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Developing a Social Media Marketing Plan

Mark Shelley and Dan Dunlop, September 9, 2009

Editor's note: The following article originally appeared jn the August, 2009 edition of Healthcare Marketing Advisor, a monthly healthcare marketing newsletter published by HealthLeaders Media.

It's time to take your hospital into the world of social media marketing, but first there are a few items to consider. Too many organizations are pursuing social media without first developing the strategic rationale that supports and guides the program. The appropriate first step is the development of a social media marketing plan.

When developing such a marketing plan, there are many tools for you to consider employing, and the options grow more varied every day.

For example:

  • Blogs (e.g., Wordpress, Blogger, and Typepad)
  • Social networks (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Ning)
  • Microblogging (e.g., Twitter, Pownce, Tumblr, and Jaiku)
  • Social bookmarking/content sharing
  • (e.g., Delicious, Digg, Diigo, Fark, and Squidoo)
  • Discussion boards and forums
  • Online video (e.g., YouTube and ICYou video)
  • Patient communities (e.g., Patients Like Me, MedHelp, Daily Strength, and Revolution Health)
  • Podcasting
  • Photosharing (e.g., Flickr)
  • Presentation Sharing (e.g., Slide-Share, myplick, and SlideBoom)
  • Virtual worlds (e.g., Second Life)
  • Wikis
  • Widgets

But looking at social media tools is really putting the cart before the horse. You should get familiar with these tools, but before taking action, you need a strategy for how you'll engage your stakeholders and target audiences using social media.

How do you get started? Generally, your social media marketing plan should emulate the following typical marketing communication plan:

  • Identify goals and objectives
  • Conduct market analysis (e.g., look at trends, needs, competition, and best practices)
  • Implement social media program
  • components, including integration
  • with a traditional campaign
  • Assess and allocate resources
  • Monitor and measure

That's the big picture. The following steps specify what you should consider when creating a social media marketing plan for your hospital. Although there are several steps to the process, this need not be an overwhelming endeavor. Given what you already know about your market and your target audiences, you should be able to draft a preliminary social media marketing plan in just a few days. Don't try to write a book.

Keep it simple and direct. For example, focus on:

Participation. If you're not involved in social media, get involved. Consider this remedial training. At a minimum, join Facebook, LinkedIn, and start following some industry blogs. You will find it difficult to sell or even construct a social media marketing plan if you aren't familiar with the functionality, strengths, and weaknesses of the various platforms.

Culture and preparedness. Start by assessing your organization's appetite for social media. How risk averse is it? Fear in the C-suite is one of the major obstacles you'll face when implementing a social media marketing program. Determine the steps you need to take to bring members of your leadership along and prepare them for this venture into the world of social media. Start feeding them a steady diet of articles, white papers, and books on the subject.

Ideally, presenting them with a well-reasoned, strategic social media marketing plan will help make your leadership more comfortable with the idea.

Target audience. Define your target audience and key stakeholders and research how they use social media. This will provide insights that you can apply to your plan.

Objectives and goals. Take each group (e.g., grateful patients, referring physicians, employees, reporters, influentials in the community, and your board) and outline its associated marketing objectives.

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