3 ways to fit social media into a small budget

Did you know 1 in 5 Americans use social media to make decisions involving their health care needs? According to research conducted by the National Research Corporation, 94 percent of respondents said they had used Facebook as a source to gather information on their health care. Thirty-two percent noted they used YouTube as a health care information source. Twitter came in third—tying with MySpace for 18 percent of respondents.

The Internet is surpassing physicians as the most popular health resource. If you are a health care marketer, why wouldn’t you get involved?

Hospitals and health systems face challenges when it comes to launching social media campaigns, especially when it involves a tight budget. But this shouldn’t stop you from taking the plunge. Ryan Weckerly, President of MorningStar Media Group says this only means that you’ll have to dedicate some time to learning how to use social media. “We all face challenges of not having enough resources—whether it be time or budget, but I would suggest taking a close look at reallocating resources. For example, a hospital’s current print campaign can easily be turned to a Facebook ad with some tweaking.” Ryan says Facebook ads are inexpensive and a small budget can go a long way. “As you start to become more comfortable with Facebook, start thinking about how you can re-purpose content you already have such as events and physician announcements, and place those as Facebook or blog posts.”

To prove Ryan’s insights on a more global perspective, a new report from Altimeter Group found the average company spends less than $1 million per year on social media. Of those companies that do spend millions—most of those whose revenue tops $10 billion—about 2 percent of their respective total budgets goes toward social media efforts.

It’s OK for a social media budget to be small, says Jeremiah Owyang , co-author of the report and partner at Altimeter. “These channels are designed to remain efficient and effective,” he says. “The crowd is doing the work for you.” What’s more important than a big spending amount is honing in on the right priorities: staffing, messaging, measurement and finding worthwhile management tools.

These stats are telling you to do more in this space, but with tight resources and limited staff time, you need to get strategic. Jeremiah Owyang also says do with what you got. That means build a strategy with general goals, metrics, tactics and growth plans. “Once that strategy is built, hone in on the tools that will drive your strategy most effectively. Make sure to measure your actions and your results and then adjust your strategy as necessary,” he continues.

So, with that said, let’s look at a few ways to get you off this site and in to action. Here are three ways to get you started:

1. Think content

To build authority online and to generate positive feedback for your health system using your social media communities, you have to invest some time to create content. “Content is always king in social media,” says Ryan Weckerly. “The things that go viral always have great content, and they often can be the simplest of ideas.”  He’s right. Do a Youtube search with keywords “mayo clinic elderly couple piano” and take a look at the number of views. “But that is the extreme, most things will not go viral, but good content will always keep people coming back to your Website or social media page,” he continues.

Another rule of thumb is establish and strategize the proper messaging and how you’d like to promote your hospital. Many of you already have a staff writer (or many.) Find out which writer is best suited for the job and start creating social media content. Don’t try and put it all on yourself or a select group of marketers. Find who is passionate about social media and let them drive your daily postings.

2. Guide by example

Because you can’t afford to hire a social media manager, you’ll need to find out for yourself what your competitors are doing with their social media. Take notes as you page through their content. What do you like, or not like? What makes their campaign successful? Notice how they communicate with their community, their unique value proposition, and the different apps that they use to make their pages special. Make a list of what you would like to have on your Facebook page, your Twitter feed, your LinkedIn page and/or blog.

3. Use online management tools

For effective social media management, use social applications like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to upload pre-written content. To help you get started, schedule messages to be published at various times of the day. This will keep your pages fresh. Just remember not to repeat yourself and don’t do this forever.  Ryan Weckerly thinks online management largely comes down to resources. “If you are limited employees, time and money, sites like Hootsuite are crucial to having the foundation of a successful social media strategy.” Hootsuite allows for thoughtful planning and time savings. “You can’t be everywhere all the time, but sites like Hootsuite allow you to cover some essential social media realms and consolidates your efforts in an easy to plan and implement method.” He continues.  He also adds that WordPress is changing the web world landscape, and is a good blogging tool for beginners.

How does your hospital incorporate social media on a shoestring budget? Join the conversation!

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