Checked your Facebook wall in the last hour? Is your Twitter feed chirping? If so, you’re not alone. The numbers are staggering – but not surprising. According to the Pew Research Center, 71 percent of Internet users are on Facebook. Twenty-three percent are on Twitter. Drill down to discover that more than half use two or more social media channels.
Yet Facebook is central to the social media experience. Pew found that 70 percent of folks on Facebook use the site daily and 45 percent engage with Facebook several times each day.
More online women than men use Facebook (77% vs. 66%) and more young people 18-29 than seniors 65+ use the service (87% vs. 56%), but beyond that, it appears as though Facebook is the great equalizer. There are only four percentage points separating the most and least educated users (74% vs. 70%), a five-point spread between users at the highest and lowest income levels (72% vs. 77%), and two points’ difference between those living in urban and rural areas (71% vs. 69%). Latinos have the highest usage (73%) and Blacks the lowest (67%), with whites resting near the middle (71%).
What does this mean for urgent care centers? Greg Matthews (@chimoose), creator of MDigitalLife and managing director of healthcare marketing and communications consultancy W2O Group, sees social media as a proactive marketing tool. “Because urgent care is strictly a fee-for-service business, getting the patient in the door for the right thing at the right time is critical,” he says. Leveraging social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare enables urgent care centers to connect with people in the communities that surround the centers’ locations, he says.
Jake Miller (@JakeNews), Marshfield Clinic Health System media relations/social media lead, advises that urgent care centers just branching out into social media start small – and start with a plan. “What’s realistic?” he asks. “What are your expectations?” He cautions, “Don’t start a Facebook page without knowing how you’re going to respond” to feedback.
Mathews says that, before even thinking about content creation, its crucial to prime the pump. “Make sure you have an audience with whom you can connect – and that it’s the right audience,” he says.
Twitter is the social media channel where it’s easiest to find connections based on a common interest. “I would find and follow the Twitter accounts that are likely to be followed by people in my community and only people in my community,” Matthews says. For example, potential patients include people who follow the Twitter accounts of local hospitals, school districts, and news stations. “The best way to gain followers is to initiate the relationship,” he says. In other words, if you follow your potential patients, they’ll likely follow you.
Next, Matthews advises finding and liking local organizations’ Facebook pages, and then asking them to like your urgent care center’s Facebook page. Point out that you’re both serving the community and that you can help each other out. “Unless they’re in a competitive situation, it’s not a difficult thing to do,” he says.
Lee Aase (@LeeAase), director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, says that Facebook pages are the electronic equivalent of the yellow pages. “A Facebook page is a social media home base,” he says. “It’s a place for people to find out your hours of operation and location.”
After getting your Twitter and Facebook ducks in a row, take ownership of your locations on Foursquare. “Once you claim your locations, Foursquare will let you see the data that’s behind it,” Matthews says.
Finally, it’s time to think about content. “Be present in the channels you’ve created,” advises Matthews. He says that one tweet a day “has an enormous impact on your followers,” and suggests posting to Facebook three to five times per week.
He acknowledges that the thought of that much content development can be intimidating. “With a little strategic forethought, though, it’s not as hard as it sounds,” Matthews says.
With a monthly content calendar, he says, it’s easy to plan out one or two months worth of posts. “In October, a third of the posts can be about flu shots. Another third can be about healthy back-to-school habits. Another third can be in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” Matthews says.
One thing a content calendar never includes is a sales pitch. “Nothing will say, ‘Hey, come to my urgent care center,’” says Matthews. But, he advises, one in four messages should be about the urgent care center. “Highlight one of your providers. A service you offer. Something that differentiates the center and makes it appealing,” he says.
Marshfield Clinic’s Miller echoes the no-sales-pitch message, saying, “You have to share content that people want.” But that doesn’t mean you have to write it all yourself. “If you don’t have resources to create your own posts, take time to find relevant content and share or retweet it,” he says.
Sharing and retweeting is also a way to serve the community. “Congratulate the local middle school for winning the band competition. Be on hand to support the opening of the new library down the street,” Matthews says. And encourage others who care about the community to do the same. “This is a way to help potential patients know that you care about the same things they do,” he says. “It’s a way to stay very present with your audience.”
Still sounds too resource-intensive? Matthews says that a standalone urgent care center could have an active social media presence by devoting 60 to 90 minutes per month developing a content calendar, and 15 minutes per day scheduling posts and monitoring feedback.
Mayo Clinic’s Aase says the resources needed to effectively nurture and maintain a social media presence depends upon the organization’s goals. “Some might hire a contractor to help produce content and oversee management,” he says. “Others may have a desk attendant or receptionist who can do some of the monitoring.”
There are a variety of both free and subscription-based tools that help organizations schedule and monitor posts (see sidebar). Miller says his team uses Hootsuite as a tool for both scheduling posts and for engagement. “Tools help our team be able to prove our worth and constantly measure and adjust,” he says. “It’s like traditional media monitoring, but with social listening tied in.”
Miller says that tools can prevent urgent care centers new to social media from getting overwhelmed. “You don’t want to get in over your head,” he says. “You can schedule posts using tools. You can get alerts for when folks have a question for you online.” He says that alerts deliver peace of mind, so that you don’t have to worry that a posted comment will be neglected.
Matthews reiterates the importance of scheduling and listening tools. He also suggests adopting a reader tool to get RSS feeds from local newspapers, local health bloggers, and other local healthcare publishers. “You want to avoid having a need, and then having to go out and do a bunch of research,” he says. “With a reader tool, you can make sure that the content you want is reaching you in real time.”
If your urgent care center has already mastered the basics, it may be time to step up your game. Mayo Clinic’s Aase says, “Getting a Facebook page is like adopting a puppy. You need to take care of it and feed it. Starting a blog is like getting a pony.” While some organizations can have staff write blog posts during slow times, others may want to use a contractor who can write regular, quality content.
You may also be ready to shoot and host videos on YouTube. According to MDigitalLife’s Matthews, short interviews with doctors, nurses, and administrative staff familiarizes potential patients with your clinic and personnel. “It makes the first visit seem like the third visit in terms of how much they trust you, because they feel that they already know you a bit,” he says.
Aase encourages urgent care centers to make educational YouTube videos about common conditions and post links on your Facebook page. “They could actually help make office visits go more quickly,” he says. “When you’re rooming a patient, you could show the video.” That can build rapport and deliver information.
Doctors and nurses can help move your social media efforts forward by writing a few Facebook posts or tweets. “The more healthcare professionals get personally involved in the process, the more it tends to resonate with patients,” says Matthews.
But he warns against ghostwriting posts on behalf of your medical team. “If it’s disingenuous, it defeats the purpose,” says Matthews. “It’s pretty easy for Dr. Jones to say, in his own words, here is why flu shots are important and this is what your experience will be like at our urgent care clinic, and then post it with his picture.”
Similarly, for organizations with multiple locations, Matthews says that each should have its own social media channels. “Because of the importance of personalization, there’s a tremendous benefit for each clinic to establish its own voice and personality, and to feature the people who deliver care in those spaces,” he says.
That’s not to say there isn’t a role for the home office. According to Matthews, corporate leadership can build health-related content and schedules, recommend which Twitter accounts to follow and Facebook pages to like, and provide a list of businesses around the clinic’s location. “That takes the burden off of the local shop,” he says.
You have your accounts set up. You have the right audience. Your content calendar in place. You start posting to your social media channels. Now you need to listen. Marshfield Clinic’s Miller says that urgent care carries a greater emotional charge with patients than other healthcare settings. “Good or bad, they’re sharing it,” he says.
Aase agrees, saying many organizations have trepidation about embracing social media because of concerns about negative comments. “If you’re not there, you’re just not seeing what’s already being said,” he says.
Often, patient feedback happens in real time, and an urgent care center with a social media presence needs a response plan. According to Miller, that includes noticing if someone in the waiting room has posted about the center on social media. If the post is negative, Miller says the manager could walk out and talk to the person. If positive, she could say, “Hey, thanks for the kind words.”
Aase finds that, more often than not, folks are fair. “People are typically more positive on social networks than they are in general because they’re using their real names,” he says. “They don’t want their friends to know they’re being unreasonable.” He says that, on Facebook, this accountability leads to more responsible commenting.
Miller says that monitoring can also pave the way for more business. Noting that Marshfield Clinic has urgent care centers in two vacation destinations popular with Chicagoans, he says, “You can’t provide advice or diagnoses online, but it’s nice to quickly point them to the nearest center, or connect them with the nurse line. Being accessible can go a long way.”
Some urgent care administrators get queasy at the idea of engaging with patients in public forums like Facebook and Twitter. Miller notes that Marshfield Clinic has a protocol for engaging with patients via social media. “Patient privacy is a priority,” he says. “It’s also a big challenge.”
Mayo Clinic’s Aase asserts that urgent care centers have fewer issues around privacy than those in other healthcare settings because the patient’s issues are more transient. “You’re not publishing information about patients. You’re publishing educational information. If patients choose to comment, then it’s on them,” he says. “It’s not a violation for the provider to have a place where a patient made a comment.”
Similarly, Aase brushes aside concerns that having a social media presence may be perceived as practicing medicine on the Internet. “You’re not practicing medicine,” he says. “You’re offering education.”
The Business Case
Miller says that, in its infancy, a digital content strategy may not produce an immediate, measurable return on investment. “It’s a long game,” he says. “Don’t expect overnight success.” Miller says that reputation building, community engagement, and audience building serve to form a solid foundation upon which to garner ROI.
Promotion can be part of the ROI equation. MDigitalLife’s Matthews emphasizes the need to adhere to a broad strategy of building a local audience, then doing outreach to engage that audience. As an example, he says, you can see who’s checking in within five blocks of your urgent care center via Foursquare. “Say, ‘I saw you went to Whole Foods down the block. We’re offering a discount to anybody who’s eating healthy at Whole Foods.’”
Advertising can pay for itself as well. Miller says, “Last year we ran an urgent care paid campaign. On our social ads alone, we had 6.6 million impressions and 10,000 clickthroughs. The cost-per-click was lower than we expected. We saw a lift in visits to urgent care tied to the whole campaign.”
Mayo Clinic’s Aase says that targeted Facebook advertising is invaluable. For example, if you’re posting information about the importance of flu shots or back-to-school physicals, “spend 10, 20, or 30 dollars doing a geographically and demographically targeted Facebook post. It’s a way to stay in front of people.”
Aase disagrees with those who would argue that employing a strategy like educational YouTube videos promotes self-care over clinic visits. “The very nature of urgent care is that you have a pressing problem and are looking for help,” he says. “Enabling people to have your center top-of-mind isn’t going to cannibalize your practice.”
As an example, Aase says that someone with an eye infection may watch the video, but won’t be able to obtain eye ointment unless she sees a clinician. Similarly, an out-of-towner could learn of the clinic through watching the educational video. “Creating educational resources could definitely help a local practice,” he says.
The Bottom Line
According to Matthews, the more an urgent care center’s leadership is committed to using social media as a communication channel, rather than a means of advertising, the more successful social media efforts will be. “Communication implies that it’s not unidirectional,” he says. “It’s about listening to my community and sharing things I have reason to believe that they’ll care about.”
“When you’re authentic, timely, and genuine, the benefits are huge for everyone,” concludes Marshfield Clinic’s Miller.
Social Media Toolbox
The right tools can make social media engagement relatively seamless. This selection of free and subscription-based tools represents the range of available helpers.
Social Media Dashboards
Social media dashboards help with scheduling, tracking, productivity, and analytics.
Hootsuite (hootsuite.com) enables you to manage social networks, schedule posts, monitor conversations, and track analytics. Subscriptions start at $9.99 per month, and can be scaled to accommodate large social media teams with varying permission levels.
Sprout Social (sproutsocial.com) allows you to draft, schedule and publish posts, manage social media profiles, and monitor your brand. Monthly subscriptions start at $59 per user per month.
Rignite (rignite.com) is robust software that enables you to schedule and monitor posts, but also to run campaigns and contests. Subscriptions start at $28 per user per month.
Sendible (sendible.com) provides the ability to monitor and engage via social media, measure your impact with in-depth analytics, and generate prospective leads based on specific interests and needs. Subscriptions start at $59 per month for two users.
Photography is critical to creating engaging social media posts.
Shutterstock (shutterstock.com) is a stock photography website that enables you to search images using various keywords and parameters. Pricing ranges from “image packs” (e.g., two images for $29) to monthly subscriptions (e.g., 350 images per month for $169).
iStock (istockphoto.com) is a stock photography website that offers monthly subscription packages (e.g., 250 images for $199) or pay-per-download pricing (e.g., 6 credits for $60, but each photo costs more than one credit).
Wikimedia Commons (commons.wikimedia.org) offers images that are free to use with proper attribution and adherence to varying licensing agreements (e.g., Creative Commons).
Compfight (compfight.com) searches images and can find royalty-free images from flickr and other sources. These free images can be used non-commercially in accordance with the images’ licensing agreements (e.g. Creative Commons).
There are several apps that can help with various tasks associated with social media engagement.
feedly (feedly.com) is a news aggregator app that enables you to keep tabs on topics related to urgent care or to your community, so that you can respond more easily and promptly on your social media channels.
if and do (ifttt.com) are two apps that allow you to create “recipes” in order to add a bit of automation to your social media management. For example, you could create a recipe that says “if someone follows #MyUrgentCare on Twitter, then follow their Twitter account” or “If someone retweets my tweet, then favorite the retweet.”
everypost (everypost.me) allows you to curate content from social media and the Web, schedule posts, and customize content when you cross-post to different platforms.
The Gold Standard
Photo: Christo and Melissa Phillips
When it comes to healthcare and social media, Mayo Clinic represents the gold standard. Under the direction of Lee Aase, the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media works to empower healthcare consumers to advocate for their health and to help the healthcare community use online channels to share information with each other and with the public.
A cornerstone of Mayo Clinic’s leadership is the Social Media Health Network (SMHN) (http://network.socialmedia.mayoclinic.org/), which is comprised of more than 100 organizations that work toward advancing the use of social media in healthcare. Membership in SMHN is available to urgent care centers, hospitals, patient advocacy organizations, and medical practices. Aase says that both individuals and organizations are welcome to join.
According to Aase, SMHN welcomes those who are just dipping their toes into the waters of social media, as well as those who are active in social media channels. “It’s a community of people who think it’s important to apply these tools in healthcare, and those who can help navigate and share best practices,” he says.
In addition to online resources, SMHN offers a social media residency that teaches residents about professionalism, risk management, and compliance; using social media to further organizational goals; measuring benefits and return on investment; and adopting best practices in using social platforms.
SMHN offers online continuing education courses and webinars, and presents its capstone conference, Social Media Week, annually in June. The Center for Social Media’s book, Bringing the Social Media #Revolution to Health Care (ISBN 978-1893005877, 2012) is available on Amazon, or as a free e-book to members.
Social Media Case Study: Marshfield Clinic Health System
With more than 50 locations (including 9 urgent care centers housed in clinics), more than 750 physicians, and more than 7,000 allied providers and staff, Wisconsin’s Marshfield Clinic Health System has the resources to develop a robust social media presence. And while Marshfield Clinic has been active in social media for several years, it’s only been slightly more than a year since it formed a social media team and connected the dots between the organization’s mission and its social media strategy.
But it hasn’t wasted any time getting up to speed. With close to 11,000 Facebook “likes” and more than 2,800 tweets (@mfldclinic), social media is a tool that enables Marshfield Clinic to fulfill one of its objectives. “Part of our mission is to provide quality health information beyond the physician’s office,” says Jake Miller, Marshfield Clinic media relations/social media lead.
To that end, Miller’s team deploys a content and engagement strategy to deliver relevant information that increases consumer awareness of Marshfield Clinic while burnishing its reputation. While Miller is the only Marshfield Clinic team member with “social media” in his title, there are about a dozen people on his team – writers, graphic designers, editors, SEO analytics experts, technology experts, videographers, and photographers – all of whom also have duties unrelated to social media strategy.
Miller says that his team posts to Twitter multiple times per day, though “Facebook is where we spend the most time.” The organization’s Shine365 blog, which features daily posts, launched in October 2014 as a replacement to a quarterly 400,000-piece print mailing. “The blog is more relevant, and allows us to be part of the conversation,” says Miller. It may seem counterintuitive, but Miller says, “You won’t find advertisements and you won’t find marketing” on Shine365, on the organization’s Facebook wall, or in its tweets. “You’ll find stuff that you can use in your everyday life,” he says.
Marshfield Clinic has developed standing features that act as community engagement pieces. “’Motivational Monday’ is one of our most popular features on Facebook,” Miller says. Whether posting photos with inspirational quotes, promoting blog content, or reposting information from credible sources like the New York Times or American Health Association, the purpose is to “help people lead richer, fuller lives,” says Miller.
When it comes to social media, Miller’s team has learned that timing is critical. “We don’t want to inundate people,” he says. “Any trendline change, and we’ll back off.”
At the same time, Miller’s team piggybacks on trends when possible. For example, a February measles post took off on Facebook. “We managed to have it hit when there were two suspected cases in counties we serve,” he says. “We got great feedback.” The measles post was shared 50 times and received more than 200 “likes.” When a post has legs, the team can choose to promote it or boost its visibility.
When it comes to Facebook, Miller says that “likes” are a trailing metric. “We are constantly looking at how we’re doing compared to others,” he says. “We don’t look at ‘likes,’ but rather we look at engagement rates.”
But content is only one facet of Marshfield Clinic’s social media strategy. Equally important is customer service. “We keep a close eye on what type of feedback we’re getting,” says Miller. The team not only looks at negative and positive reviews, but also tracks and responds to feedback in real time. That necessitates a close relationship with Marshfield Clinic’s patient experience team. “We share things with them in real time,” says Miller. “We work with them to get an answer or feedback to someone.”
While acknowledging that it’s impossible to keep everyone happy, patients respond when they know that a real person is listening to their concerns on social media. “That can change someone quickly from being a detractor to an advocate,” says Miller. “People have taken down negative reviews, though we never ask them to do that. That one star review goes from a rant to nothing, or they turn it into a five-star.”
Miller relates an interaction his team had with a patient who posted a selfie taken in a Marshfield Clinic waiting room with the message, “This is the face of someone defeated by the waiting game.” A member of Miller’s team responded, “Do you want someone to reach out to you?” The patient replied, “No, it must be a grind.” The Marshfield rep replied, “No, it’s our mission, not a grind.” The patient shared the exchange, and people who saw the exchange reposted it.
Miller acknowledges the challenge of social media engagement for standalone urgent care centers. But, he cautions, “If someone has a good experience or a bad experience, they’re having the conversation online whether or not you’re part of it. Being part of it is a must-do.”