Marketing Tactics for Hospitals on Instagram

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After experiencing social media success on Pinterest, Advocate Health launched an Instagram account for sharing photos. Now, with nearly 900 followers, Advocate Health uses the photo-sharing platform, which can be linked to Twitter and Facebook, to promote its events and service lines.

By Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, March 12, 2014

Rev your social media campaigns by using Instagram to get your message across with strong visuals. The photo-sharing platform is particularly effective for promoting service lines and bolstering fundraising campaigns.

At first glance, Instagram, the number one photo editing and sharing app, doesn't appear to be an integral element to a healthcare marketing campaign. Back when Facebook bought the company for $1 billion in 2012, the social networking platform was most popular among younger demographics, who used the app to share photos of sunsets, their dinner plates, and their cats. So many cats.

But now, as Instagram boasts 150 million active users, organizations are flocking to the site to promote their brand to an engaged consumer base using visuals. Hospitals and health systems are among these trailblazers using Instagram in unique ways to increase their social reach.

Here are the four best tactics I've seen hospitals enact with Instagram.

1. Promoting Community Engagement

Downers Grove, IL-based Advocate Healthcare created an Instagram account last year after experiencing success on Pinterest, another photo-heavy social networking site. Marketers knew their Instagram efforts would likely be just as positive when they attracted 670 followers in two months.

Advocate, which now has nearly 900 followers, a variety of photos promoting specific events, initiatives, and service lines. For example, last week it posted a photo of a patient giving the thumbs up as she was getting wheeled into surgery with the caption "Sinus issues? Deviated septum? Nasal polyps? If any of these sound all too familiar to you. Shannon can relate. Follow her experiences as she goes for her 3rd sinus surgery in her blog posted on the homepage of ahchealthenews.com"

In October, Advocate ran its first Instagram engagement campaign, asking followers to upload photos of their "best girl moments" using the hashtag #StoriesoftheGirls, in honor of breast cancer awareness month. More than 100 women uploaded photos using the hashtag.

2. Promoting a Specific Service Line or Procedure

Swedish Medical Center gained a lot of attention when it live-tweeted and Instagrammed a cochlear implant surgery in 2012, the first time a hearing restoration surgery was covered in that way. It gained coverage in Forbes, CNET, and Mashable, to name a few, but the hospital still managed to direct the conversation back to its hearing restoration offerings due to its tightly integrated social media strategy.

In addition to tweeting updates and posting Instagram photos on Twitter through a staff member's account (Swedish does not have its own dedicated Instagram account), Swedish drove curious followers to its landing page, which contained multi-media content about cochlear implants.

So if Swedish does not have an Instagram account, why did it decide to use that social platform?

"We're learning from our patients how hard it is to access information if you are deaf or have hearing loss, and, per a study in The Lancet, how this impacts the quality of healthcare," Dana Lewis, Swedish's digital media officer wrote on the hospital's blog. "People with hearing loss are not able to call on the phone to get more information or ask questions, so we decided to document via text (tweets) and images (Instagram photos) the cochlear implant procedure."

To follow up, Swedish posted additional resources for those dealing with hearing impairment and hosted two text chats to speak with hearing specialists, audiologists, patients who have had the procedure, and patient advocacy groups.

3. Supplementing Other Social Media Initiatives

UCLA Health is another healthcare organization that uses Instagram as just one of its many social media tools, including—wait for it—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Plus, Pinterest, Sharecare, Flickr, and LinkedIn.

While this may seem like overkill, the tactic is in line with the basic principles of social media marketing: connect to your customer where they are.

"Whatever your favorite social media hangout, we're there," states UCLA Health's social media page. "Whether you're a patient, family member, or friend, we love hearing from you. Your experience at our hospitals and community clinics matters to us."

Of course, UCLA Health's social network accounts don't function independently one of another. For example, last week its Instagram account posted a photo of doctor standing in front of a large monitor with the caption, "Getting ready for our #UCLAMDCHAT about #meth #addiction" and a link back to its webinar page where patients could learn more. To reinforce the message across its social media platforms, the hospital also tweeted the same photo, message, and link.

4. Enhancing Fundraising Efforts

Shriners Hospitals for Children, which has over 500 Instagram followers, uses the platform largely to promote its fundraising efforts. Recently, the organization has posted photos promoting its Love to the Rescue initiative, which drives followers to the campaign website and prompts them to send a thoughtful note to a patient, as well as sponsor a related fundraising event.

It also posts photos promoting local giving opportunities, celebrating large donations, and promoting the social media-wide hashtag #givingTuesday.

All posts include calls to action and link to where one can give and learn more.

Even if your organization is not on Instagram, patients, and family are likely uploading photos from your facilities every day.

Like FourSquare, Instagram has a geolocation option, allowing users to "check in" and name the location where their photo was taken. So even if you're not sold on having an official Instagram yet, it's good to keep an eye on it from your personal account—you can learn about the positive things people are experiencing, and also catch any problem areas.

You'd be smart to check your hospital's hashtags on Instagram too—I went into my local hospital's hashtag and found a slew of photos, ranging from happy post-op smiles to unhappy waiting room scenes, where the user complains about wait times. (There were also several staff members posting selfies taken in the bathroom, so it may be smart to add Instagram to your employee social media guidelines, too.)

Like Facebook and Twitter, Instagram is only going to keep growing, both among consumers and marketing professionals. And, as the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words (unlike Twitter's 140 characters).