Gauging Social Media Strategies in Hospital Marketing

By Hillary Eames
Wednesday, May 1, 2019

A recent study provides insight into what makes hospitals’ social media posts successful — and what turns audiences off.

The study, by social media marketing company Convince & Convert, reviewed all public Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts made in February 2018 by 53 of the top hospitals in the United States. Convince & Convert used Rival IQ, a social media analytics company, for content analysis, reviewing more than 10,000 posts. Successful posts were chosen based on engagement rate, total engagements and types of engagements, such as likes and comments.

High-ranking Facebook posts, Instagram posts and tweets usually contained photos and told uplifting stories of successful patient outcomes, or they celebrated hospital staff.

Story First

“Hospitals, by definition, are replete with extraordinary stories,” says Jay Baer, founder of Convince & Convert. In social media outreach, it is essential to keep those stories front and center.

“The hospital has to take a back seat to the story,” Baer says. That’s what people react to in social media.”

For example, Indianapolis-based IU Health — one of the organizations studied — saw success in relating a story on Facebook about a car accident victim who was given only a 1 percent chance to live but survived after receiving care at the IU Health Trauma Unit. The post had more than 1,400 reactions, shares and comments on Facebook.

Baer theorizes that consumers find stories more engaging than other types of content, allowing a hospital to present its brand in a positive, informal way. Storytelling helps drive business to a facility over time. (See “Instagram Success in Hospital Storytelling” to identify a unique feature the platform offers for social media marketing.)

“You’re trying to create a kinship,” Baer says, “and you have to trust that kinship will equal desirable financial outcomes at some point in the future.”

Promoting Positivity

However, not all stories are created equal, explains Seth Bridges, founder of Rival IQ. Although effective posts vary from one social media platform to the next, one similarity arose from the study: People do not want to feel they’re being subjected to overt marketing.

“Posts about uncomfortable topics seem to not do as well on Facebook,” Bridges says. “In some of the lowest-engagement posts, the topics are prostate cancer screening, breast cancer screening, menopause, mammograms ... things that people would not like to think about or ... that may be vaguely uncomfortable.”

Social media, for many consumers, is a place of belonging and trust, and while the right marketing can be extremely effective, calling attention to it can be jarring.

“No one comes onto social media saying, ‘I wish I could just get a promotional ad for my local hospital,’” Baer says. “Sometimes, we still see businesses and hospitals making it a bit too much about [themselves] and not enough about the story.”

An Ongoing Process

The study concluded there is no one-size-fits-all formula for marketing success in social media. In part, Baer says, this is due to algorithmic changes on platforms.

“The social media algorithm changes frequently and without warning,” he says, “so what works in one particular snapshot in time may not work 30 days later.”

Bridges agrees, recommending hospitals research what works for them and their competitors.

“Your own data about the posts you’re doing is going to inform that [research],” he says, “and the only way to do that is to do the experiment [because] there’s so much variability.”

Baer urges hospitals to be nimble.

“Find your best story and tell it,” he says. “Then commit to routine and ritualized testing because you don’t know what’s going to work until you test it. You might think you do, but ... each post succeeds based on a different set of circumstances. You have to always be experimenting.”