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7 keys to getting healthcare execs on board with social media

As social media continues to be employed as part of a healthcare organization's business strategy, there are bound to be some who are leery of its benefits. But according to a recent whitepaper by the Healthcare Association of New York State (HANYS), refusing to recognize social media as a valuable source of communication is quickly becoming a major "don't."

"Failure to clearly articulate a case for a robust social media program, whether in financial or other beneficial terms, could result in fewer resources, poor market position, and potentially missing opportunities to provide timely care to those who need it," wrote the whitepaper's author. 

The report described seven keys to getting hesitant healthcare executives on board with social media.

1. Plan out how social media will support business objectives. According to the report, many are feeling the pressure to "get on social media" and, in turn, tend to "wing it." Although this yields the occasional victory, obtaining executive support will ensure social media efforts align with core business objectives. "You have to establish your objectives; they have to be measurable objectives that support a strategy, that support a business goal," said social media expert Shel Holtz, in the report. John Luginbill, CEO of The Heavyweights marketing firm, asked why spend the money on something unless you get the outcome you want? "Why would you put the effort into any piece of marketing unless you knew what you wanted to have happen?" Luginbill said in the report. "If you don't know what you're getting out of social media … quit wasting your time and money and focus on doing what you understand."

2. Decide which channels are the best fit. With the array of social media channels available – think Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube – the report made clear there are "demographic hot spots" you'll want to understand and monitor to make sure you're using resources efficiently. "Select the network where your audience is, and that will best support your goals," wrote the whitepaper's author. "Start by visiting the more popular social networks and see what people are saying about your industry, your facility and your employees." Additionally, search each platform for keywords associated with your organization to find interest groups and content related to business goals.

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

3. Determine if you have the commitment level and time to make it work. "How much time you will need to plan, execute and measure the effectiveness of your social media strategy depends on what business goals you have chosen," reads the report. William Van Slyke, vice president of communications for HANYS, added the idea of social media being free is a myth. "The tools may be free, but it can take significant staff time to get started," he said in the paper. "And there's a cost associated with that, even if it's the cost of having staff not working on their other projects." Although RSS feeds and tools like Google Alerts and HootSuite can help streamline social media efforts, it all comes down to having the staff time available to create a solid online presence. "Depending on your goals, audience size and nature of your content, you still may need to commit serious resources in the form of staff time to actively engage your audience," the report reads.

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4. Research how others are using social media. Every hospital is trying to meet some sort of business challenges, notes the report, like increasing patient volume, improving outcomes and providing better customer service. "So it is certainly worth understanding how an organization with ample resources is using social media, and considering how you might adapt its tactics to meet your own goals," wrote the report's author. But outright duplicating another's social media strategy could backfire, since it's unique to that organization's specific business goals. "Examples from organizations your c-suite holds in high regard, or even from your competition, may [end] up being some of the most effective tools in making your case," the report reads.

5. Be prepared for objections. C-suite objections to social media are "as varied as the communication tools themselves," wrote the report's author. To know what you're up against, the report outlined several objections to forming a social media strategy. For example, if an exec claims it's a waste of time, the report documented that not only are half of American adults using social media, but usage of social media for those 65 and older has increased 154 percent since 2010. "Empowered healthcare consumers are using these networks to educate themselves, make decisions about where they will receive care and comment on the care they receive," the whitepaper reads. "Social media is increasingly where your customers are."

[See also: Social media for hospitals: Without it, 'you don't exist'.]

6. Measure results. Naturally, a question that's being asked more and more is what is the return on investment of social media? "As healthcare reform takes hold and hospitals look for ways to trim the fat, marketers will soon be asked to justify what their efforts have done for the hospital," noted the report. One key, said Luginbill, is bridging the gap between the "traditionally siloed" divisions of marketing and finance. "They need to learn how to speak each other's language and help each other," he told the report's author. "We've seen it happen. CFOs get really excited about taking the resources in marketing and trying to further their metrics." He added that what's measured grows, and what's both measured and reported grows exponentially. "There should be no money or effort put into anything that doesn't have some kind of thought about what you want to be different from when you didn't put the money or effort into it," he said. 

7. Point out additional benefits of employing social media. Even if you can't currently measure ROI in terms of your bottom line, reads the report, there are other factors to consider when showing the success of your social media efforts. For instance, using social media for reputational monitoring and addressing negative customer comments. "If you can do nothing else, you should at the very least have a system for monitoring online comments about your facility, and a policy in place for how to respond," noted the author in the report. Added benefits of social media to present to higher ups? How about crisis communications and public alerts, education and recruiting. "With the explosion of information available on the Internet, healthcare is no longer a 'black box' to patients and their families," reads the report. "A hospital without an engaging social media presence soon may be viewed with the same suspicion as a business that has no website."

Follow Michelle McNickle on Twitter, @Michelle_writes