10 tips for optimal social media use

By Michelle McNickle
01:28 PM

The days of tweeting, Yelp-ing, and checking-in are here to stay, but as social media’s use expands, certain guidelines are needed to ensure its “optimal” practice in the healthcare realm.  

Christina Thielst, hospital and healthcare administrator and author of the blog Christina’s Considerations, offers 10 tips for proper use of social media in healthcare.

1. Recognize social media as new sources of feedback and opportunities. Use it to connect with various audiences, the public, patients and stakeholders, said Thielst. Most importantly, connect with your audience on the channels they’re already using. “If someone Yelps about the experience [at your organization], you need to know about it,” said Thielst. “Organizations can’t be ignoring social media. Google someone’s name, and you can learn so much about them. I think organizations need to be Googling their name as well.” Another project Thielst suggests? Creating or updating your Wikipedia page. Many hospitals have these pages, she said, whether they know about it or not. “It’s important for them to do that, and I don’t think enough of them are seeing what’s being said,” she said. “They’re risking their reputation.”

2. Avoid taking on too much, too soon. Have a strategy, said Thielst, to avoid confusion. “I have people asking all the time what they should do first about social media, and I say ‘I don’t know,’” she said.  According to Thielst, your strategy should depend on your organization and should fit with your culture and needs. “It needs to reflect a lot of things,” she said. “If you’re a small organization and don’t have a lot of people who understand social media, though, Twitter is an easy start.” Thinking about hiring a social media producer? Although he/she can be helpful, Thielst suggests everyone in the organization have some basic understanding of the foundations of social media. “What you don’t want to do is hire someone, they come on board, and there’s a layoff,” she said. “You need multiple people who can keep the content going.”

[See also: Social media response to East Coast earthquake part of growing trend.]

3. Recognize and manage the risks. Establish policies and guidelines for appropriate use, said Thielst, and take the time to educate staff. “Implement safeguards for protecting privacy and confidential information,” she said. This aspect of social media is important, said Thielst, and is illustrated best in a recent blog post. “Young people are in hospitals, and they have access to private health information,” she said. “Millennials come along, and they’ve been using [social media] since they were babies—they’re comfortable sharing their lives online.” She said to beware of the disconnect between knowing what to share and what to not. As new people come into the workforce, Thielst suggests helping identify boundaries between their personal and professional life. “That’s what’s going to keep us out of trouble,” she said. “It’s engrained in them, unlike us.”

4. Recognize opportunities for improving health and outcomes, and social media's ability to contribute to longitudinal health and documentation. Using social media to track a patient’s progress is also key, said Thielst. Examples of this include Boston College, which uses a “discharge advocate,” or an avatar, to take patients through the discharge process. In addition, other social media platforms are focusing on after-care programs for recovering addicts. “If it’s 2 in the morning, and you have nowhere to go, you can log onto the site, which is always on,” she said. “You can also do virtual AA meetings, where patients check in with micro-blogging technology and a ‘tweet’ of their mood. There are a million ways this technology can be applied.”

5. Use it to enhance the patient experience. “Patients appreciate the opportunity to engage on their social networking channels to stay in touch with family and friends while they are in the hospital,” said Thielst. In fact, blocking access to social media could lead to lower HCAHPS scores. “Access to social media sites may reduce isolation and depression among hospitalized patients, “ Thielst added. 

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