Everyone hears about it, many people scoff at it, some people just can’t live without it: Twitter. About 30 of our members have hospital accounts with handles like @WestchesterMed and @Parklandhealth.

Hospitals are turning to social media (Twitter, Facebook. YouTube, etc.) to better connect with patients, staff and the larger community. The benefits range from addressing customer service issues to better communicating with reporters to promoting accolades that the public may otherwise have missed.

As the social media guru for NAPH, I spend a lot of time scanning our member Twitter posts and I have noticed some really great work. A lot of these accounts provide helpful consumer information, link to useful news articles, point users to touching patient stories and link to parts of hospital web sites that users may not have found on their own.

Each hospital’s social media strategy can vary – but it is essential that such a strategy emphasize these main points:

  • Link to content other than your own. This builds trust among users and positions you as a curator of useful content. So the next time someone wants to learn about a health topic that hundreds of news outlets are covering, they will turn to you to read the one story you have selected as most worthy of sharing.
  • Invite people to share and participate in the conversation. Listen to what people have to say about your organization and the things you post on social media. This enables you to (promptly) answer patients’ concerns directly and better understand their perspective. Then take it a step further and actually implement ideas from the community!
  • Have personality. No one trusts a robot. Make sure your posts have a bit of human nature to them! This can include humor, commentary and emotion. One of the best ways to engage the public is to play on what people love – babies! Miracle patient stories! Tales of triumph! Use social media as a platform for building relationships, not just posting links.

Still have questions? Take some advice from a fellow member: Ryan Square at OSUMC was recently profiled in a blog by Ed Bennett, director of web strategy at the University of Maryland Medical System who also has taken the time to track hospitals’ use of social networks.

In this interview, Squire discusses the strategy employed by OSUMC including its goals, attempts to measure ROI and success stories via social media. You can also participate in Bennett’s new “Social Media and the Hospital Workforce ListServ.”

For more information, feel free to contact me directly or check out NAPH’s social media: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr.

My parting words – just try it out. Sign up, give it a whirl, ask questions later!