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5 keys to achieving ROI from your social media

All aspects of social media were addressed during the Connecting Healthcare + Social Media Conference, produced by NYC Health Business Leaders, last week in New York, with one of the most pressing issues being how to see financial return on your social media efforts.

Chris Boyer, director of digital marketing and communications at Inova, outlined five keys to achieve ROI from your social media.

1. It's all about trust. Considering an automated system to run your social media efforts? Think again. According to Boyer, social media is all about trust — something that simply doesn't happen with a robot running the show. "Trust leads to humanization," said Boyer. "Social media is about us, as people, as individuals and as communities of interests." Mommy bloggers, diabetes patients and other groups of people connected through health is "what social media is all about," he continued, adding that trust needs to be the corner stone of any organization's social media efforts. "There's no room for crappy products or services with social media. Nothing we do is hidden any more. As a hospital, our marketing can be we have great doctors or services or the best HCAHP scores, but that isn't [going to] build trust."

2. Social media is crucial once patients start to care about their experience. According to Boyer, there is always going to be a "continuum of I don't care," with the patient only caring about an organization when there's a pertinent health situation. "They care somewhat about hospitals, and after their treatment, they care a lot; they have opinions. If you think about what they're doing, they're hearing at parties, 'don’t go to this hospital,' and they're researching you and sharing opinions." Once patients start to care, Boyer said, their opinions become critical, and, in turn, they influence those around them. "These people are getting influenced by opinions, either good or bad, and the ones who don't care don't show their opinions. Social media allows you to communicate to all these people in relevant ways, but different people want different things at different times and social media lets you do that."

[See also: Social media becomes a business intelligence strategy .]

3. Social media allows patients, hospitals and more to work together and improve outcomes. Boyer explained that his company, Inova, took the concept of a "community of interest" and turned it into the site It began by building a repository of questions moms were asking, and from there, grew to include an e-newsletter, a "Find a Doctor" button and more. "Six months in, we had 1,500 people click through to find a doctor, and 800 sign up for the e-newsletter," Boyer said. "What we're sharing is a story for building a business case for social media. We created a site to address questions, and for patients to ask questions through social media. It's about building a business case, which is going to help you immensely."

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4. Wanting ROI from your social media efforts is to be expected. According to Boyer, it's time for organizations to measure what they're doing in a better way. "We want to give out better care because we want to help people," he said. But, at the same time, he continued, "we need to be financially profitable. We're in business, and we're doing business." Boyer added he believes there's ROI to everything, including social media, contrary to popular belief. "When I talk about social media ROI, I feel like I'm King Solomon asking people to cut the baby in half," Boyer said. "But I'm not. I'm not asking [them] to do anything unfathomable. I'm asking us to be financially sound. We should all strive to have relationships with patients but be fiscally responsible, because, really, if there's no margin, there's no mission ... talking about financial return seems cold and callus, but we need to do it."

[See also: 7 keys to getting healthcare execs on board with social media.]

5. There are three ways to measure ROI from your social media efforts. According to Boyer, the term "ROI" is often used to express things like return on opportunity, return on engagement or return on action. "This isn't ROI," he said. "ROI isn't related to these things. We can measure fans, followers, etc., and you can find 100 ways to measure social media efforts, but there's nothing in there about financial return." He added ROI always needs to be tied to dollars and consists of financial gain and saving minus costs, divided by costs. Boyer then went on to outline three ways to measure ROI from your social media efforts:

  • Meeting growth goals. For example, he said, an organization can look to elective procedures and the number of patients looking to undergo them. "It's where we're trying to bring people in," he said. "I know we don't like to talk about it, but it's true." Boyer added social media helps lead to other marketing initiatives, like websites and seminars. "Use tools to measure attribution," he said. "Lead social media fans to convert. Did Facebook lead to someone doing a webinar, and how many of those people turned into patients? That's attribution. It's leading fans to convert, to opt in and provide information."
  • Lowering costs. According to Boyer, an organization should take advantage of the fact "everyone's on Facebook" and invest in lower-cost solutions, like videos to host seminars and conferences instead of renting out a room. Other examples? Moving print publications to online, which not only saves printing costs, but also allows for easier measures of engagement. Boyer also looked to the lifetime value of a patient, and, he said, this is where the reform of ROI comes into play. "Adopt inbound versus outbound tactics: not focusing on growth, but focusing on building engagement." Social media helps with understanding what patients do and don't like, and, in turn, can help with "building the lifetime value of the patient and understanding how all that ties together."
  • Increase satisfaction and loyalty. People do care about things, said Boyer, just not the fact your organization recently bought a robot to perform surgery. So, he suggested, start talking about things people do care about, like wellness and fitness. Boyer and his team took to Pinterest to post healthy recipes, links to exercises, sports classes and more. "A lot of people follow those things, and it helps us to build trust," he said. To see ROI, Boyer continued, use these types of outreach programs to cross promote other initiatives in things like newsletters. "Moving forward, we're looking at this as we're sharing and communicating, and embracing health and wellness, and see that? It's wellness on demand. That's important. We want to draw people in and engage them early on. And that's what ROI means to me, and that's why I care so strongly about it."

For more about Chris Boyer, visit or follow him on Twitter, @ChrisBoyer