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Healthcare social media 101: Getting started with social media marketing for practices

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Social media has become a critical component of healthcare marketing because it gives practices the opportunity to connect with current and prospective patients — and drive them to their websites where they can learn more information and request appointments. Some 87 percent of consumers said they are likely to visit a brand’s website or app when they follow them on social.1 Social networks also topped the list of sources of inspiration for consumer purchases: 37 percent of consumers said they find purchase inspiration through social media networks.2

In “Healthcare social media 101,” we explain why there’s a place for social media in healthcare, how to get started with healthcare social media marketing, what type of content you should share, how to grow your audience, and how to measure success.

How healthcare practices can get started with social media marketing

Why healthcare social media marketing?

Although young people were the first to adopt social media, people of all ages regularly use social networks like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram today.

Almost 70 percent of U.S. adults are Facebook users.3

That translates to an estimated 174.7 million U.S. adults on Facebook that you could potentially reach with social media marketing.4 To successfully market your practice, you must meet your audience where they are. And in this day and age, they are on social media.

Healthcare social media marketing allows you to build authentic relationships with your patients on social networks, and research shows that social media users want to connect with their healthcare providers.

More than half of Millennials and 42 percent of adults are or would like to be friends with or follow their health care providers on social media.5

Plus, as an expert in your field, people may look to you for your expertise and thought leadership. Most people are likely to trust information posted by providers, and research shows that people trust information from providers more than information from hospitals, health insurers, and drug companies.6

Creating social media profiles is also great healthcare marketing because it further expands your online presence and increases your chances of being found by patients. Almost three out of four people have looked online to find out about a doctor, a dentist, or medical care — and more than half do so with regularity.7

Patients like to research their providers online and do so even after receiving a referral:

91 percent of patients say they always or sometimes conduct additional research after receiving a referral from a healthcare provider.8

Social media in healthcare also allows providers to give patients a glimpse of the patient experience at their practices, especially if they’ve included photos on their pages. And similar to a directory, social networks like Facebook allow practices to provide customers with business information like address, phone number, and hours.

Getting started on social media

The first step to using social media as part of your healthcare marketing is to define your healthcare social media strategy. A well-defined social media marketing strategy will help you focus your approach, so you don’t waste your time and energy.

Ask yourself: “What are my specific healthcare social media goals?” Your goals might include:

  • Broadening your web presence 
  • Driving more prospective patients to your website
  • Building a relationship with current patients
  • Establishing yourself as a thought leader

You also want to ask yourself, “Who is my target audience?” Both of these questions will help inform social media decisions and the type of content you will share. It’s important to keep in mind that healthcare social media should be a complement to the rest of your healthcare marketing strategy and should not be your only method for attracting and engaging with patients.

If you have not already, set up accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. These are the three most popular social media channels among social media marketers, respectively, and are among the four most popular channels where consumers follow brands on social.12

Setting up your accounts


On Facebook, log in to your existing personal account, and create a page for your business. Because you’re creating a page for yourself or your practice, you’re going to want to select the option to create a page for your business or brand. It will prompt you for your page name and to select a category. For the category, you may choose to identify yourself as a doctor or dentist, or you may choose to identify yourself by your specialty (i.e. dermatologist or podiatrist, for example).

When you’re selecting your Facebook name, keep in mind that the name will also be in the URL.

It’s what you will promote and how potential patients will find you. Keep it simple, relevant and memorable: The name of your practice is often the best choice.

Fill the About section on your Facebook page with as much detail as possible. Include the basics like your location, phone number, email and mailing addresses, hours of operation, and what services your practice provides. Also, include links to your website, so visitors can learn more about you should they choose.

Your Facebook profile picture is what people will see in their Facebook feeds. It identifies your practice, and it plays a vital role in marketing your business. If your Facebook page is only for you, you may consider using a professional headshot. If you have a logo, the profile picture would be a great place to use it.


To get started with Instagram, you’ll need to choose a username. Do research beforehand to find a social media handle that is available on all the social media channels you intend on using — even better if it matches the URL to the Facebook page you just created. People expect your social media presence to be consistent, and it helps you to only have to remember one username when you’re promoting your accounts.

Like your Facebook Page name, your Instagram username should easily identify you and be simple, relevant, and memorable.

Choose your name or the name of your practice (i.e. @drjohnsmith or @drsmithpediatrics).

Link your Instagram account to your Facebook business page, and switch your Instagram account to a business account. This will allow you to place prominent calls-to-action (CTAs) on your Instagram page, insert business information such as location and hours, and view more advanced analytics regarding your post reach and engagements. Some of the business information you’ve included on your Facebook page will autofill onto your Instagram account.


You need to come up with a handle, or username, for your Twitter account. Ideally, it should match your Instagram handle. If you cannot get an exact match, try to get as close as possible. If you already have an account and would like to modify your username, both Instagram and Twitter allow you to modify your username at any time.

Writing “About” descriptions/biographies

All of your social media channels should include a bio. Your bio lets people know who you are and what you do. If the social media account is for your practice, it allows you to describe your brand.

Although you don’t want to be too salesy, you do want to let people know what makes you a great doctor and how to contact you.

Including interesting, light-hearted tidbits in your bio can also make you seem relatable. Facebook allows for a higher character limit than Twitter and Instagram, respectively, but it’s important to be clear and concise in all of your descriptions.

Choosing profile and cover photos

Your profile picture is the most prominent expression of your brand on social media. It identifies who you are, and it’s what people will see the most as they scroll through their feeds. If your business profiles are representing you as a healthcare provider, consider using a professional headshot. The photo should be high quality and be somewhat close up, so followers can identify your face. If your accounts are for your practice, use your practice logo as your profile picture. This should be consistent across all of your accounts.

Both Twitter and Facebook allow you to choose cover photos, which is a banner at the top of your profile. Facebook even allows you to upload a video to this section of your profile. This gives you another opportunity to showcase your practice to prospective patients.

Most pages include cover photos on their accounts, so leaving this blank can make it seem like your profile is incomplete. Consider sharing a photo of your waiting room, facilities, or your team. The suggested dimensions for the cover photo vary per social media website, but all channels will give you a preview of how it will look before you publish to your page. A best practice is to use a large, high-quality landscape image. After you select one, preview how it will look on both desktop and mobile.

Sharing content on social media

Types of content to share

Consumers’ top reasons they follow brands on social media are to learn about new products or services, to be entertained, and to stay up to date on company news.13 Patients are following you to learn about what you can offer them and be alerted if you have a change in hours or staff or maybe even add a new location. Patients also want to see engaging content.

The types of social posts that encourage the most engagement are posts that entertain, posts that inspire, and posts that teach.14

Try sharing inspirational patient stories (with their consent, of course) or sharing information about a treatment you offer.

No matter what content you share, you should follow the 80/20 rule. This means that 80 percent of your posts should be compelling, non-promotional content, while 20 percent of your posts should be concentrated on your brand or have a call-to-action (CTA) related to your practice.15

A few content ideas to consider include:

  • Research summaries: If you’ve recently published new research, consider sharing snippets of that information on social media.
  • Blog posts: Publish blog posts on your website and then share links to those blog posts on your social media profiles. Blog posts can answer questions that patients frequently ask, they can discuss your treatments and services, or they can talk about timely topics.
  • Photos and videos: Showcase your staff and your office space in photos and videos. Also consider showing off your patients, with their written permission.
  • Media articles: If you are quoted in a media article, share that, too. Even though the article is not original to you, your quote is. Plus, you can add more context to the article in the post itself.

Instagram is all about images, so it’s an opportunity to showcase beautiful visuals and get creative in how you market your practice. On Instagram, try using Stories to go behind the scenes, share images of you attending networking events, or feature new products and services.

Length of posts

The only social media channel with strict character limits is Twitter. Historically known for its 140-character limit, Twitter doubled its limit to 280 characters in 2018, which allows your Tweets to be a couple of sentences. Although you may have to worry less about your posts getting cut off by Facebook and Instagram…

...industry research suggests that shorter posts receive more engagement than longer ones.

Many marketing websites post guides to optimal character lengths — just Google [social media character limits] — but the length is not as important as writing posts that invite engagement. Some tips:

  • Get personal: People love stories, so tell yours. Do more than share a link or video; explain what the content means to you and why you’re posting it.
  • Use a compelling quote: Let’s say you publish a blog post in which a woman shares her experience with a recent surgical procedure and how it has changed her life. Pull a gripping quote from the article and use that in your post.
  • Ask an engaging question: “Do you agree with…?” “Would you rather…?” “Have you ever…?” These questions are a strong start to engaging posts.

Remember that Instagram is a photo-sharing app. Therefore, your caption is primarily there to add context to the photo you’re sharing and shouldn’t be too long or take the focus away from the image you’ve shared.

Use of hashtags

Hashtags are used on all social media websites. Hashtags are descriptive and clickable keywords that are used to tag what your message is about. For example, if you click on the hashtag #beach, you’re likely to see oceanic views from across the world.

Hashtags are most popular on Twitter and Instagram and can help people find your posts. Twitter can be used to engage with your peers in the medical community: Hashtags such as #PatientExperience, #Nurses, #HealthcareForAll, and #physician are often used by thought leaders in the health space.

You can also create your own hashtags. If you have your own logo or brand, make it a hashtag by simply putting the pound symbol (#) in front of it. Tags like #drjoesheathtips or #dentistdilemmas can become something your followers begin to look forward to seeing.

When there’s a big news item, look for the hashtag(s) associated with it. If there’s a new breakthrough in cancer research or a viral outbreak, you can pull in a new audience looking for your expert commentary.

On Twitter, results are best seen if you limit your tweets to including one hashtag.16 On Instagram, it can be tempting to post north of 20 hashtags to increase the visibility of your post, but limit your use of hashtags to about five to 10.

Posts with nine hashtags see the most engagement on Instagram.17

Scheduling content in advance

Scheduling posts in advance can help streamline your approach to healthcare social media. Some social media management platforms allow you to schedule to multiple social sites at the same time and keep track of any messages you may be receiving. Some of the most popular include HootSuite, Later, and Buffer.

Growing your social media

If you’re just getting started with your social media accounts, you’re going to want to build your audience. The first step in growing your followers is posting valuable content. As we discussed in the previous section, consumers want content that is entertaining, inspiring, and educational. By posting engaging content, you will organically increase your follower count.

Using sponsored content

Sponsored content is an ad that looks like organic content. It appears in the newsfeed, and users can react or comment just like they can with organic content.

Sponsored content is becoming a necessary part of social media marketing, particularly on Facebook.

One study found that organic reach began to dip below 2 percent for some Facebook pages as early as 2014.18

With sponsored content, you can reach people beyond those following your accounts. Similar to other types of advertising, you can target specific audiences with similar interests, by location, and even build look-alike audiences using a patient list. This increases the likelihood that your content will be seen by prospective patients, and that they’ll follow your page to learn more about you or your practice.

Sponsored content also helps spread brand awareness, so patients who are not yet ready to visit your practice now are more likely to recall it when they do need care.

Engaging with others

Online relationships are often no different from those in real life in that they are a two-way street. You must engage with other social media accounts — people in your area, people in your professional network, medical organizations and associations — in order to get the most from it and for people to want to follow you.

After all, being “social” is the name of the game. So, if you’re engaging with others through liking, commenting, and sharing, you’ll see that in return on your own valuable content.

Be mindful of HIPAA

In any case, all information healthcare providers share online must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) — but don’t let this scare you away from growing your online presence. Simply follow guidelines for protected health information (PHI) before posting to social media.

Protected health information is anything that can be used to identify a patient. This includes patient name, age, gender, occupation, date and time of the appointment, geographical information (such as city and county), important numbers, and vehicle information, among others.

Of particular importance when discussing social media are the use of patient photos.

You may not share photos of a patient without their explicit written consent, even if it's just the back of their heads or a leg or arm.

Remember to never give specific or personal clinical advice on any of your accounts. When patients are followers, don’t address them as such, even if they identify themselves first.

If you choose to give responsibility of social media to your front office staff, be sure to educate them on HIPAA and establish a set of rules to maintain your practice brand. If you’re taking a picture or video in your office, make sure there’s not any documents with PHI visible in the background.

Monitoring social media success

When you’re investing time, energy, and money into a social media marketing strategy, it’s important to measure the results of your efforts. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all give users insight into how their posts are performing. If you’re using a social media management system such as HootSuite, you can view analytics for all of your accounts in one platform. 

We recommend tracking the following metrics:


  • New followers: Take note of your followers. Is your audience growing? If so, keep track of how many new followers you are receiving every month. This will give you an idea of the rate your accounts are growing. That way, you’ll know when you have a particularly great month or slow month.
  • Impressions or post reach: Impressions track how many people have seen your posts. This is an important metric to keep in mind because, to be effective in healthcare marketing, you need more eyeballs on your content and more people to be aware of who you are. In fact, most social media marketers (70 percent) list increased brand awareness as their top goal for social, and tracking impressions is a good way to measure awareness.
  • Engagement: An engagement is an action someone takes on your content. This includes liking, commenting, and sharing, but it could also include swiping through a photo slideshow or watching a video you’ve posted. An engagement shows that someone did not just scroll past your post and is an indication that people are interested in the content you’re posting. Monitoring your engagements can let you know whether your content is resonating with your audience.

Healthcare social media is a great way to attract new patients and build your online reputation as an expert in your field. This whitepaper gives you a foundation to help establish your accounts, start posting regularly, and build authentic relationships online, so use it to jump start your social media efforts.

Remember, social media is just one part of a comprehensive approach to healthcare marketing. To learn more about other components of a successful healthcare marketing strategy, visit

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Healthcare social media 101: Getting started with social media marketing for practices

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