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Facebook Fundamentals: A Guide to Social Media in Healthcare Marketing

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Why You Need Facebook and What It Can Do For Your Practice, Hospital or Medical Group

Editor's Note: This is an installment in our continuing series of articles about the intersection of social media and healthcare marketing. A Facebook presence is a basic component of most social media plans, but the platform-and the way people use it-is constantly evolving. Watch for updates about Facebook and other important communications tools for doctors, hospitals, medical practices, pharmaceuticals, manufacturers, health systems and other healthcare organizations.

There are roughly 200 "social networking websites," and most people would not recognize the name of 195 of them. Fortunately, it's the short list of recognizable social media sites that is important to healthcare marketing.

Facebook is the undisputed leader of the pack with close to 700-million registered users, including nearly half of the American population. But more important than size alone, Facebook is fast becoming a primary resource for users looking for health information.

Over 40 percent of respondents in a survey by National Research Corp. rely on social networking for health info, and nearly all of those people (94 percent) turn to Facebook. They are looking for healthy living ideas, such as diet and exercise, to find health events, and to view health education videos from hospitals, medical practices and other healthcare providers.

But social media in general, and Facebook in particular, provides a two-way communications channel for healthcare marketing. Individuals can connect with others interested in the same medical topic, illness or injury, and in some instances give and get feedback from health facilities.

Although Facebook may not be appropriate in every situation, hospitals, pharmaceutical and device manufacturers, individual and group providers, and others in healthcare marketing are increasingly aware of the business benefits that social media holds for them.

7 business and marketing benefits of Facebook.

Here are some of the benefits of using Facebook as part of your healthcare marketing plan:

  • Facebook is (almost) free. There's no charge to create a Facebook account. And it's quick to get started. There's not a lot of time and effort required, but it's not a set-and-forget proposition. Much like your website, your Facebook presence requires regular and active use to keep it fresh and to keep visitors engaged, and vice versa. Facebook advertising—if that's right for you—does require a budget.
  • Think of Facebook as a connected and targeted community. Social media for business is about creating and maintaining connections with an engaged audience. This involvement creates loyalty, satisfaction and a positive patient experience with a specific audience. Facebook provides analytics to track interactions, demographics and other feedback about the community of fans.
  • Facebook provides a "voice of the customer." While traditional websites tend to be a presentation of information, by definition, "social media" tends to be interactive. Communication runs in many directions...from you to them...from them to others...and from them to you. Listening to this interaction and feedback—sometimes, candid feedback—is extremely valuable to understanding the needs and wants of the customer/patient.
  • Facebook extends your reputation and branding message. What you say about yourself, and the way you present the message, is part of your brand and your reputation. Facebook is another "face" that presents your branding message and a means to proactively manage your reputation. (More about reputation management to come.)
  • Facebook boosts search engine visibility and visitor traffic. Search Engine Optimization is by no means a simple or singular effort. But creating a Facebook page and linking to your website, blog, YouTube Channel and other online locations can increase your visibility with Search Engines (such as Google). And that increases your website page ranking which captures more visitor traffic.
  • Facebook is an advertising platform. With and audience in the millions, Facebook provides some easy to use tools to create highly targeted ads...for a fee. (Caution: don't leap into this without a little professional guidance. Your ad budget is for producing results, not to burn-up in learning the ropes.) Facebook advertising can be focused according to audience location, age and interests. And, they happily allow you to pay "only when people click (CPC/cost per click) or when they see your ad (CPM/cost per thousand)."
  • Prospective new patients come from Facebook. For many (although not all) professions, a properly presented Facebook presence can produce patient prospects, new patients, referrals and repeat business. With or without paid advertising on Facebook, elective care and self-referred practices (as in orthodontics or Lasik vision correction) will have stronger appeal than sub-specialties.

Remember that the best approach, however, is in using Facebook as one of several, interrelated tools in a coordinated (synergistic) marketing, advertising and public relations plan.

Personal, Group and Business Pages on Facebook

The three types of Facebook pages can look similar, but each has a different role and basic terminology.

  • A PERSONAL PROFILE HAS FRIENDS - This one's mainly for individuals to have an online presence and to exchange notes, photos, videos, links and other online conversation with friends, family and colleagues. Here the socializing, including updates and News Feed, is among friends-up to a max of 5,000 friends-and direct message with 20 contacts. There's a simple sign-up at Facebook.com that's "Free and always will be," but there is no "commercial activity" permitted at the Personal Profile level.
  • A FACEBOOK GROUP HAS MEMBERS - Like the Personal Profile, there's no charge, but commercial activity is also prohibited in a group. A group, usually united by a common interest or subject, can theoretically have an unlimited number of members, although the message function is capped at 5,000 members and access to the News Feed is constrained. Individual members of a group, however can communicate with their friends, so a viral marketing effect is possible.
  • A BUSINESS PAGE HAS FANS- Of course "commercial activity" is permitted on a Facebook business page. It's free to setup and maintain, but there is a fee to run advertisements. Here the number of fans is unlimited, and thus a Business Page is sometimes referred to as a "fan page." There is no direct message function; instead there are fan "notifications." Visitor statistics and social ads are also available. What's more, a business page is indexed by search engines and can be seen online by anyone.

So...which is best? Individual circumstances or needs might lead you to use any or all of these types.

A personal profile is, well, personal, and social...and probably not appropriate for business objectives. Some business figures have a second, and purely personal account for close friends and family. Professional guidelines point providers away from having Facebook "friends" to avoid potential legal and ethical issues. (We'll discuss legal and professional reputation issues in a future installment.)

Facebook Groups are typically for topic-focused discussions. Accordingly, Groups are often short term, non-commercial, and may be of limited use in a sustained marketing effort. They could, however, serve briefly as support for a primary (business) account.

For anything beyond the most incidental reference or casual mention, commercial or business activity can only be via a business page, according to the Facebook rules. Comparisons indicate that a Facebook business page is the better platform for continuing relationships with customers, patients, fans or readers.

Where do you fit as a Facebook Business Page?

A personal profile requires only a simple sign-up at Facebook.com. But for a business marketing fan page, you'll want to read the various terms and conditions, privacy information and other instructions. You'll need to create one personal profile to login to Facebook, and then you can create and administer one or more business pages.

But as simple as it seems on the surface, Facebook can get a bit complicated. Fortunately, there's a Facebook Help Center. And you're welcome to talk with us about your marketing and advertising message. (Facebook also has a Facebook page...several, actually.)

You may also need some guidance in deciding where you fit among the following six primary categories. You'll need to select one main heading and one sub-heading, so review the full options first, using the dropdown menus at Create a Page.

  • LOCAL BUSINESS OR PLACE - additional sub-set choices include Health/Medical/Pharmacy, Hospital/Clinic, Professional Services or Spas/Beauty/Personal Care.
  • COMPANY, ORGANIZATION OR INSTITUTION - sub-options such include Health/Medical/Pharmaceutical, Health/Beauty and others.
  • BRAND OR PRODUCT - secondary headings are Drugs, Health/Beauty and a dozen or so other options.
  • ARTIST, BAND OR PUBLIC FIGURE - there are additional headings for Doctor, Public Figure, Teacher and more.
  • ENTERTAINMENT - further options relate to various types of companies in that industry.
  • CAUSE OR COMMUNITY - no drop-down options...just name your cause.

Look at a few Facebook Business Page examples.

The design and layout of a Facebook business page is similar to a personal page. The Mayo Clinic page is a good example.

The logo and branding appearance carries over to the Facebook page. The Wall tab (where most people will begin) presents Mayo's News Feed, along with visitor comments. The Info tab begins with "request an appointment" phone numbers, with space for topics such as "about" and "mission." There are other tabs for pictures or videos, events, questions and links, plus user-defined tabs for even more customization.

Facebook for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (in the Non-Profit Organization category) has a custom tab about the opening of their Yawkey Center, as well as tabs for contests and a poll.

Should you have a Facebook page?

We like Facebook. And in the social media world there are a lot of benefits in playing the biggest game in town. But—and this is an important BUT—we can't recommend any healthcare marketing strategy, tactic or media in a vacuum. Facebook isn't going to do an effective job without other basics in place, and if it fits in a well-considered overall marketing plan.
Facebook can build loyalty, enhance your brand (reputation), drive traffic to your website, help with search engine optimization, give you a forum to interact with patients and the public, and more. Let's talk...it might (or might not) be right for you.

More in this series: Social Media in Healthcare Marketing

Facebook and other social media platforms are constantly evolving. Watch for more about Facebook in this continuing series of articles from Healthcare Success. Our in-depth article titled How to Profit from LinkedIn is online here. We also cover social media and other timely topics on our blog. And, we update the Healthcare Success Facebook page regularly. Please click through...we're certain you'll LIKE us.

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