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Twitter a Healthcare Marketing Tool? Maybe.

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, December 10, 2008

From the moment I heard about the social networking site Twitter I was skeptical. The premise—people post short reports (140 characters or less) about what they're doing and send them out across the Web in live time—seemed absurd. Really, who has time to follow the minutia of people's lives? Who cares if someone is eating an apple at the airport or feeling sad that their sports team didn't win?

And there's only so much time you can dedicate to social networking sites. I don't care how cool it is or that everybody else is doing it. I don't know about you, but I have work to do.

On the other hand, Twitter is a potential marketing tool. And although it's good for reporters to be skeptical, we're also supposed to know a little something about subjects before we express that skepticism. So on Tuesday afternoon I signed up for my own Twitter account.

I hate to admit this, but it was easy. It was kind of fun. And I did discover a baker's dozen of potential marketing applications—from promoting your fundraising events to organizing focus groups to boosting blog readership. Keep reading for my "top 13" list.

Yes, it was a little confusing at first—anything new is bound to be. But after poking around the site for a little while I figured out how to do several things. The first thing I did was announce that I am writing about Twitter.

Here's what else I did on my very first visit to Twitterville:

  • Learned that "following" is Twitter talk for subscribing to someone's tweets—and "tweets" is Twitter talk for the short posts that members write.
  • Looked for sources in the healthcare marketing field. (Let's just say the pickings were slim.)
  • Checked out the twitterings of Paul Levy, President and President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and signed up to "follow" him. No, not stalk. Follow. Coincidentally, later in the day he twittered: "Who are all these people following me?"
  • Found a bunch of new healthcare marketing resources, including a couple of blogs and some online articles, two of which you'll find in today's Editor's Picks section.
  • Followed a link to an article about whether robotic surgery actually improves quality of care or if it's just a marketing ploy.
  • Answered a question about healthcare marketing conferences and mentioned the HealthLeaders Media Marketing Awards event.
  • Read a tweet from a healthcare consumer who called the ability to e-mail his physician "heavenly."
  • Read another from a healthcare consumer who was mad that a hospital advertises its open MRI but doesn't let patients use it unless they have a claustrophobic attack.

So I got a couple of healthcare marketing story ideas, found some interesting articles to share with you in this e-newsletter, and plugged the HealthLeaders Media Marketing Awards. Then I got a little bored. And it was time to get off the Internet and write my column.

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