By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
Today I am going to share some important ways that doctors, hospitals and healthcare marketers can use social media to inform the public during the COVID-19 crisis.
- Priority One: Use social media to convince people to comply with social distancing, and consequently help us all, “flatten the curve!”
The US Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, understands the power of social media to help get information out about the COVID-19 crisis. He was recently asked during a Good Morning America interview how to get younger Americans to take the coronavirus crisis seriously. Dr. Adams responded: “Well, I have a fifteen and a fourteen-year-old, and the more I tell them not to do something, the more they really want to do it.”
“We need to get Kylie Jenner, we need to get our social media influencers out there, in helping folks understand that look, this is serious, this is absolutely serious…People are dying.”
Hours later, Jenner responded by exposing myths and sharing the importance of social distancing with her 166 million Instagram followers. “The coronavirus is a real thing…Please stay inside you guys: practice social distancing, self-quarantine. If you live with your parents, you don’t want to home and get your parents sick. You might have it, and not even know and be infecting other people… It’s serious, and, the only way we’re going to slow this down is if we do this since there’s not a cure right now. Nobody is immune to this. Millennials are not immune to this. New evidence actually shows that a large percentage of people in the hospital right now are young adults.”
Jenner’s video was, of course, a step in the right direction, which leads me to ask you…
If the US Surgeon General trusted Kylie Jenner to help get the word out about how we can fight the Coronavirus, don’t you think healthcare clinicians and medical professionals should use their social media accounts to help too?
Let’s face it. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and millions of Americans nationwide still wildly underestimate the seriousness of coronavirus. You have the opportunity – I would argue responsibility – to use your social media accounts to influence others positively.
If you are a doctor or nurse, I recognize that you probably do not have a vast social media following. That doesn’t matter. Clinicians often forget how much influence they have upon the people they do know. When my kids were little, whenever they got hurt or sick, the first person we usually turned to was our neighbor Denise, who was also a critical care nurse. “Miss Pumpkin” (as our daughters called her), wasn’t just a friend; she was a healthcare thought leader for our family and our neighborhood.
Medical clinicians and other concerned healthcare professionals can share information with friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels. Also, don’t forget you can simply email friends and family as well. I know a biologist who copies me (and all his friends) on relevant COVID-19 updates via his personal email.
If you are a professional healthcare marketer, you have enormous potential to educate your community through scale. Your first step will be to convince your hospital or practice leadership that your organization not only can, but should, take a leadership role during this crisis, and “join the fight.”
As I mentioned in last week’s blog about how you should adjust your marketing efforts during COVID-19, now is a fantastic time to build your organization’s thought leadership and brand by doing the right thing.
Certainly, you can start by updating all your organization’s website and various organic social media properties [e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube (see a Healthcare Success Healthcare Marketing and COVID webinar on YouTube), LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.] with important updates and tips.
You can also work with your leadership (e.g., Healthcare CEO, Pharmaceutical CMO, Medical Director) to encourage your doctors and medical practice staff likewise to share info on their personal social media accounts.
Beyond that, if you want to reach your community, you can significantly expand your reach via paid social media advertising. Remember, Facebook and Instagram favor personal accounts over business Pages, and as little as 4% of your hospital’s followers will have the opportunity to see your “organic” (“free”) posts there.
By contrast, you can reach tens of thousands (or millions) of people cost-effectively through paid social media advertising. You have nearly limitless options to influence people through paid social media, whether you use boosted posts, video ads, or other formats. You can create and buy social media campaigns yourself or enlist the help of an agency like ours.
We’ll expand on the benefits of social media advertising in future posts – stay tuned for that.
- Use social media to help guide people in your community who fear they may have the virus.
Due to a lot of missteps and mixed messages, people are confused about what they should do if they think they have COVID-19. What’s more, beyond the general advice that is available everywhere (e.g., wash your hands, do not go out if you are sick, avoid people who look ill), the appropriate course of action can vary by community. Here are some of the questions people want answers to:
- “What are COVID-19 symptoms, and should I get tested?”
- “Where in our community can I get tested?”
- “Should I see my primary care doctor, an Urgent Care, or the local hospital?”
- “Is telemedicine an appropriate first step?”
- “Should I stay home if my symptoms are minor?”
- “How will I know when it is time to seek help at a hospital?”
- “How do I avoid infecting others?”
- “Which hospitals in my area are able and ready to take new COVID-19 patients?”
- “What are the risks of the transmission of coronavirus infectious disease at home?”
- “Is there anything else should I know about coronavirus disease diagnosis and transmission?”
If you represent a hospital or other larger healthcare organization, you may already have answers to some of these questions on your website. If so, great—utilize social media to drive people in your community to your appropriate website pages or posts.
If you do not have coronavirus content on your website, you can add whatever information makes sense. Anything you post must be medically accurate, and you’ll need to ensure appropriate legal and ethical safeguards in place.
Alternatively, you can of course simply share information from trusted sources (such as HHS/CDC Coronavirus/COVID-19 website, the CDC.gov, or NIH.gov) on your social media. (See some additional links and resources below.)
- Use email and social media to inform your patient base with additional, important updates and advice.
Beyond educating the wider community, you should guide and inform your patients (or their caregivers) throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Beyond the fact that it is the right thing to do, your valuable information will grow your authority and your relationship with your patients at a time when they need it most.
In addition to some of the topics we’ve already covered above, you can use social media and HIPAA compliant email to help guide patients with additional tips, such as how to:
- Boost your immune system
- Care for and speak to small children at home
- Deal with fear and stay positive
- Cope with stress or sleeplessness
- Pass the time
- Protect their family
- General information and updates as they become available
Make sure all your communications are informative, relevant, accurate, empathetic, and “in touch” with the current environment. Right now, your tone should generally be serious, but over time as people begin to go stir crazy, you may see an opportunity to mix it up with some lighter content.
My wife’s doctor does a great job of providing this kind of information to patients through email and via Instagram.
Also, for inspiration, here is a helpful email I received from Aetna that describes some COVID-19 benefits they have put into place for members.
- Reassure your patients that your hospital or practice has proper safety precautions in place.
A close friend whose husband has colon cancer emailed me last Friday:
So be sure to communicate your safety measures everywhere you can, on your website, social media properties, via email, on the phone, and in-person at the office. You can even post a video on your website, like this example from one of our clients.
- To attract new patients now or immediately following the COVID-19 crisis, think digital healthcare marketing first.
Just like virtually every type of business, many hospitals, medical practices, skilled nursing facilities, and other healthcare organizations are suffering economically from the COVID-19 crisis.
Some providers can (or must) wait for the crisis to end before they begin marketing efforts to attract new patients, while others need to generate revenue and new patients now. While we believe strongly in the power of traditional advertising, our favorite “go-to” in times like these is digital.
Take, for example, the leaders of a multi-city, specialty practice who contacted me this past Friday. Due to COVID-19, their physician liaisons cannot get in to see referring doctors. Even worse, recent Medicare reimbursement cuts have severely reduced their revenues.
Their specialty is medically essential, so they must remain open for business even though prospective patients and their families are distracted by COVID-19.
Our recommendations will likely include:
- Email and social media campaigns that will reach referring doctors directly, without relying on physician liaisons.
- Paid search campaigns on both Google and Bing networks. We did an analysis, and despite COVID-19, there are still thousands of searches each month for the services.
- As you might guess, based upon the rest of this post, paid social media to reach patients and their families.
- If budget permits, we might test connected TV (CTV) and digital radio.
Remember, due to coronavirus, millions of Americans are staying at home right now, and people are spending more time online than ever. We’ll expand more on that in a forthcoming blog post.
Conclusion: COVID Digital Healthcare Marketing & Social Media
While these are incredibly challenging times for everyone, smart social media and digital marketing strategies can still influence patients in a positive, profound way.
Here are 2 sample emails and some jpegs for your convenience. I am also sharing some credible, “shareable” links below. For more updates on COVID-19 and other important topics, follow me on Twitter, @StewartGandolf.