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Social Media Offer Real Community Engagement for Hospitals

Marketing & Business Development

“I am Haitian” reads the sign held high by Dr. Sharon Henry from the University of Maryland Medical Center. The photo features prominently on the MD4Haiti site was set up to share information supporting the post-Haiti earthquake medical operation. MD4Haiti captures the essence of how hospitals and the wider health community are using Social Media to communicate more effectively online.

What is Social Media?

Social Media is defined as online channels that help people engage and share user generated content. Social Media channels and sites such as Facebook and Twitter facilitate sharing of news stories, video and photo content and to swap and discuss stories. Unlike TV and newspaper advertising, it’s a more democratic form of media because it’s not controlled by corporations and news editors. Social Media also take a number of different forms including blogs, video sharing sites such as You Tube, and Social Media networks such as Facebook and Linked In through to photo-sharing sites including Flickr.

Why ‘Social’ Media?

Before the rise of Social Media, it was surprisingly difficult to interact with information and experiences online. The first era of the Internet, sometimes called Web 1.0, enabled people worldwide to gain access to huge amounts of information and provide greater levels of communication than ever before. However, something was needed to share everyday content such as home-made video to photos and music. It’s easy to understand why Social Media is so popular. We all have a desire to interact, share and engage, and Social Media have evolved through the Internet to allow us to do just that.

How Do Organizations Use Social Media?

Businesses and organizations throughout the world use Social Media to interact with social ‘friends’ and ‘followers’.  People who choose to follow organizations on Social Media sites do so because they want to learn more and engage with a particular organization by receiving news and updates and by sharing their own opinions and content online.

Effective Social Media marketing works by attracting followers and then using creative, thoughtful and interesting online content which engages with them on a regular basis. Social Media savvy organizations raise their profile through the design of material such as humorous video content, exclusive interviews and Social Media applications to share through channels including You Tube and Facebook.

The Rise of Social Media

Social Media is now huge. According to, 99% of Generation Y (18-24 year olds) has a presence on a Social Media site (1).

However, it’s not just young people who have embraced Social Media. The latest research shows that Baby Boomers in the US have also jumped on the Social Media train. In 2009, The Boomer and Social Media report by eMarketer revealed a major rise in Social Media usage among Baby Boomers between 2007 through 2009. Based on data from Deloitte, the report showed that 2009 was the year that Social Media really took off among Baby Boomers, with nearly 47% of them actively maintaining a profile on the social web, up 15% from 2008 (2).

‘Social’ Hospitals

There are many sectors that fit naturally with Social Media, but probably none more so than health and medical. New media channels have helped medical experts, hospital institutions, patients and their families come together to learn, share information and have access to supportive communities. Below are five key areas and benefits Social Media has brought to hospital care and marketing:

  • Community Engagement – Helping people in the local community find out more about the hospital, its work and its people.
  • Customer Service – Learning more about customer issues and concerns through online monitoring and helping to provide a contact point for customers.
  • Education and Information – Bring the traditional hospital role of ‘reaching and teaching’ into the 21st Century through more interactive channels including video and blogs.
  • Online Brand Promotion: Continual promotion of favourable, positive stories online.
  • Crisis Communications: Using online and Social Media to quickly and effectively manage communications and PR during crisis management incidents.

The rise in Social Media is also a huge opportunity for hospitals and their marketing departments.  In the new democracy of online content, smart marketers know that stories and trusted information are highly prized in health communities – as we shall see through the following case studies.

Case Study – University of Maryland Medical Center

The University of Maryland Medical Center is a teaching hospital in downtown Baltimore that provides a full range of services to more than 300,000 patients each year. The Center also offers an impressive offering of speciality services including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Robotic Surgery.

For UMMC, Social Media is not ‘just another marketing channel’. With Social Media, the hospital can enable and enhance word of mouth, promote the UMMC brand and listen to and monitor what’s been said about it online. Probably the greatest advantage for the Center is to establish UMMC as a trusted source on the Web.  Expert and accurate medical advice online can often be difficult to find and UMMC’s Social Media presence, with its emphasis on openness and community helps patients and their families access valuable health information.

UMMC uses Social Media across a variety of different channels. Video lies at the heart of its online strategy and they host videos on the hospital’s website and its YouTube Channel. Their YouTube channel has over 100 videos, which combined gain an impressive 600 views per day mainly from people searching the Internet for trusted, professional information on procedures, surgery and expert medical advice.

UMMC also utilizes popular Social Media channels including Facebook and Twitter to interact and engage with its communities. Over 5,000 people, or friends, receive regular updates from the UMMC Facebook page. The Medical Center shares a host of information through the site including photographs, news updates, an impressive virtual tour of the Center, an ‘Ask the Expert’ section and a range of links to other health-related sites and initiatives. The most prominent section on the Facebook page is the Wall – an updated stream of health content news and updates from the Medical Center. Through its Wall, Facebook friends are served continual Medical Center updates ranging from ground-breaking studies and expert health tips such as a ‘How to avoid digestive health problems’. But the Facebook Wall is not just a one-way street of information. News, views and comments are continually posted by the Center’s Facebook community as well, making it thoroughly interactive.

UMMC also broadcasts and shares social stories and updates with their followers on Twitter. Although it’s a relatively new Social Media channel, UMMC has grown its Twitter profile quickly and successfully and now posts daily tweets to over 4,800 followers.

Case Study – Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is the first and largest integrated, not-for-profit group practice in the world. More than 3,300 physicians, scientists and researchers and 46,000 allied health staff work at Mayo Clinic, which has sites in Rochester, Minn., Jacksonville, Fla., and Scottsdale/Phoenix, Ariz. Collectively, the three locations treat more than half a million people each year.

As Manager of Syndication and Social Media for Mayo Clinic, Lee Aase acts as the driving force behind online engagement. Lee’s team focuses on developing interesting and valuable medical news resources for mainstream media, and using Social Media applications to create deeper relationships with their communities. The team also provide platforms such as our Facebook page and a Sharing Mayo Clinic blog to enable patients and employees to share stories of their experiences.

One of the huge advantages of Internet marketing and Social Media is the ability to send very relevant and targeted messages. Mayo Clinic uses Social Media tools to provide in-depth information on diseases and conditions, and particularly on its latest research, directly to patients and consumers. As such, they are able to produce content such as expert video seminars and educational articles on very niche medical subjects, directly for patients and their families. Such information is far more refined than traditional information outlets which focussed on mass media for large audiences.

But probably the best use of Social Media by Mayo Clinic is through sharing stories. The Social Media team seems to really understand how Internet communities work. Their innovative and creative use of public relations as a tool in creating interesting and engaging stories means their social stories spread through the Internet. As Lee Aase, says “For over 100 years, Mayo Clinic has used positive recommendation and PR to spread good news about the brand, its value and success stories throughout the patient community and beyond”.

When Philadelphia Phillies star Jayson Werth received specialist treatment from Mayo Clinic, it helped solve a two-year wrist injury that had threatened his career. Mayo Clinic was able to craft an engaging story based on the baseball star’s own words telling how treatment by orthopaedic surgeon Richard Bergen got Jayson back in the game. The story was shared and promoted online through a range of Social Media channels including Facebook, Twitter, You Tube Video, Sharing Mayo Clinic Blog and through online news media.

An even bigger online story for Mayo Clinic was the ‘Octanagerian idol’ story. When their marketing team were told about a video of an elderly couple playing piano in its Clinic, they were able to post the clip online. The video soon found a welcome home on YouTube and due to the ‘viral’ nature of quirky and unique video clips, it wasn’t long before people started to share and comment on the story. In fact, it wasn’t long before the clip was viewed by over 2 million people. And the story didn’t end online either. Within a few weeks, the stars of the show ended up on Good Morning America – giving Pop Idol stars a run for their money.


(1). Social Media Statistics Compendium (2009),

(2). Baby Boomers and Social Media (2009),

About the Author

Paul McGarrity is an Internet marketing consultant with over ten years experience in the marketing communications sector. He has devised Internet marketing strategies and managed campaigns using popular Internet marketing methods including online advertising and Social Media marketing. He is Director of Octave Online Communications and writes regular articles on Internet marketing and Social Media.

Paul is a Google Qualified AdWords Professional and member of The Chartered Institute of Public Relations and The Chartered Institute of Marketing.

For further information on Paul McGarrity’s profile:

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