How Social Media for Healthcare Marketing Engages Patients and Boosts Brand Awareness

By Rose de Fremery on June 10, 2019

If you're dealing with healthcare industry clients, you may be understandably hesitant to employ a social media marketing strategy due to privacy and regulatory concerns. But social media for healthcare marketing offers these organizations a unique opportunity to build relationships and inspire trust with their audiences.

Because consumers, on the whole, are aware that they can't really trust the medical information easily found on crowd-sourced sites or third-party platforms. But because these results are dominating SERPs, this often unreputable information tends to carry more weight than it should-especially as it gets shared on social and passed off as fact.

Healthcare marketers can, and absolutely should, leverage social for battling this misinformation, making sure their audiences are truly educated on the health issues they care about most. Hanging out in the background is no longer an option. By not utilizing this platform, hospitals and clinics may be missing out on terrific opportunities to boost brand awareness and, perhaps more importantly, solidify themselves as the true authorities in what should be their realm.

Here's how social media marketing can benefit healthcare organizations, along with some smart strategies for social success.

A woman accesses healthcare information on her smartphone.

Image attribution: Yura Fresh

How a Social Media Marketing Strategy Can Benefit Your Organization

Social media marketing offers healthcare organizations several compelling advantages. It's excellent for raising brand awareness and developing the kind of trust with patients that's necessary for forming meaningful relationships and long-term loyalty. Patients that engage with a healthcare organization online, and find value in these interactions, are more likely to turn to that same organization when they need medical services.

People are already actively searching for health information on social media channels, and healthcare organizations can proactively respond to this need by consistently delivering value to patients in this space. Hospitals and providers can through sharing high-quality content and posts intended to educate consumers-providing knowledge on subjects like how to pick the right treatment option, why preventative care is essential, or what to do before a major surgery, for example.

Healthcare organizations can also use this space to ensure that patients are equipped with the right information when they need to make important decisions about their own healthcare, from getting immunizations to scheduling a screening.

Social listening also allows healthcare organizations to receive timely feedback on products and services, sometimes even generating ideas on how to improve them or identifying timely opportunities to create new products and services that fill an urgent need in the market. Healthcare organizations can also use social monitoring tools to keep a finger on the pulse of trends in the field, while keeping up to date on how the competition is faring. All of these insights can help inform an organization's content strategy on a continual basis.

A strong social media presence can also raise a healthcare organization's profile within the industry. Healthcare experts and organizations can demonstrate their thought leadership and expertise through the posts they create and the conversations in which they engage, making valuable connections with industry peers. The relationships forged through these social interactions among industry colleagues can lead to promising business partnerships and open the door to exciting new opportunities.

Tips for an Effective Healthcare Social Media Marketing Strategy

So what is the best way to get started with social media for healthcare marketing? Here are a few strategies for engaging audiences online, along with some examples of how leading healthcare brands have set up their social media presences for success.

1. Position Yourself as a Trusted Source of Healthcare Information

Your audience has healthcare questions they may be afraid to ask, but are probably looking for answers using social media. In fact, eighty percent of adults in the U.S. look for health information online, according to the Pew Research Center. In some cases, they may be truly worried about what they're experiencing and what it may mean for their lives. Through social media, you can give them the answers they need, providing a service while also establishing your credibility in a public setting. One way to do this is by sharing links to blog posts, video clips, and other helpful forms of content that inform and educate your audience, just as pharmaceutical firm Merck does here:

This tweet is notable because it incorporates several forms of information presentation at once: a brief text description of head and neck cancer, a video clip that visually illustrates areas within the head and neck that may be affected alongside concise bullet points about the condition, and then a link to a fuller story on Merck's website that combines visually appealing statistics with key information about this form of cancer.

Social posts like these connect with audiences where they are, meeting their need for healthcare information in a variety of creative ways while also establishing the organization's credibility. After encountering an accessible and engaging introduction to a healthcare issue in bite-size form, consumers may not only feel better informed about it but also motivated to seek further information. And, should they need healthcare services in the future, they are likely to have positive associations with this brand given their prior experience with it on social media.

2. Share Meaningful Patient Stories

Another powerful way to connect with your audience is by sharing patient stories. For example, in honor of LGBTQ Health Week, the NYU Langone hospital shared the story of Wendy Cole who underwent gender affirmation surgery at age 70 after decades spent battling feelings of isolation and attempting to "fix" what she thought was "wrong" with her. It was an incredibly consequential decision requiring a great deal of trust in her healthcare provider, but Cole successfully took this leap of faith and found that she was able to inspire others as a result.

Stories like Cole's are meaningful because they evoke a sense of possibility and demonstrate that people do not have to suffer through their healthcare challenges alone. In sharing this story of patient success, NYU Langone was also able to communicate its values of inclusivity and community. By showing its commitment to LGBTQ healthcare equality, NYU Langone is making a strong statement that patients can bring their whole selves in for care and expect to be treated with dignity and humanity, whoever they are and whatever their experience might be.

3. Use a Light Touch and Have Some Fun

Particularly in light of the wellness boom, healthcare organizations don't have to restrict themselves to delivering dry statistics about serious health conditions which people may find alarming. Healthcare marketers have a great opportunity to make their social media content marketing more human and approachable. This makes the experience of engaging with your brand more like a lighthearted conversation with a trusted friend, rather than an impersonal interaction with a faceless entity. With that in mind, don't be afraid to have fun from time to time, as Anne Arundel Medical Center did with its #AAMCStachie contest on Facebook:

Participants in Anne Arundel Medical Center's Movember-themed Facebook Stachie Contest post pictures of themselves with real and fake mustaches.

Each November, many organizations raise awareness about men's health issues on social media using the hashtag #Movember. Anne Arundel took the opportunity to strike a playful tone, inviting people to take a stachie-a selfie of themselves with a real or fake mustache-and post it to the Anne Arundel Medical Center Facebook page along with the hashtag #AAMCStachie. Every week, keeping in line with the mustache theme, one lucky participant won a fifty dollar gift card to the Dollar Shave Club. Not only did the contest perfectly sync with the Movember movement, but it also drove increased traffic to the medical center's website for men's health content-further educating the public on common health issues like prostate cancer, testicular cancer, as well as mental health and suicide prevention.

4. Share Timely Information About Events Impacting Public Health

When an urgent event impacts the community you serve, social media can provide your organization with a great way to get the word out about how it's responding. For example, when severe storms and flooding recently impacted local communities in Tennessee, United Healthcare shared timely information on how its members could make alternate arrangements to access the care that they needed and launched an emotional support line in the wake of the emergency.

Social media posts such as this one make it clear that the healthcare insurance company is actively responding to events affecting the community and that it takes measures when urgent situations may prevent people from obtaining services in the way that they normally would. This type of information sharing can position your organization as a trusted resource in which people can turn in moments of crisis as well as for their everyday preventive and ongoing care.

Navigating Social Media Privacy and Regulatory Issues

Even though social media marketing for healthcare offers many benefits, there are a few important things to keep in mind when it comes to privacy and compliance. As healthcare marketers know well, patient privacy is an issue of utmost concern-both from an ethical standpoint as a regulatory one-and healthcare organizations keeping an active presence on social channels should be careful about what they disclose in this very public setting.

For starters, when featuring a patient story on social channels, it's wise to be absolutely sure that you adhere to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines and that you have the patient's written consent to reveal the specific personal health information (PHI) that you anticipate sharing. Additionally, you'll need their documented consent before using any images or videos that someone could use to identify them. Even posts that could be construed as verbal gossip about a patient could run afoul of HIPAA guidelines. As HIPAA Journal points out, your employees must be fully trained on HIPAA social media rules to avoid the possibility of accidental violations.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines may also govern the way you are required to describe risk information and limitations of use about certain drugs. Kim Kardashian found this out the hard way by catching the FDA's ire for promoting drugs on Instagram not once, but twice. Brands need to be more proactive in

Gartner's report, How Social Marketers Can Stay Ahead of Emergent Privacy and Trust Conversations (Nov 2018), notes that, "regulatory bodies including the FTC and the ASA are launching investigations into influencer marketing practices. They are updating their endorsement guidelines to ensure that influencer posts funded by brands are clearly cited as such."

With these new standards in mind, it's wise to stay on top of any regulatory frameworks such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which may affect your social media marketing activities.

By taking advantage of the many benefits that a social media marketing strategy can offer-while also keeping a close eye on privacy and regulatory concerns-healthcare marketers can achieve the kind of social media success that leads to securing long-term customer loyalty.

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Featured image attribution: Unsplash


Rose de Fremery

Rose de Fremery is a writer living at the intersection of digital culture and creativity. Originally a technologist by trade, she’s captivated by technology innovation and the promise it offers to spark our unique human capacity for creativity and imagination. Prior to becoming a freelance writer, Rose was the IT Director for an international human rights organization. She also served as Managing Editor for The Social Media Monthly, the world’s first print magazine devoted to the social media revolution. A native of Western Massachusetts, Rose works and lives in Astoria, Queens. Learn more about her at