Smiling nurses posing for social media selfie

TikTok, Clubhouse, Reels, Spaces—they’re just a few of the buzzworthy social media platforms and formats that emerged in 2020, rounding out a long-standing lineup of leading networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. There’s no longer any question that social media has gone from a nice-to-have add-on to a necessity for health care marketing.

But as the socialsphere keeps expanding with new or improved social channels—each with its own nuances and unique content needs—how does a time-constrained health care marketer choose which channels are best to reach their audiences?

For those of us who’ve long lived our lives online (for context, long enough to witness the rise and fall of MySpace—twice), we’ve watched organizations, and the world at large, join us in embracing the power of social media to connect with others while staying socially distanced during COVID-19. Digital outreach quickly became a critical lifeline for health care organizations to raise awareness around COVID testing, safety measures, and now vaccinations. In fact, health care industry digital advertising spend in 2021 is projected to be $11.25 billion—nearly double 2017 budgets.1

Now that the spotlight is shining on digital media—and new social communities are springing up left and right—the temptation is strong to dive in headfirst and be an early-adopter of every budding social platform. Digital marketers thrive by staying ahead of the curve and mastering the newest technologies. But then, reality sets in as each channel we join comes with its own special content needs. While it may be enticing to build brand profiles on the hottest new social channels, a health care marketer’s best strategy is to start with an end goal in mind: focusing on channels that most successfully engage patients, clinicians, and staff.

As you evaluate social media channels—new and mature—determining the right ones to reach your customers, consider:

1. Which existing players and skill sets can be part of your social media team?

To be successful on any social media channel, you need a team to manage the day-to-day posting, editorial calendar, content creation, customer service, paid ad campaigns, and performance analysis (either internally, outsourced, or a hybrid of both). No matter the size of your organization, it’s a significant time commitment for one employee to oversee everything—even for just a single channel like Facebook. Posting frequencies, while dependent on your audience and goals, are usually between two to five posts per week at a minimum.

It takes talent to create and curate social content that connects and converts

Creating original, high-quality social media content—at the heart of every strategy—takes a lot of time, planning, and talent. You have to stay on top of trends, research topics that fit your audience, source visual assets, and create converting copy. While you may license tools to help you save time and schedule posts more efficiently, you may also need to build in time for additional teams and stakeholders to review your posts before publishing. A single post could take multiple days, or even weeks, to plan and execute.

Create social customer care to meet needs or address questions

Before selecting any channels, be sure you're staffed to manage the patients or prospects that your incredible content brings to you. While building your organization's social audience, it may seem manageable to have a presence on every network. But as patients find your pages and turn to social media for customer care, it can quickly become a full-time effort just to keep up with your followers' inquiries—leaving little time for creating content, analyzing results, and continuing to grow your followers. Keep in mind, too, that customer care roles require a very different and specialized skill set than, say, content creation.

You’ve got top-notch content—now expand your reach with paid social 

Another best practice for attracting new patients and followers to your pages? Paid ads. While an organic social strategy is focused on nurturing relationships with your existing audiences, paid allows you to reach larger audiences and target your ideal personas. Organic social is typically a longer term strategy that’s technically free, but takes a time commitment and a skilled marketer to do it well. Paid social can deliver a quicker ROI, but it requires a budget and its own form of expertise. Successful brands are resourcing both.

a targeted, paid social ad from THE KRAMES FACEBOOK PAGE

2. What content—and how much of it—do you already have to share?

To meet the recommended two to five posts per week, you need a steady stream of credible, easy-to-understand patient engagement and education content. 61% of consumers say they’re more likely to buy from a company that provides customized content.2  Social media sites have crossover in content types that they showcase, but there are formats and size requirements that make them unique from each other.

Producing high-quality content may seem like a daunting task due to time and budget constraints (as so many teams face in these COVID days), but you may have more content than you realize. Don’t forget about great content that already exists—and that can be repurposed for different channels with less effort than starting from scratch.

As you audit your library, connect with vendors and suppliers and make sure you're leveraging all of the resources available through your existing partnerships. For example, Krames Consumer Health Library clients can access curated digital content toolkits which include social posts, infographics, and articles on trending topics—plus the wealth of content already available in the library to share across their organization's owned marketing channels. Our medical writers and editors can also support this turnkey content with custom content designed uniquely for our clients' brand voices and audiences.

[CASE STUDY: UMass Memorial Health Care, NorthShore University HealthSystem, and other clients' success with Krames content]

3. Are the big three—Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn—social media must-haves?

Facebook and Twitter, with their longevity and millions of daily active users, are the right place to start for virtually all businesses, regardless of your audience or strategy. Nearly all brands have a presence on these channels, so patients and members will expect to find you there. Twitter has grown into a channel for customer service. We’ve seen plenty of unhappy consumers tweet at companies rather than bothering with phone calls or web forms. If a patient has a poor experience with your health system, respond in a timely manner—not only to make that patient feel heard but to also show the community that your organization is responsive to feedback. Beyond being the largest social network, Facebook is also one of the most cost-efficient and effective advertising platforms, boasting 190 million captive users in the United States who click on at least 12 ads per month.3

Organizations with larger workforces may find LinkedIn beneficial to engage their employees and to help recruit physicians and other job seekers. LinkedIn now has almost 740 million members, with 40% accessing it on a daily basis.4 Outside of recruiting, Linkedin is also a great place for your leaders and clinicians to engage with other like-minded colleagues in their chosen fields—with huge user groups for health care information professionals, nursing leadership, and medical specialties.

4. Before jumping on a new social channel trend bandwagon, is it a platform your audience chooses to use?

Trying emerging social media platforms can help you find new audiences and position your brand as innovative. Even if you choose not to establish your brand on a new channel, it's important to have some familiarity and a point of view when someone outside of marketing questions why your organization is not on a certain channel. As the pool of social media platforms continues to grow, understanding who’s using them and why can help you choose which ones to include in your social media strategy.

Instagram: With 1 billion active monthly users as of 2020, Instagram—if done right—can be a great place to showcase a different side of your operations and brand personality. As a 100% visual platform, it’s one of the more time-consuming networks in terms of content creation. However, if you have the resources, it can be a valuable channel for highlighting staff members, volunteers, patients, and potentially even local celebrity influencers affiliated with your organization.

An Instagram post from Baylor Scott & White Health

YouTube: If your health system is investing in TV commercials or custom video content for your website and social channels, it would be wise to also host this content on YouTube. YouTube is part of the Google family, so properly tagged and formatted videos can support your search engine optimization efforts to drive additional ranking authority and traffic to your website. YouTube's contextual advertising capabilities are also an effective complement to a paid search strategy.

TikTok: This newer video platform boasts 1 billion monthly active users5 and a majority of content is a spin-off of a viral video (like the #toosieslide dance trend that provided amusement for many during pandemic lockdowns and has racked up views into the billions). Some big consumer brands are getting into the app now, but TikTok is relatively uncharted territory for health care brands. A quick search shows only a handful of health care accounts posting content, like Boston Medical Center who made news with their video celebrating the arrival of their first COVID-19 vaccine doses. TikTok's videos require a different format and creative approach—but if you have the bandwidth to invest in vertical video creation (video viewed in portrait instead of landscape mode), a presence here could help you build new relationships and loyalty with Gen Z audiences who gravitate to this platform.

President and CEO of the Boston Medical Center health system shares staff TikTok video

Reels: Strikingly similar to TikTok, Reels is Instagram's new short-form vertical video feature. Many larger health care brands already have an Instagram presence, which makes Reels a natural and accessible evolution to an existing Instagram strategy. Plus, experimenting with the vertical video format on a network like Instagram, if you already have a presence there, reportedly offers some advantages over TikTok. According to Markerly research, brands had an average impression rate on Reels nearly double that which they'd see on TikTok.6

Snapchat: Like TikTok and Reels, Snapchat has been in the vertical video game for a while. In early 2020, they made news by launching a new set of tools and custom content around mental health and wellness. Despite this nod toward health care, the platform still bills itself as a place for "close friends" to connect. While a few lucky brands may find success here, the best bet for your vertical video efforts would be to first focus on Reels (and Instagram/Facebook stories), and then TikTok, rather than Snapchat. That being said, Snapchat does allow brands to create location-based geofilters that users in your hospital can overlay onto photos they take in the app. You can take advantage of this feature without having to maintain a full-blown presence on the app.

Mercy Health SnapChat Geofilter Poster promotionMercy Health promotes Snapchat geofilters for new arrivals

Clubhouse: One of the newest networks to bubble up in 2020, Clubhouse is an audio-based social network which has built its reputation, in part, on its exclusive invite-only status. In our world of social distancing and Zoom fatigue, it provides a much-needed respite from the camera-on culture. A quick search in the app reveals Mount Sinai Health System has a presence, and appears to be the first large health system to create an account. It will be interesting to see how innovative health care brands build their clubs and programming on the app. It’s definitely one to watch as it moves out of beta phase and becomes more widely available to Android devices and the public. The format could offer a rare opportunity to connect patients and providers in a safe space to ask questions. For example, a cancer center could host a survivors group to share tips, best practices, and moral support.

Twitter Spaces: Just released in December 2020, Spaces is Twitter's spin on Clubhouse—a voice chat addition to tweeting. Like Clubhouse, this format has potential for patient Q&As, support groups, and live panel discussions. And, like Reels on Instagram, leveraging a new format on a network you're already managing is certainly an easier sell than launching a new presence on a different platform.

Pinterest: More than two-thirds of Pinterest’s base is women. In fact, eight out of 10 moms ages 18 to 64 are Pinners.7 If OB/GYN, pediatrics, or women's health issues are a focus for your health system, and you're already investing in infographics and visual content for your website, Pinterest would be a good channel to explore. Like YouTube, your efforts here can support your SEO strategies with backlinks to your website. Pinterest ads have also shown positive ROI for some brands and could be a way to reach a targeted, niche audience off-the-beaten path. Brands using Pinterest ads’ targeting capabilities see results. More than half of Pinterest’s users have made a purchase after seeing business content on the site.8

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to channel selection

Social media marketing is ever-changing with new networks emerging, old networks evolving, and user bases fluctuating. In the end, the best social channel mix for each organization will look different than the next. Channel selection should start with a thorough analysis of the capabilities of your existing team, vendor partners, and budget.

For resource-constrained teams, start with the most popular and widely used networks and focus on building a solid process for fundamentals before jumping on the newest trending platform. For larger marketing teams who've already mastered the basics of content creation and have additional bandwidth, experimenting with an emerging platform or format could differentiate you and help you grow share of voice in a competitive market. Overall, the most important thing is to keep yourself in the know. Subscribe to our monthly insights for health care marketers to stay on top of the latest news and trends impacting the industry.

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1 Droesch B. U.S. healthcare and pharma digital ad spending 2020. Insider Intelligence Web site. Published September 30, 2020. Accessed March 25, 2021.
2 Correia D. Crawling out of the cave. Dragon360 Web site. Published January 25, 2013. Accessed March 25, 2021.
3 Newberry C. 47 Facebook stats that matter to marketers in 2021. Hootsuite Blog. Published January 11, 2021. Accessed March 25, 2021.
4 Osman M. Mind-blowing LinkedIn statistics and facts (2021). Kinsta Blog. Published March 18, 2021. Accessed March 25, 2021.
5 Bump P. 6 new social media platforms markers should watch in 2021. Hubspot Blog. Updated February 16, 2021. Accessed March 25, 2021.
6 Waters M. Why incumbent brands prefer Reels over TikTok. Modern Retail Web site. Accessed March 25, 2021.
7 Sehl K. 28 Pinterest statistics marketers should know in 2020. Hootsuite Blog Published March 2, 2020. Accessed March 25, 2021.
8 Sehl K. Pinterest ads: A simple guide to set you up for success. Hootsuite Blog. Published January 24, 2019. Accessed March 25, 2021.