How to Get Started With Social Media: Tips For Hospitals and Health Care Organizations

Twitter and Facebook are becoming an essential tool for hospitals, clinics, and home health agencies. These flexible on-line tools help with fundraising, building connections with the community, getting new patients, and health education.

Getting started
Setting up Twitter and Facebook pages is in itself a fairly simple task. The level of complexity is similar to using Outlook or another e-mail program. There is no programming or HTML coding. As with any computer-related tool, it’s a matter of getting comfortable, not of substantial training.

Long-term use
The real work comes in making full use of these tools, keeping up with comments, and coordinating responses with a larger communications plan. Building the number of followers (Twitter) and fans (Facebook) is an important part of success. Users need a feeling for the different kinds of communication-short messages, invitations, crisis management, brand protection-that are enhanced by these new tools.

Who does the work?
Larger hospitals often have an established web team that can absorb the additional work of launching social media use. Many are exploring social media through individual staff members-often younger ones-with their own interest in the technology. For almost half of respondents, staff knew what to do, sometimes educating themselves with online tools like webinars, and then turning to consultants for refinements. Occasionally volunteers have stepped in to help.

Responsibility for social media resides in a variety of departments:

• Information technology
• Marketing and communications
• Community development
• E-business staff

What are the time and financial costs related to social media?
The amount of time required to support social media use will vary with the size and activity of the organization. A large urban pediatric hospital reports that during a normal week three to five hours are needed. A local clinic or home health association with a smaller community and audience is likely to need less time.

What risks, if any, are involved in using social media?
The prospect of content put “out there” on Twitter and Facebook can create a certain amount of uneasiness about loss of control over negative comments, especially among leadership unfamiliar with the tools. While social media is new enough that not all risks are known, a key point in using them is that hospitals have the opportunity to respond rapidly to any negative comments, and to engage directly with unhappy patients or families.

One consultant advises that, in the age of social media, it is a mistake to assume that a crisis will simply blow over, or that word about some unpleasant incident will not get out.

It’s important to be clear with employees about the consequences of using Facebook and other tools inappropriately, for example to criticize a fellow employee, or the organization. Another consultant advises that, at the least, organizations have a guideline or policy that says “All company policies that address inappropriate behavior apply to your conduct online.”

Copyright (c) 2010 Jane Sherwin. You may reprint this entire article and you must include the copyright info and the following statement: “Jane Sherwin is a writer who helps hospitals and other healthcare facilities communicate their strengths and connect with their readers.”

Learn more about Jane at http://worddrivecommunications.com/index.htm. Subscribe to Jane’s free monthly e-newsletter at http://tinyurl.com/2enrdqx for practical tips on communicating effectively with customers, clients, employees and the public.

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