5 Social Networking tools every……

5 Social Networking tools every health care PR person should know and use

Guest Blogger:  Trish Skram, PR Specialist, Mercy Health System

Did you know that one-third of Americans online use social media for health information? And the number is growing. In fact, a recent study shows that there were 90 million health care consumers in 2004, and now there’s 160 million.

This blog idea sprung from a post I read from MarketingCharts.com, “One-Third of Online Americans Use Social Media for Health.” According to new data from Manhattan Research, patients and caregivers are empowering themselves in record numbers when it comes to managing their own health and the health of their families. Great data, right? The Internet is surpassing physicians as the most popular health resource. Wow. You’re a health care marketer or public relations person, right? Why wouldn’t you get involved?

If used correctly, the right social media tools can ensure your patients, customers, employees and stakeholders extract more brand value. There are three main reasons why my social media team at Mercy Health System decided to get involved in 2008.
• Brand recognition
• Stakeholder engagement
• And well, it’s FREE.

With that said, over the course of 15 months of research, testing and engaging in online conversations for Mercy, I’ve concluded that there are five great tools that every health care PR person should know and use.

Blog1CROPSimply stated, blogs are a great way to get timely, relevant and unique information about your organization to a mass audience. Mercy Health System launched its blogs in May 2009. So far, our three blogs are averaging over 500 clicks a month. Our Rock County blog alone has over 900 RSS subscribers. That’s almost as powerful as a costly ad in a local paper! But be careful; don’t talk at your audience on your posts. Remember, a blog is a place to encourage thoughts, ideas and most importantly, share and encourage information. Ask questions, make it personal and post frequently. Don’t use it as a news feed, that’s not what it’s for. Be engaging. Check out http://wordpress.com if you’re interested in setting up a blog. Note: These hosting sites are free.

There are so many great uses for Twitter. For a health care PR person, it’s been an amazing opportunity to get real-time news, make connections and engage in conversation. For example, journalists, reporters and editors are increasingly getting involved in Twitter. It’s been a great resource for me to build relationships with the media and use as a pitching platform. In June, I used our Twitter account to connect with reporters when we were gearing up for our first live tweeted surgery. Our Twitter page had 1,100 followers before the surgery, and ended up with over 1,400 after the surgery. Media outlets from our area also tuned in to our live “Tweets,” blog posts and Facebook updates and we ended up with over 600,000 media impressions in two days. Many of those connections I wouldn’t have made if it weren’t for Twitter.

Facebook is another wonderful platform to engage in conversation and share timely and relevant information with those who are interested in your organization. Build a fan page, share news articles, post photos from your last community event. Your patients and stakeholders are online. You can provide a comfortable setting for your fans and friends on Facebook to engage in conversation. You can find out a lot about your audience by listening, commenting and monitoring your fans and followers on social media networks.

YouTubeCROPPeople love video. Video is powerful because it can capture true emotion. Many people prefer to watch a video than read an article. As health care pros, we have the opportunity to share patient stories and experiences. You can do that with video in such a beautiful way. Most importantly, they are extremely viral. For example, Mayo Clinic had an amazing run on YouTube when Fran and Marlo Cowan (married 62 years) played impromptu piano together in the atrium of the Mayo Clinic. Today, the video has over 5 million hits. Talk about viral marketing, folks!

As mentioned above, your patients and customers are using social media. Hospitals can utilize social channels to answer health care- or illness-related questions or simply provide medical information. At Mercy, we’ve recently dived in to webinar conferencing for various health care topics. So far, a majority of our participants are 65 and older. Again, your patients and customers are online and they are becoming savvier every day.

As a health care marketing and public relations pro, you understand that the word, “free,” goes a long way. Not one of the tools (excluding our webinar hosting site) mentioned above involves a dollar amount. If you’re like most organizations, you probably pay a company to distribute your news releases. If you’re paying for those services, why wouldn’t you take advantage of a free tool like Twitter and Facebook? Think about it.

If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest you set up personal accounts with a majority of these tools. Just dive in and start making connections. You will begin to find out the benefits as you move along.

What online tools have you found worthwhile?

Note: If you’re interested in reading more about all things PR, social media and communications, please visit my “PR Gal” Blog at trishskram.com

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