Skip to main content

Secret to Cleveland Clinic's Social Media Success: Content

 |  By  
   June 11, 2014

Paul Matsen, chief marketing and communications officer at Cleveland Clinic, details how his organization uses Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to "build a relationship with healthcare consumers" by "sharing useful, helpful, and relevant information."

>>>Cleveland Clinic Social Media Slideshow

When I read that Cleveland Clinic surpassed 1 million Facebook followers last month, I stopped in my proverbial tracks. I've never seen a healthcare organization with anywhere near that much social reach. Not even Mayo Clinic, which is regarded as a social media juggernaut within healthcare. It has about half as many followers as The Clinic.

Cleveland Clinic's content-driven social media strategy has proven successful across the spectrum of online platforms: its Twitter account has more than 250,000 followers, It's Health Hub garners more than 2 million hits each month, and its patient experience video is approaching 1.5 million views on YouTube.

To learn more about Cleveland Clinic's social media strategy, I asked Paul Matsen, chief marketing and communications officer, about the keys to its success.

HLM: Cleveland Clinic has long been setting the pace for hospitals and health systems on social media, but it seems like many organizations still don't understand the marketing value of social. Can you explain why it's important to healthcare organizations?

Matsen: Healthcare is bought, not sold. We can't create demand for our services. Consumers need us only when they need us—and they never want to need a hospital. Social media gives us an opportunity to be a meaningful, helpful part of people's everyday lives when they aren't sick or don't need our services.

We can use social media to build a relationship with healthcare consumers that transcends time and space. If we are part of your life when you are well, perhaps you will consider coming here when you need care.

HLM: What is the cornerstone to Cleveland Clinic's social success?

Matsen: Sharing useful, helpful, and relevant information is the main driver of our success. Our Health Hub from Cleveland Clinic blog fuels our social media channels. The blog posts are conversational and meaningful to people all over the world—whether they will be a Cleveland Clinic patient or not—and that resonates extremely well on social media.

We typically don't post about our own organization very often. We focus on helping patients solve problems and make healthy decisions for themselves and their families—decisions at home, at the grocery store or pharmacy, in the doctor's office. We have built trust with our followers, and we take that seriously. All of our content is thoroughly reviewed and approved by clinical experts.

I would also say that leveraging data is also critical to our success. The team is constantly testing ideas and seeing what works. We utilize the insights we gather from many analytics tools to make decisions around every aspect of every post on every channel. We're always trying to better understand our audiences and maintain relevance.

HLM: Can you tell me about your process for content creation and how you then integrate that across social platforms?

Matsen: Our Health Hub blog is the foundation of our social media strategy. Cleveland Clinic has thousands of healthcare professionals who are leaders in their respective fields. They have tremendous evidence-based knowledge and experience.

Our job is to deliver that wealth of knowledge to people in a friendly and informative way. Facebook is our primary platform for doing that.

Our digital engagement team works with colleagues from all over the organization to generate ideas for the blog and to identify the best expert sources. We maintain a publishing calendar for Health Hub. Our social team is responsible for curating the Health Hub content and distributing it across the social channels in ways that will have maximum appeal to their respective audiences.

The posting schedule and techniques differ by channel, but the strategy is fundamentally the same: Use Health Hub content to make a positive difference in people's health.

In terms of Facebook, we post six times a day, which is more than most of our competitors, but we know our schedule works. We see it in the engagement numbers. And we do our best to strike a balance between wellness and prevention and clinical treatment information. We constantly look at the data to determine the best blog topics and combinations of words, images, videos, and graphics to create the most engaging posts on each social platform.

HLM: Can you tell me a little more about your strategy behind Health Hub? Where do you plan to take it going forward?

Matsen: Our primary business objective for Health Hub is to generate more national brand awareness, and our research shows that social media (fueled by Health Hub) is having a significant impact.

Health Hub has experienced tremendous growth since it launched in 2012. It now has over 2.7M visits per month, and will soon exceed 3 million. We have stuck to the same guiding strategy from the beginning: Offer consumers useful, helpful, and relevant health information in a conversational style. We've evolved to be more agile and slightly more aligned with what's going on in the news, and are even part of the Google News Network now. Health Hub content is syndicated by several partners including Yahoo! Health, NewsCred, and Spry Living.

We plan to continually improve the product—keeping content fresh and staying on top trends—as well as exploring additional content partnerships. We're also looking to get more sophisticated with personalization and creating customized content experiences for our users.

HLM: What tactics have led to your success on Twitter?

Matsen: Our Twitter feed, @ClevelandClinic, provides timely health information with a steady stream of Health Hub content, as well as giving followers the opportunity to chat with our experts. Thought leadership is another important aspect of our Twitter strategy. We share insights from our leaders through quotes and media articles, and through live-tweeting from our Patient Experience Summit in the spring and Medical Innovation Summit in the fall. Our Twitter account was recently recognized by TIME magazine as one of the 140 best Twitter feeds of 2014.

HLM: How do you approach video production for sites such as YouTube? Are there certain topics that are best addressed through video? 

Matsen: Video production is an essential part of our content process, and YouTube is an important social media channel for Cleveland Clinic. That said, we try to avoid doing video for video's sake, and hone in on ideas that really need the visual storytelling and demonstration ability that video offers.

Our wildly successful "Empathy" video, for example, uses very few words, but the combination of seeing people's faces with the tone-setting music delivers an impact that no words in an article could ever achieve. It has had over 1.5M views on YouTube.

But YouTube is no longer the only social media channel requiring video. With the rise of channels like Instagram, and the recent incorporation of video into the Twitter experience, we are finding an increased demand for short, quick-hit video content. On Health Hub, we're doing videos to demonstrate yoga poses or to have a physician white-board out an explanation of a procedure.

HLM: What other social areas are you focusing on?

Matsen: Mobile is another area of key focus and growth for our content marketing efforts. Earlier this year, we launched a new version of our Today app, which uses Health Hub as its foundation.

The app, available for iOS and Android phones and tablets, offers users the ability to personalize which Health Hub articles are shown when they log in. The Today app follows the same premise as our social media strategy—give people relevant information that enhances their health every day. Only with a mobile app, we are able to put that information into the palm of our hand, wherever you happen to be.

HLM: What do you think are the most common missteps or missed opportunities by hospitals and health systems on social media?

Matsen: Consumers are busy and consumed by the stresses they face each day. They are looking to healthcare providers for help and answers. Offering up social media posts that focus inward on your own organization typically will not be as engaging as content that provide an immediate personal pay-off.

HLM: How do you see the role of social media evolving for healthcare organizations five years down the line? What's next?

Matsen: For healthcare organizations in particular, I think we will need to continue to build relationships with people by helping them stay healthy versus only taking care of them when they are sick. Our industry is headed toward greater transparency and more dialogue on social media from consumers around pricing and shopping for healthcare. Trends we've seen in retail social media use will work their way into the healthcare space.

A HealthLeaders Media webcast, Mastering Healthcare Scorecards: Marketing Lessons from Cleveland Clinic, will be broadcast on Thursday, July 23, 2014, from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. ET. Speakers from the Cleveland Clinic will reveal proven tactics for analyzing, communicating, and learning from key performance indicators.

Marianne Aiello is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

Tagged Under:

Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.