5 Crucial Steps to Take Before Planning a Social Media Strategy

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

person typing on laptop with holographic social media notifications coming off the keyboardPlanning a smart marketing strategy means basing your decisions on data. And today, the data shows that 70% of people use social media. It may not be where prospective patients are actively searching for a doctor, but a solid social media strategy can still build trust with your demographic. And, as you'll see in this article, paid social media in healthcare is one of the best ways to target an audience.

A solid social media strategy requires planning and scheduling to send the right message to people at the right time. Check out our tips for planning your healthcare social media strategy, and remember—this is only part of a complete marketing plan.

Related: Social Media for Doctors: 5 Things Most Get Wrong

1. Get to know the differences between social media platforms

Unfortunately, all images don’t appear the same across all platforms. A Facebook cover photo is a different size than an Instagram post is a different size than a Twitter ad. In fact, a photo on the same platform on a desktop may look a lot different than on the mobile app. Often, a Facebook image may appear fine upon posting, but you soon discover parts are missing when you load the mobile Facebook app.

This is something to double-check with everything you post. Before you create your social media strategy, establish templates so that staff members know what image size to use for Facebook, Instagram, and others. There are plenty of guides out there, like this one from Hubspot.

Getting to know various social media platforms isn't just about sizing images. You should know what users are expecting from various platforms. If your Facebook video is more than 20 seconds long, for example, there’s a slim chance that many people will watch it. If you don't use hashtags on Instagram, there's no way for someone to find your post. Familiarize yourself with these types of details before you start posting.

2. Consider HIPAA—better safe than sorry!

In every post you make, your staff should consider the risk of disclosing patient information. Easy violations for social media in healthcare include office photos with patients in the background (even just a body part!), patient admission dates, and staff comments that address a patient's health concerns—even when replying to a commenter.

If you feel unsure that something is appropriate to post, and you don’t have legal patient consent, don’t do it! You may believe you are disguising patient information, but the smallest gleam of biographical info can give someone away. HIPAA violations are easy to avoid. Certain healthcare organizations (like cosmetic surgery practies that feature before and after photos) can contact an attorney to come up with a standard consent form.

3. Align your brand with your social media strategy

Any marketing strategy should focus on consistent branding across all campaigns. Your social media strategy is no exception. Often, people visit social media platforms just to get a feel for who you are—your doctors, your branding, your front desk staff, etc. A variety of posts can address different motivations people have for finding your social media accounts—like the smiling faces of your front desk staff to assuage fears of rudeness.

Sometimes, a social media account is run by multiple members of your team. One way to ensure consistent branding is by setting up a social media style guide. That way, everyone on your team knows what kind of phrasing to avoid, what tone to set with each post (informative, caring, etc.), and what format the posts should take.

4. Provide a strong variety of content

Some people use social media in healthcare primarily as an advertisement for their brand. As such, they make each and every post a promotional ad. Social media strategists know that this is a mistake.

A good mix of posts helps to build trust and maybe even lead some people in the community to follow you. Informative blog posts are a great way to do this, as people trust the doctor's office as a credible source for health information and will remember that you helped them get the information they needed. You can also post about community events, especially any your staff participates in, and humanize your brand with pictures of the doctors and nurses.

5. Don’t concentrate your budget on organic social media in healthcare

Organic posting on social media can help you get your name out there. It can even improve staff morale. What it probably won't do is drive patients to your organization. Truthfully, few of your prospective patients are likely to follow you on social media before they schedule an appointment.

A following on social media in healthcare typically includes the staff, friends, family members, and a few grateful former patients. Sometimes, practices use a service that will help grow their social media followers, but these “likes” mean nothing when the people following you are not actually in your targeted demographic!

Paid social media is the only way to truly target patients when they’re ready for your services. Facebook and Instagram ads can retarget those who have already visited your website. This is important—Google does not allow health organizations to retarget people through paid search ads, so social media opens up that opportunity. It also allows you to target people by gender, age range, interests, area of work, and more—making it one of the best ways to target an audience tailored to your specialty. As long as you know what you're doing.

In short, using social media requires planning and strategy. After developing a brand and style guide for your staff and educating everyone on HIPAA compliance, let one or two people in the office have fun crafting your professional posts. When you want to effectively target an audience, however, paid social media in combination with a paid search strategy (along with a team of strategists) is a better place to spend your time and money.

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