How Hive Marketing Can Save Social Media for Healthcare

Marianne Aiello, February 24, 2010

A new marketing initiative is more likely to be successful if you have a solid plan in place than if you throw one together haphazardly. But when it comes to social media, many hospital marketing departments lackadaisically join one social networking site or another, trying different things out and hoping one will stick. This lackluster approach won't be feasible much longer—especially considering how fast the popularity of online networking and microblogging is expanding. You need a steadfast approach to social media, and you should start with hive marketing.

Hive marketing is the notion of bringing together supporters of a brand or organization into a community of shared interest (the hive), so they can feed off one another, share experiences, and extend their knowledge about the brand, write Mark Shelley, director of marketing and advertising at Lexington Medical Center (LMC) and Dan Dunlop, president of agency Jennings Co., in a recent issue of Healthcare Marketing Advisor.

"From our perspective, social media is the supreme hive marketing instrument," Shelley and Dunlop write. "Imagine a hive with bees buzzing all around it. Although it might not be apparent at first, the bees are all involved in a common effort… In the hive, there is organization and purpose in what first appears to be chaos."

The bee hive is an easy metaphor for social media—it may seem to be scattered all over the place, but it allows people to come together to buzz passions and ideas, and then fly away ready to share what they've learned. (Perhaps Google had hive marketing in mind when it named its new social feature Buzz.)

Facebook is a natural place for brands to start using hive marketing because many of the site's features encourage sharing and interaction. LMC, which is located in West Columbia, SC, has a Facebook group with nearly 400 members.

"Think about the power of this group," Shelley and Dunlop write. "These are individuals within the community, whose connection with the hospital is strong enough that they are willing to opt-in to a group, publically proclaiming their allegiance for this brand."

If each member of a group has 100 Facebook friends, LMC is one step removed from communicating its message with 40,000 people.

Like Facebook, professional networking site LinkedIn has groups that are conducive to hive marketing. To really get in on the action, you have to join relevant healthcare groups, monitor their discussions, and participate whenever possible, keeping in mind that the LinkedIn voice is different from the one you may find on Facebook.

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