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What Can Periscope Do for Hospital Marketers?

 |  By  
   July 29, 2015

Twitter's livestreaming app, Periscope, is beginning to show its potential as a way for hospitals to engage with patients and amplify a health system's brand, says Mayo Clinic's social media director.

Usually, when hospitals and health systems begin using a new social media app for marketing purposes, I've already had the app on my phone for months. So when I started reading about hospitals using Twitter's free, livestreaming broadcast-video app Periscope, I was surprised. And, honestly, I was a little alarmed. Was I that far behind?

An informal survey among friends, family, and acquaintances to determine if I needed to step up my social media game taught me that baby boomers had no idea what on earth I was talking about, fellow millennials had heard of it but hadn't bothered to download the app, and my friend's teenage sister had it but said she liked Snapchat better.

I did find one demographic of enthusiastic, early adopters. People who worked in advertising. Fishy, I thought.

This discovery lead me to launch a more in-depth investigation into Periscope's audience, potential benefits, and an exploration of whether hospital marketers should really be spending time on the latest trend.

The Basics
Periscope is a video app that lets users broadcast glimpses of their lives. It's similar to Snapchat's stories feature, except it's live, more interactive, and has no time limits. Twitter bought the platform for $100M back in January to compete with Meerkat, its live-broadcasting predecessor.

The app, which gained popularity around March, syncs with your Twitter account and sends you alerts when someone you follow is broadcasting. If you catch the feed live, you can like and comment in real time. Otherwise, you can watch the recording for 24 hours after it was posted, without the interactive elements.

Both apps have their share of high-profile users, though Periscope seems to have attracted more celebrities. One of the most successful is Ryan Seacrest, who has 93,000 followers— a feat that is less impressive when you realize he has 13.5 million followers on Twitter.  

Periscope gained 1 million users in its first ten days, but it's unclear how many have joined since then. It's fair to venture users have increased significantly— Periscope users shared their livestreams on Twitter 1.5 million times since its inception through May 22, according to Adweek. And the official Periscope account has 5 million followers.

Hospital Early Adopters
A few pioneering hospitals and health systems began testing the Periscope waters this summer. Mayo Clinic, unsurprisingly, is a frontrunner with 3,100 followers (versus more than 1 million Twitter followers). The health system used the app to broadcast a tour of its Historical Suite on July 7. Mayo reported that the tour went well, with 466 live viewers and nearly 5,000 hearts (likes).

"Mayo Clinic has patients from every U.S. state and over 140 countries every year, and we saw the opportunity to help those considering Mayo Clinic get a preview of what they can expect when they come here," says Lee Aase, director of Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.

"We also think it will be great to offer behind-the-scenes views of some of the unique features that make Mayo Clinic special. As we've explored it further, we see many more opportunities."

Aase and his team have created a landing page to explain Periscope and its purpose to patients. The health system has also found a way to give its broadcasts longevity beyond the 24-hour window by posting the recording on its YouTube channel.

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, another Periscope early adopter, has 221 followers (versus 15,600 on Twitter). The hospital has made several broadcasts, including a triathlon on July 26 and an achilles tendon repair surgery on June 22. Both are no longer available for viewing.

The Verdict
I'll admit, when I embarked on this little investigation I was skeptical— Periscope broadcasts seemed like an awful lot of work for only 24-hours of exposure to a limited audience. I wondered if it might go the way of last year's trendy video app Vine, which even Mayo Clinic hasn't updated since mid-March.

How Cleveland Clinic Uses Vine Videos to 'Humanize' Its Brand

 But now that I've seen the creative ways hospitals are using the app and adapting to give the videos more staying power, I'm beginning to see its potential. Marketing tips include announcing your Periscope broadcast on Twitter, turning on location tagging, and engaging with followers in real time.

"We see Periscope as immensely more practical in healthcare than Vine because it allows in-depth and interactive communication," Aase says. "We're in the first six weeks of a six-month pilot with Periscope, and based on the response we're seeing so far it seems likely we'll continue with Periscope beyond the pilot phase."

Down the road, Mayo hopes to broadcast more tours, as well as some "Ask the Doctor" segments and "Day-in-the-Life" profiles. It's also looking into using Periscope as a recruitment tool. Outside of healthcare, Periscope was recently used to broadcast Twitter's earnings call.

Marianne Aiello is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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