Social media for hospitals: Without it, 'you don't exist'

Three-quarters of Americans are using some sort of social media, and 85 percent of them want companies to interact with them, according to Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communications and the media manager for the Mayo Clinic.

Hospitals that don't adopt social media are missing a huge opportunity to build their brand, Holtz said at a recent webinar hosted by CareTech Solutions, a Troy, Mich.-based healthcare IT vendor.

Only 10.3 percent of hospitals are currently using social media, and some of them are very small, according to Holtz. Healthcare and financial industries are late to the game, but analysts say they will account for the greatest growth in social media by 2014.

Holtz said the problem may be that hospital executives are squeamish about how to use social media.

"It's time to get rid of the term 'social media' and call it 'media,' because there really isn't a difference," he said. "Hospital leadership thinks blogs, Twitter and Facebook are not of value. (This media) has really penetrated all demographics and the way constituent audiences perceive an organization."

Hotz said a hospital can no longer get by with just a Web site.

"People are spending less and less time going to destination Web sites because their attention is occupied by content created by other people," he said.

"If your audience is in the social spaces, then you need to be there, too," Holtz advised. "If you don't have content there, then you fundamentally don't exist for most of those people."

What can hospitals do with social media?

For starters, Holtz said hospitals can coordinate damage control in the event of a negative situation that has received media attention. The first 24 hours after a crisis is when the public forms an opinion. Press releases can be issued, he said, but personal information on Twitter, for example, can spread thestory by word of mouth, much quicker and much more believably to one's audience.

Hospitals can also build their brand and reputation by creating a "bank of goodwill" through stories about the organization's care and services that your patients and staff share on social media.

Also, social media can help measure success.To do so, one has to set up specific business goals, such as attracting more people to thehospital, building support for a new construction project or building one's reputation. Once those are in place, a hospital can develop tactics through social media, and can prove the strategy is working.