Is Social Media an Effective Healthcare Marketing Tool?

Anna Webster, May 11, 2011

Social media is a marketer's campaign fallback. When in doubt, tweet it! Post it! Social media seems like an obvious marketing platform, but it may not be as effective as you  think in the healthcare sector.

Only 4% of healthcare industry leaders reported social media as "very effective" for helping marketing efforts, according to HealthLeaders Industry Survey 2011.The majority of respondents (53%) answered that they were "neutral" on social media's effectiveness.

Maybe it's information overload. Maybe it's a form of A.D.D. Millennials are showing little interest in what marketers have to say via social media. According to a Capstrat poll, more than five of every six respondents said they would not use social media for medical communication if their doctors offered it.

"It appears consumers are willing to move administrative experiences such as bill payment and records access online, but when it comes to conferring with their healthcare providers, people still prefer more traditional communications," said Capstrat President,  Karen Albritton in a media statement.

Many hospitals and healthcare organizations are still figuring out the best ways to use social media to their advantage. Thus far, the only social media guidelines for physicians are from the American Medical Association and were released in November 2010. Here are the highlights which include monitoring:

  • Privacy settings to safeguard personal information
  • Internet presence to ensure that the personal and professional information personal sites and content posted about them by others, is accurate and appropriate.
  • Appropriate boundaries of the patient-physician relationship when interacting with patients online to ensure patient privacy and confidentiality are maintained.
  • Separation of personal and professional content online.
  • Online actions---Recognize that and content posted can negatively affect their reputations among patients and colleagues, and may even have consequences for their medical careers.

The guidelines are basic, to say the least. In my research, I've come across two extreme cases of social media use: One with profoundly positive consequences…and one with profoundly negative consequences.

Anna Webster Questions? Comments? Story ideas? Anna Webster, Online Content Coordinator for HealthLeaders Media, can be reached at
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