Social media allows healthcare professionals to interact with their patient population in real time on a more personal level. When planning your social media strategy, get clear on what you're trying to achieve and start with the platforms that your audience (and competitors) use most.

One caveat, don't spread yourself too thin by using too many social media channels at once. Just because a new channel is popular doesn’t mean it’s right for your organization or your audience. Focus on what you know you can do well first, then experiment with extending your reach.

To help you make the most of consumer engagement on social media, we've compiled the following list of social media best practices for healthcare professionals.

  • Don't offer medical advice over the internet. Instead, have multiple responses drafted and ready for consumers who post questions about an illness or injury. For example, you might direct them to the physician or department who can best answer their question. In your post, be sure to include the provider's full name, specialty, and the phone number they should call for appointments.
  • Do take control of the conversation. Maximize your success in local search by housing patient ratings and reviews directly on your website and provider pages. Consider partnering with a reputation management solution provider who can help you implement and manage the program.
  • Don't try to remove or delete negative comments. Many review sites won't allow you to remove negative reviews in the first place. As for those that do, removing negative reviews can backfire. Try looking at them in a more positive light. Even negative reviews offer an opportunity to engage with consumers and take steps to enhance your consumer experience. Remember, future patients will be taking note of how you handle the situation as well and may use it in shaping their next healthcare decision.
  • Do respond sincerely to consumers offline. Rather than responding immediately (and perhaps emotionally) to negative comments or reviews, step away from the forum and consider responding offline. If the review isn't anonymous, consider contacting the patient by phone or inviting them back to your office to resolve the issue. You can always make the same invitation as a reply to the comment as well.
  • Don't try to collect and upload patient reviews yourself. Many sites, like Yelp, don't allow organizations to solicit online reviews. Instead, encourage patients in person, via email, or on your social media channels, to leave a positive review on various sites.
  • Do use visual content. According to Hospitals & Health Networks, social media posts with visual content get 120 percent more engagement than text-only posts, and video content is shared 12 times more than links and text posts combined. How does visual content perform on popular social media channels? HNN also reported that Twitter video views have increased by 150 times in the past year alone and that by 2020 most of Facebook will be video content.
  • Don't invest in age-inappropriate digital content. The content you share on social media should be tailored to the type of patient who uses that platform the most. Learning how different age brackets of your patient base engage with you digitally will help you determine which channels to invest in. A CRM solution is also a great tool that can help you determine how those same channels convert to downstream revenue.
  • Do plan your content. Develop social media and content posts for your healthcare organization in advance and use an automated posting tool, preferably one that offers automatic post boosting and analytics on performance. By creating a content calendar, you can be one step ahead of winter colds and spring allergies.
  • Do replace previously scheduled posts with posts addressing emerging health issues like flu outbreaks and other timely news topics, if it makes sense to do so.
  • Do grab interest and be brief. Consumers want quick, easy-to-digest answers without having to read entire medical journals about their treatment options. Consider using visual and easily consumed content, such as infographics, to further increase consumer engagement.
  • Don't disclose personal information. HIPAA very much applies to online reviews, meaning you can't discuss the particulars of a reviewer’s case, or even acknowledge that he or she is your patient, unless the reviewer personally consents. Keep your comments general, discussing how your practice provides healthcare to all patients. 
  • Do implement a social media policy. Work with your communications and human resources teams to draft and implement the policy so that all employees are aware of, trained on, and committed to it. This will help to protect against HIPAA breaches and avoid negative perceptions of your organization.

And, one final bit of advice…

Don't go it alone.
When done right, social media for healthcare is a 24/7 job that can easily overwhelm you and your team. Consider investing in a software solution and service that can help you extend your healthcare marketing reach across both organic and paid digital channels.

Want more insight into engaging your healthcare consumers on social media? Read our guide to harnessing the power of Facebook.