One in three hospitals has social media plan

By Molly Merrill
10:19 AM

According to a new study, as many as 90 percent of hospitals and health systems use social media, but just one in three has a formal social media plan in place – something researchers say is key to using such media successfully.

The survey, which was conducted by Atlanta-based Greystone.Net, a provider of Web-related services for hospitals and healthcare organizations, finds that nine in ten hospital or health system of those surveyed are currently involved in social media to some degree.
Yet, in a blog posted yesterday by Jennifer Riggle, associate vice president at public relations and marketing services firm CT/tanaka, she wrote that "Greystone.Net's percentage of engaged hospitals seems overly optimistic... I hazard to guess that many hospitals are simply setting up Twitter accounts, posting videos on YouTube and creating Facebook pages without thinking how they can use these tools to support their service lines and improve communication with the community they serve."

Ed Bennett, a Web strategist at the University of Maryland Medical System, keeps a running tally of hospitals that are using social networking on his blog called "Found in Cache." According to this blog, only 540 providers, or 10 percent of the nation's 5,010 community hospitals, are currently using social media.

"I am not trying to disparage Greystone’s research," said Bennett. "But you have to look at the context of who it is reporting it."

He suggests that the research panel was tilted toward hospitals that would be more likely to be engaged in social media anyway given their size and resources.

Whatever the number, Greystone.Net's research shows that budgeting for social media, including hiring social media employees, is still relatively rare among hospitals and health systems – although many respondents commented that this is likely to change in the near future.

"It is impossible to ignore the effect that social media is having on the Internet in general, and on hospitals and health systems specifically," said Mike Schneider, executive VP of Greystone.Net.  "Organizations that have a formal plan to manage their social media interactions are more likely to be successful, and we expect more and more hospital Web departments to embrace this strategy moving forward."

Bennett says although his hospital has a social media plan, it just serves as a guideline.

"Social media is simply just another way to communicate," he says. "In a few years it’s going to be expected that any organization will have a presence here – because that’s where our audience is living."

Other key finding from the study:

    •    The challenge of monitoring social media is handled by relatively few people within a hospital or health system's Web department (70 percent report having three or fewer people doing so).
    •    Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook are the most popular types of social media for hospitals and health systems, and are also the most effective in driving traffic to the Web site.
    •    Despite the fact that nearly all respondents (92 percent) originally got involved with social media to attract new patients, overall they have not seen results in this area (only 12.5 percent said they had experienced some sort of success).

    •    Hospitals and health systems are struggling to find success with other goals of social media, with only small numbers reporting that they have been successful improving community relations (16.7 percent), customer service (8.7 percent), employee engagement (8.7 percent), and crisis management (4.5 percent).

The research was conducted over a two month period using Greystone.Net's panel of more than 100 hospital and health system marketers.