Top 3 Do’s and Don'ts for Social Media in the Healthcare Industry

By Carrie Kerpen Navigating the waters for social media in the healthcare industry is challenging at best, and impossible at worst. To do it well, you need patience (to work through regulatory), determination (to convince skeptics within your organization), and vision (to see the bigger picture of your organizations success in social). Despite the challenges, businesses in healthcare stand have immense opportunity to communicate with their patients and impact their bottom lines using social media.

The following are a list of do's and don'ts for those of you who work at a healthcare company and are struggling with the use of social media for your organization:

DO: Listen. Listen, even if you are not ready to jump into the Social Media landscape. Are you in the "thinking about establishing a presence" stage? Even if you're knee deep into the social media waters, consider listening better. What keywords might your ideal audience be using? Do you have a running search that pings you every time those keywords are mentioned? How about a search for when people mention your competitors? All too often, companies take the "Google Alerts" approach of simply looking for information about their organization...but cast your net further and you'll learn a lot more about consumer behavior, and how they are exchanging information online.

DON'T: Ignore the rules. I was at a conference once where two panelists took completely different approaches when asked how they work with their legal departments. The first panelist said, I involved legal early and often. The second panelist said, act first and ask permission later. In healthcare, there is no question that you must work within regulatory guidelines. You must work with legal, and you must figure out who within the legal department is the person who doesn't just say "no way", but says "no, but try this...". Be an enthusiastic champion for social. Share articles and stories, share case studies...but don't sidestep regulatory. Note: If you can't get past regulatory, then do a LOT of the first "do" (i.e "listening") and continue to show the cost of not responding to your organization. It will get them eventually.

DO: Have a social media policy in place: When the "Motrin Moms" situation hit, the organization was not prepared. Their agency created a seemingly innocuous little video that offended moms across the globe, and it quickly caused a firestorm online for the brand. escalation process, etc. For healthcare organizations, the trick is to be prepared. Whether you're a doctor's office with a staff of 15, or a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical company, having a plan in place for adverse events, violation of HIPPA, responses to negative feedback-- will only help! Having an official policy keeps it all in check. Need to know just how to get started writing one? Check out this great article from Inc Magazine.

DON'T: Hang out in a silo. Social media has millions of people connecting and sharing every day, but when you're the social media person in an organization that is hesitant to jump in, it can feel like the loneliest place in the world. But through education, enthusiasm, and sheer willpower, you can affect change at your organization. The trick is to empower a team of individuals at the organization that are outside of the marketing department who can help champion your work-arounds to communicate with your desired audience. Find a friend in research, in sales, in customer service, and in legal, and you'll have a dream team that's ready to really champion how your social strategy can impact your whole organization.

DO: Encourage your audience to share their story on your social sites. Your patients, your consumers, your install base...they're already talking about you on social media-- according to Eliza, a healthcare communications vendor that specializes in patient engagement, almost one out of every four social network users have followed their friends' personal health experiences or updates. That's a tremendous audience for you to capture. But how do you get them in your community, talking with you, and sharing their experiences so that your organization can grow and improve? The first step is to ask them. Consider using your standard customer touchpoints to reach out and then give them a reason to engage. Medtronic, a medical device company, asked users to share their stories about using a Medtronic insulin pump and how it has impacted their lives for the better. The response was so outstanding that Medtronic opened up their entire Facebook timeline, creating an app that creates a timeline that is truly crowdsourced-- with stories from their own company history mixed with the stories of their customer base! Think about how you can do something like that for your organization.

DON’T: Delete negative feedback. As tempting as it is, don't delete negative feedback from your social sites. The fact that it's on your community is a good thing. Otherwise, it would be shared elsewhere. The consumer is coming to you for a solve. If a post is in violation of HIPPA and you must delete, please make sure that you have a clear policy ON your page that states what is deleted and when. A simple response offering to take the conversation offline goes a long way. In the book Likeable Social Media, Dave Kerpen writes, the four most important words in social media are I'm sorry and thank you. I'm sorry is not an automatic admission of guilt, it's empathizing with someone who has had a bad experience. Thank the person for the negative post, tell them you are sorry they had a negative experience, and then take the conversation off line. The only trick? YOU MUST FOLLOW UP. Ignoring a negative post is like hanging a phone up on a customer....only with millions of people watching. Clear communication will help show what you delete and what you don't, but in general, try not to delete.

Best of luck as you navigate the social media waters. It can be rough out there, but it's a pretty incredible ride.