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Twitter Tips: Social Media & Healthcare Marketing

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Twitter logoHow to take advantage of online social media

The explosion of social and community centered websites is an Internet evolution that seems to be everywhere. But approach with care. These are upper-level marketing tools for some healthcare organizations, group and individual practices, hospitals and businesses. This is the second in a series of articles about social media and healthcare marketing.

Social media is the new marketing firestorm.

Be careful...there's a strong temptation to be drawn into the online flames just because they seem to be everywhere. LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace, FaceBook, YouTube are some of the biggest, and chances are you may have already tested the waters. But do so with caution.

We recently had a call about social media and online marketing from a practice that had never done any marketing at all. And we also saw an extremely poor attempt at creating a YouTube Channel that didn't have a proper website. Those are two false starts.

We call it shiny lights syndrome.   "Look, over there, something shiny, exciting and new. Let's go do that next." (If you are a shine-aholic, don't worry, there's hope for you. Stewart has been known to chase a few shiny lights, too.)

Social media is generally an advanced strategy that won't produce effective results without first having a solid lineup of basics in place first. The baseline for healthcare organizations, hospitals and practices of all types is—you first need the fundamentals of a great website, ongoing patient generation systems, and a well-considered marketing plan before moving up to the social media strata.

That said, this article—the second in a series—presents our take on social media and marketing tools. To start, we'll focus on Twitter...one of the fastest growing of the social network sites.

Twitter is a real-time short messaging service that works over multiple networks and devices. Launched in 2006 as a free micro-blogging service, users can post and/or read brief text messages (known as" tweets"), limited to 140 characters.

The Twitter concept is to build a community of followers. Messages are posted on the author's profile page and are delivered to followers (subscribers). Users can also send and receive tweets or updates as phone text messages. You can follow others, and others can follow you.

Some people follow everyone who follows them, but we suggest you be selective about whom you follow because you simply don't have time to follow hundreds or thousands of people. There doesn't have to be a quid-pro-quo.   People should follow you because they are interested in what you have to say, and vice versa.

Still, one of the great things about Twitter is that it is not like email. You won't get a cluttered up in box with Twitter. Where email is like a fire hose rushing water at you so that you have to respond (or at least delete messages), Twitter is more like a well. You go there when you are thirsty. There's no obligation to respond, or even go to the well at all.

Our Twitter DO and DON'T Recommendations

• DO - register your name so that you own it. If you plan to use it now or later, stake out the space; it's free.

• DO - personalize your Twitter page. There are hundreds of social sites and millions of users, so move beyond the free customization that comes with Twitter. There are a number of free template sites online (Google "free Twitter templates") but if you are serious about this, get a branded one designed for yourself. (We can do this for our clients as part of their larger branding packages. Call for details.)

• DO - provide great thoughtful useful content. At 140 characters, it can be challenging. Many of our Tweets include intriguing headlines, with links to robust content.

• DO - Monitor Twitter chatter about your organization, products and or services. Respond when appropriate. Dell computers is famous for being terrible in this area at first (remember the exploding laptop battery and foreign customer service agents), but now they are terrific in monitoring and responding to problems before they get out of hand.

• DO - include important keywords in your Twitter bio so that people looking for you or your subject can find you.

• DON'T - share anecdotes about your cat's adorable new kittens. Unless you are a rock star or celebrity, other people don't care.

• DON'T - try to follow thousands of people. Our recommendation is to start with a handful of thought leaders in your field...maybe up to 100. This is a great way to tap into thought leaders and actually get a lot of value out of Twitter.

• DON'T - use the automated services (bots) that follow thousands of others in the hope they will follow you. It's not a popularity contest, and besides, what are you gaining when your robot follows their robot?

• DO - use helpful applications like Twellow.com (to look up people), TweetDeck.com (instead of twitters clumsy interface), maybe TweetLater.com if you want to spread tweets over time. To shorten URLS so that you can safely stay within 140 characters, use www.bit.ly.

• DON'T - start or expect much too fast. Commit to doing a little bit every day for a couple of weeks. Then, once you know the lay of the land, you'll be able to better evaluate your experience.

• DO - tell patients and colleagues that you are on Twitter, and promote your Twitter address so people can easily follow you. When Stewart attended an internet marketing conference recently, all the speakers had their Twitter address on the final slide.

If you want to really understand the Twitter world, DO read "The Twitter Book," by Tim O'Reilly and Sarah Milstein.

In Conclusion...

Twitter can be strictly personal, entirely business or something of a cross-over; in short bursts of text. It's a network of user-generated pages (sometimes about goods and services) that can be promoted within the network.

Twitter (and social media) are advanced marketing strategies and may not be for everyone. And don't go there except as an adjunct to the basics, like a sound marketing plan and a solid website.

If you are trying to monetize your Twitter efforts, get in line with everybody else. Some people are using Twitter to drive lots of traffic to their websites and therefore making sales, but we recommend you think of Twitter more for passive research and recreation (when you follow someone) or publicity (indirect free press) when someone follows you.

Once in awhile you may have some great content on your website that can also lead to sales. When so, go for it, but be judicious. No one likes a spammer.

Check with us before you leap into the social media phenomenon, and watch for additional articles in the future. And in the meantime, your can follow Stewart at @StewartGandolf and Lonnie at @HCSuccess.

Or you can reach out to us by email or just pickup the phone. It may be old school, but it's still highly effective to simply call us at: 800-656-0907.

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