Rules of Engagement
Social media transforms your marketing efforts and captivities your audience. Why wait?
Because many vendors at a farmer's market often sell identical produce, you might buy fruit or vegetables indiscriminately.
But if you knew that one vendor followed sustainable growing practices or that its proceeds went to a local charity, your purchases may be more selective. And even if you don't feel this new knowledge is valuable, you still have access to something new: information that distinguishes one vendor from another. At its most basic level, using social media as a marketing tool can provide this differentiation. Indeed, despite its reputation as a personal way to stay in touch with close friends and family, social media is an ideal tool to promote your organization or practice and breathe new life into your marketing efforts.
However, it's up to each industry and specialty to decide how to use social media by answering such questions as "How can I measure return on investment (ROI)?" and "Which platforms should I use?" Nevertheless, responses to one question — "Why should I?" — will likely drive an organization's social media efforts.
Answering Big Questions
"The main reason to participate in social media is to increase visibility and develop a long-term, interactive, and two-way relationship with patients and referring physicians," says Garry Choy, M.D., MSc, radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, whose social media passion led to his membership on the hospital's social media committee. "An innovative radiology practice adopts social media — our specialty is at the forefront of medicine and technology, and social media participation is a reflection of that," he adds.
"Social media really helps sell practices' personalities and provides an emotional connection," says Kim Longeteig, principal of Ali'i Marketing & Design, which specializes in marketing for imaging practices. Longeteig has been active in the Radiology Business Management Association, presenting "Social Media Marketing Strategies," at its 2010 and 2011 Building Better Radiology Marketing Programs events. "Radiology practices are all trying to figure out how social media fits into their groups," she notes.
But even practices that realize this trend have fallen behind or not adopted any kind of social media. "Some don't know how to use social media," says Choy. "People in health care often need more evidence that anything — including social media — works."
New evidence in favor of social media's utility may sway the uninformed or naysayers. In an October 2011 survey from research and consulting organization YouGov, 57 percent of respondents said that a hospital's social media presence was likely to have a strong impact on their decision to seek treatment at that hospital. Additionally, 81 percent of consumers in the survey believe that if a hospital has a strong social media presence, they are likely to be more cutting-edge. It's not difficult to see how some of these same attitudes could trickle down to radiology departments and even private practices.
Longeteig isn't surprised at the survey results and feels that if practices are still on the fence, they should consider that "[social media] is the trend in how people communicate." And if you think that it is only for large radiology departments like the one at Massachusetts General Hospital, think again. "Big and small practices all have the same goal — to market to referring physicians and patients and bring them into the practice," Longeteig adds. "Social media can help do all of this."
Who Should Run Your Efforts?
Some practices — big and small — may not have the luxury of an entire team devoted to social media. In those cases, who should run the show? "It's not something that should be left to only marketing personnel," says Longeteig. "Engage the entire practice. Have folks help generate content or contests." Meanwhile, the social media committee that Choy serves on includes someone from the hospital's marketing department and meets regularly to decide what to publicize on its social media outlets. Committee members then work with a social media and web development lead who writes Facebook posts, tweets, and updates for other social networking sites.
But different models work for different practices. Caroline Goodwill, marketing project manager for the Department of Radiology at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF), says one of her responsibilities is to review news related to patient care, share relevant pieces with the designated team of radiologists, and ask them to comment on the news on the UCSF radiology department's blog, http://blog.radiology.ucsf.edu.
Because no one had the initial social media expertise in-house, Goodwill and her colleagues work with outside consultant Media Logic. Media Logic provides the interface/dashboard program called Zeitgeist, which Goodwill uses to post and promote blog entries through Facebook and Twitter. Goodwill also uses Google Analytics to measure the number of people that UCSF's social media messages reach.
However, consultant costs can be difficult to justify for smaller practices. In that case, look inward. "Find someone in your practice with an interest in social media," Choy suggests, adding that he or she doesn't need to devote a lot of time to social media. Although she has help, Goodwill says she "spends two to three hours per week working on social media."
However, no matter what amount of time you spend using social media, "it's a little difficult to track when it comes to traditional return on investment," Longeteig says. "You have to look at different factors, such as the number of people that 'like' your Facebook page or the number of Twitter followers."
Brandon Betancourt, pediatric practice manager at Salud Pediatrics in Algonquin, Ill., has a less strict view of social media ROI. In his blog, Betancourt compares social media to a hotel concierge. He writes, "A hotel concierge doesn't really provide a tangible ROI to the hotel. The concierge doesn't sell anything, really. But the benefit of the concierge provides to the guest is immensely valuable."
Similarly, social media does not bring in revenue directly, but it can be important to patients and referring physicians. In another article that interviewed Betancourt on his social media practices, the author wrote that "even though the hours [Betancourt] spends cultivating his online community may not directly translate to dollars, it seems apparent that part of what's special about [his] practice would be lost if its social media lights suddenly went dark."
Where to Start
So, maybe you're convinced social media could improve your marketing efforts but don't know where to begin. First, find out what's special about your practice. Then, talk about it on a variety of platforms (see sidebar). "Engage your audience, so that what they get from the content makes them want to share it," says Longeteig. "Ask questions, respond to anyone who says anything on your platforms, and include pictures of your radiologists or staff at events. Put up anything that helps patients or referring physicians connect with you."
Choy echoes those sentiments. "Broadcast messages about the latest services and discuss biographies of radiologists," he says. "Get the word out about what your practice is doing in the local community. Develop relationships with other influential groups in social media, such as the ACR and RSNA. If those organizations find your content interesting, it can spread, gaining you a bigger audience."
Finally, be active on whatever platforms you choose. "The worst thing that can happen is for a practice to create a Facebook page and not post things," says Goodwill. "You have to connect with your audience. Otherwise, what's the point?"
By Raina Keefer