500 Million Potential Patients on Facebook: Why Your Practice Needs Social Media

Practice Management

Think about the last time you needed information from a vendor, wanted to research a new surgical instrument or needed to choose a restaurant for dinner. If you are like most Americans, you found this information one of two ways: word-of-mouth referrals, or by searching online via computers or smart phones. This basic principal is leading the way for the burgeoning world of social media, a platform to get in front of your audience online using a type of word-of-mouth marketing.   

According to a recent study done by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project:
  • 61 percent of adults look for health information online.
  • 60 percent of online users have consulted blog comments, hospital reviews and doctor reviews, listened to podcasts about healthcare and signed up to receive updates about medical issues.
  • 40 percent of patients use social networking sites.

Additionally, Pew released a report conducted in association with the California HealthCare Foundation that found:
  • 85 percent of adults use cell phones.
  • 17 percent have used their phone to look up health or medical information.
  • 9 percent have software applications (or apps) on their phones that help them track or manage their health.
These numbers continue to rise, as evident with a report by Manhattan Research that was released last year. Their “Cybercitizen Health in the U.S.” survey found that 72 percent of adults (169 million) will have researched health questions by the end of 2010. That is up from 63 million people in 2002.

Social media is a way to connect with people using Internet-based applications such as networking sites, forums or blogs. Today’s most recognizable example of social media is Facebook. According to the site’s recent statistics, there are more than 500 million active users on Facebook. More than 250 million log on to the site each day, spending a total of 700 billion minutes per month using the site.

Companies are using Facebook for reaching and communicating with their target audiences. Now, tools like geo-targeted advertisements can reach exact demographics as Internet users just in Las Vegas. And since companies have the ability to start conversations within fan pages and groups, smart marketers are using the site to get their messages across cheaper and more directly than ever before.

What does this mean for healthcare practices?

Healthcare, like many American industries, is taking tentative steps toward the use of social media to grow their practice and engage current customers. Throughout Nevada, many healthcare practices and groups have launched social media campaigns. One practice in particular that we work with utilizes Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube to share information and tips, provide resources to patients, post client testimonials and engage their patients to share their experiences.

According to a recent post by Las Vegas Sun blogger Steve Green, even the University Health System is moving towards the use of social media, with a prominent blog presented on its site. The blog features “Ask the Doctor,” where patient questions are answered by various specialists from the group’s practice.

How to get started with Social Media

If your practice is looking for ways to connect with current and potential customers to increase retention, word-of-mouth referrals and gain new patients, social media is an inexpensive, direct way to do so.

However, the world of social media is new, vast and can be overwhelming, so it is crucial to develop a plan before embarking on social media outreach. Identifying your target audience, finding out what social media platforms they are using and strategically entering into their conversations through applications and advertising is the best approach. It’s also critical to budget time within your workweek to manage the content and allow the project several months to grow. Assign an office manager or hire an outside marketing agency to assist in the planning and implementation of social media strategy.

What now?
Ask the next 25 patients you see about social media — if they are online and what channels they use. Chances are, the number will surprise you, and hopefully move you into a social media plan of action for reaching those patients and the millions more potential patients already online.

Kassi Belz is a marketing, public relations and social media expert specializing in healthcare marketing. She is based in Nevada and can be reached at 702-433-4331 or Kassi@MassMediaCC.com. Learn more about MassMedia.

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