While participating in social media can often be an afterthought for busy healthcare practices, the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates why connecting with your patients where they are (on their phones!) is of the utmost importance.
Information about COVID-19 is evolving at lightning speed, from local rates of positive cases to vaccine planning and availability. In fact, January’s Google Trending Insights revealed increased online interest in revised CDC mask guidelines, COVID-19 and pregnancy, virus variants, and protective health gear.
Keeping up with the latest pandemic-related information is a challenge. When you pair this rapidly changing landscape with the fact that people are using their mobile devices more than ever, the value of social media can’t be overlooked right now.
The heightened demand for COVID-19 information provides an opportunity for healthcare practices to share clear, valuable information along social media channels and expand their social media follower base — an effort that can contribute to long-term practice growth.
5 fast tips for healthcare practices to maximize the value of social media
We’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that, for the first time, nearly all prospective and current patients are seeking information on the same topic — COVID-19. With 79 percent of Americans using social media regularly, social media channels offer a quick, effective way to respond to this demand, on platforms that reach patients where they already spend time each day. An effective social media strategy can drive more patients to your healthcare practice website, where you can promote your services, and carefully convert site visitors into patients with a clear call to action and convenient online scheduling.
We recommend healthcare practices follow these 5 tips to optimize their investment in social media, especially amidst the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Choose your social media channels wisely.
While social media use varies by age and interest, the variety of available platforms allows healthcare providers to target their messaging based on user demographics. Identify your target audience and choose those social media platforms where they are most likely to seek the latest information on COVID-19, specifically, as well as the type of care you deliver,
For example, practices that provide primary care services such as OB/GYNs, family/internal medicine, or urgent care providers may want to focus on Facebook, where the audience tends to be very community-minded and familiar. If your practice can easily tell a healthcare story by way of images and photos — aesthetics, dermatology, plastic surgery, weight loss clinics — consider building out your presence on Instagram. If you prefer producing short videos about what you do, YouTube is an excellent option.
Finally, if you’re a surgeon or subspecialist, or are eager to build your brand recognition among peers and the media, Twitter or LinkedIn may be the best channels to communicate. with your referring providers who can drive new patient volume.
Use these platforms to share the latest information on COVID-19, to help educate your community and to share ways your practice or specialty is responding. Keep patients updated on the latest pandemic-related news, rapidly changing guidelines, and any practice operational changes such as safety protocols and new telehealth offerings.
2. Develop social media content that establishes you as the healthcare expert.
If you want to enhance your practice’s local visibility, position yourself and your practice as the COVID-19 experts in your community. Even if you don’t offer direct COVID-19 testing or vaccinations, your role as a trusted healthcare provider means patients just look to you naturally for information and answers.
Ensure your posts are authoritative and informative, and reiterate your commitment to exceptional patient care during the pandemic. Stay top-of-mind by using social media to share the latest COVID-19 updates from expert sources like the CDC and/or any relevant professional organizations for your specialty (like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists or American Academy of Pediatrics).
A good rule of thumb is the social media 75/25 rule: Dedicate 75 percent of your posts to information about COVID-19, your specialty, and the community, and 25 percent to something specific about your practice. If you’re having trouble, deciding on content to share, start by proactively answering your patients’ most frequently asked questions. You can use a combination of blog posts and social media: Go into depth within the 500-to-600-word blog post, and summarize it on your social media channel, with a link back to the blog post.
3. Stay active with a regular social media publishing schedule.
Practice operations can be all-consuming amidst a pandemic, but it would be a social media mistake to let your presence taper off once your start. Set a firm schedule for each of your channels (even if you focus on just one) and maintain a consistent presence. This will reaffirm your commitment to keeping patients informed and continue to solidify your practice as a valuable, reliable resource for information. Let your followers know you’ll be sharing information regularly, and encourage them to stay tuned for updates as they become available, and always to engage and participate.
4. Be responsive and engaging across your social media channels.
Any information that healthcare practices share about COVID-19 is likely to generate comments, questions, and feedback. This is exactly what you want in the social media world. Engagement is the key metric in social media, and it can help build your follower base and credibility within your local community.
On Facebook, for instance, local groups dedicated to sharing COVID-19 information have cropped up over the last year — when area doctors, nurses, and other providers join the conversation, their comments are greeted with gratitude and questions. Since social media opens the doors for this two-way dialogue, responding to your followers and other participants is critical.
You’ll want to monitor your feeds daily. When followers respond to your posts or send you messages, try to reply as promptly as possible. Doing so can help strengthen the patient-provider relationship and demonstrates to others that you’re responsive and committed to your patients. Remember never to give specific medical advice in a non-clinical setting. Instead, address specific questions by encouraging patients to call the office or schedule an appointment.
5. Make it easy on yourself and your audience.
When it comes to finding COVID-19 information, your social media followers shouldn’t have to search on your social media pages. Instead, optimize your Facebook profile to include any COVID-19 related services you provide, and consider updating your profile or cover photo with time-sensitive information you don’t want patients to miss (a great idea when/if your practice starts offering vaccines).
You can also mark Facebook posts with a COVID-19 tag that makes it easier for patients to see posts related to the pandemic. On Instagram, consider adding a COVID-19 ‘highlights’ story reel to direct followers to pandemic-related stories that would otherwise disappear from your profile. On YouTube, create a dedicated COVID-19 playlist that’s featured at the top of your page, like Cleveland Clinic has done here, to provide timely information on the vaccine.
No matter which social media channels you use, take this unparalleled opportunity to use social media to build up your online audience, strengthen your patient relationships, and enhance your practice’s local visibility.