once they start to see past this denial, the next phase reluctant hospital executives face is extreme anger at the very existence of social media. At this stage, there is a tendency to react with irrational behavior, outrageous litigation and general discontent with the web (as a marketing vehicle) itself.
Examples: ”How could someone write all this stuff about my hospital? What right do they have?” . . . “I’m going to stop patients from having any opinion about me online by having them sign this gag order! Then, I’ll sue!” . . . “I won’t let any of my employees on social media sites — I’ll have our IT department block YouTube and Facebook.”
Stage 3: Bargaining
At this stage, reluctant hospital leaders start to see that social media is not a fad, and so they reluctantly begin to bargain to make the (perceived) negative impact less severe. Often they try to compromise the openness of social media by forcing it to act more like traditional marketing.
Examples: ”Well, OK, I’ll create a YouTube channel, but I am going to turn off all comments.” . . . “I’ll guess I have to get a Twitter account, but I won’t follow anyone and I will rarely post a ‘tweet’.” . . . ”Maybe I’ll just look over my daughter’s shoulder the next time she’s on Facebook, to see what it’s all about.”
Stage 4: Depression
After attempting to tiptoe their way into social media, reluctant hospital execs then reach a period of deep malaise and sadness. They are gripped by fears that the tide of social media (and user-generated content) will wash away all their expensive branding efforts. Numbness, anger and sadness may also remain.
Examples: ”There is no way to respond to blog posts about my hospital — why should we even bother?” . . . “What’s the point of looking for what people say about us on Facebook — I can’t control anything they say.” . . . “I long for the good old days when all I had to do was create a few nice billboard and newspaper ads to define my hospital brand.”
Stage 5: Acceptance
The last stage encountered by reluctant hospital leaders is acceptance. At this point, the anger and sadness has worn off, and they start to accept that social media is here to stay. Soon, they are on the path to learning how these tools can augment and enhance their existing branding and communication efforts — and actually bear out positive successes.
Examples: ”You know, Facebook really isn’t a bad way to increase awareness of my hospital’s foundation.” . . . “Actually, my traditional marketing techniques are really not as effective as they once were — maybe there is something to this social media stuff.” . . . “I can’t fight it, so I may as well learn how to use social media effectively.”
In keeping with Kübler-Ross’s original theory, the above steps do not necessarily occur in the order noted above; nor are all steps experienced by all hospital leaders. But I’ve found that most hospital execs seem to experience at least two of the above stages.
Ask yourself honestly – are you going through any of these stages? If so, don’t worry — and try not to force the process. To quote Wikipedia’s article on the Five Stages of Grieving:
“Don’t rely on others saying “you should be over this by now”; “you’re taking too long”, or, “you haven’t waited long enough”. The process is highly personal and should not be rushed, nor lengthened, on the basis of another’s imposed timeframe or opinion. One should merely be aware that the stages will be worked through and the ultimate stage of “Acceptance” will be reached.”