Communicating via web 2.0

Social media marketing for hospitals

Ask a doctor or hospital manager to create a profile on a social media site like Facebook, and more often than not, they’ll break out in a cold sweat. However, patients are increasingly using online portals to review doctors and hospitals, and to share praise and criticism regarding the medical care they received. Posts of this kind are generally clicked on and read between 150 and 1000 times – a statistic that underlines the enormous importance and impact of this kind of information sharing. The Steinbeis Consulting Center for Business Performance in Munich helps hospitals to establish a presence in social media.

Monitoring, analyzing and reacting to comments on review websites for doctors and hospitals forms the crux of successful social media reputation management. The main reason that hospitals are cautious with social media is the potential to lose control over communication and how the hospital presents itself. Almost every hospital has an informative, functional and appropriately positioned website. Despite this, many hospitals have decided not to actively participate in social media marketing or web 2.0. This is also due to the inscrutable haze of confusion regarding sensible goals, recommended approaches and supposed success strategies.

Based in Munich, the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Business Performance has been running online patient consultation services on behalf of hospitals since 2009, thereby addressing the growing importance of social media at an early stage. In doing so, the Steinbeis experts have recognized that social media harbors great potential for hospitals. After all, the hospitals with the best websites are already using social media!

Social media marketing differs from conventional marketing in that the parties in question – in this case, doctors and hospitals – have no choice about whether they become involved. Most of them are already being discussed online, and sometimes only discover this by chance or when things go wrong. One of the first projects in this field undertaken by the Steinbeis social media experts was to search blogs and forums, both active and inactive, for posts relating to a highly regarded specialist surgical hospital. The reason? Patients had written extremely insulting posts about the hospital, primarily directed at nursing staff but also at doctors. It was no longer possible for hospital managers to ignore the situation – but the hospital was unable to find the blog in question using its own resources. The insulting posts were written by an extremely dissatisfied patient who had documented his hospital stay in detail, telling the online community about every perceived mistake that hospital staff made and commenting maliciously on each incident. The search results and final report presented by the Steinbeis team came as a surprise to hospital managers. The hospital used the findings to develop a strategy to address the actual issues raised, empower employees and protect the hospital against verbal and written attacks.

The Steinbeis Consulting Center for Business Performance has developed a clear roadmap for hospitals so that they do not “miss the boat” on social media, and so that their social media activities are based on defined goals and a clear strategy. The three steps in a successful social media strategy are:

1. Analysis: basic data and target groups
The first task is to carry out a customerspecific analysis of popular social media platforms and relevant forums to determine if the hospital has been discussed online by third parties. This is followed by a search for industry insights and benchmarks relating to the hospital in question. The aim here is to pinpoint and monitor key hospital groups, strong local competitors and other medical competitors. The next stage is to work out special circumstances relating to the situation faced by the hospital, especially with regard to its services and how suitable they are for potential social media applications.

2. Preparation and execution: defining goals and drawing up initial guidelines
The first part of this step is to present the results of the analysis. This is an important opportunity to answer questions and clarify any uncertainties. A key item for discussion at this point is the set of internal guidelines that need to be established regarding social media usage. Another area to address is the role and relative importance of various target media and how to use them. Next, specific measures tailored to the hospital are defined, and tools are put in place to monitor social media. This allows customers to gain an overview. Once everything is in place, a basis has been established on which to shape the strategy.

3. Strategy: developing a social media strategy
The final step is to define and evaluate relevant target groups and media, then select the chosen target media. Next, develop a content strategy, including the following steps:
– Decide on the content
– Define the form (text, images, videos etc.) and format (information, survey etc.)
– Consider possible cross-media use
– Define key performance indicators for specific media
– Agree on ways to monitor and evaluate appropriate benchmarks Once this is complete, an action plan can be drafted defining the procedure for social media monitoring and (where necessary) the use of specific tools, as well as budgets and additional details relating to the number of employees needed.


        Gaby Perfahl
        Steinbeis Consulting Center for Business Performance (Munich)

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