Contemporary nurses take advantage of the power of social media platforms to reach out to patients and healthcare information seekers in the local community. Using social media resources, these medical professionals network with peers, educate the community about health issues and learn about the latest development in medicine. It’s a critical resource for engaging patients in the modern healthcare environment, which makes it essential that today’s nurses understand how to use social media effectively.
With over 90 percent of adults subscribing to mobile services and 71 percent using video sharing platforms, interactive media has emerged as a powerful societal force over the last 20 years. Social media has wrestled marketing dominance away from traditional channels such as print publications, radio, and television. The latest iteration of the Internet, called Web 2.0, allows consumers to interact with, and respond to, digital brand messages. Healthcare organizations now use media tools such as Web 2.0 to engage communities, reach a larger audience, and share beneficial information.
As it applies to caregiving, “social media” refers to Internet tools that allow nurses to communicate with consumers quickly, simply, and with a large audience. Consumers and professionals use popular platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube to share their thoughts and pursue their interests. By adding social media to the marketing mix, health communication professionals can leverage the latest social platforms to promote wellness and health literacy.
When users consume social media messages, they do so on their own terms. While medical professionals remain the primary source for health information, consumers are increasingly turning to digital media for many reasons. These include the ease of using social media, the desire to learn about wellness, and the need for the convenient human connection provided by online conversations. These conversations have grown in importance as consumers use them as a tool for evaluating care providers.
Many healthcare organizations use social media for marketing and communications. In doing so, they provide an information-rich alternative to advertising, which consumers have taken to en masse. To connect effectively with an information-hungry public, the following practices have emerged among health communicators.
Promoting Mission Statements with Social Media
Social media empowers nurses to promote community wellness by educating consumers about available resources. Some resources may include online support networks for individuals suffering with common afflictions, while others might encompass health websites that educate consumers on common conditions and disease management.
Nurses maximize social media effectiveness by encouraging consumers to promote organizational services and treatments. There’s no better advertisement than a positive referral offered by a known acquaintance. By providing an outlet for consumers to share their positive experiences, care provider organizations crowdsource powerful messages that promote trust among new patients. These heartfelt communications can sometimes be more impactful than the most skillfully planned advertisement campaigns.
Social Media for Public Health Education
Many healthcare organizations use social media for public relations, but the tool has much more utility. Although relatively new as a marketing channel, social media represents an important promotional asset for any healthcare organization. Despite its novelty, social media firms have established themselves as permanent mainstream marketing channels. However, this newness means that healthcare organizations have yet to develop best practices for its use.
Along with other tools, care providers use social media as a reliable channel to educate consumers. For instance, Facebook posts published by care providers can contain wellness information and provide consumers with helpful advice while helping organizations build community rapport.
For sensitive topics, organizations can host private, members-only Facebook groups. These allow consumers to connect with others who suffer from similar conditions and provide a centralized channel for information gathering. Prominent organizations, such as the American Nurses Association (ANA), have utilized this technique with some success using Twitter as a channel for frequent, subject-specific updates.
Finding Common Ground Through Social Media
When diagnosed with an illness, patients may feel isolated and discouraged. MyHealthTeams.com hosts 24 international chronic-condition social networks that bring together individuals with similar diagnoses. On the site, consumers who suffer from potentially debilitating diseases can search for other users by age, gender, medication, or symptoms. MyHealthTeam.com cofounder Eric Peacock believes physicians will soon prescribe social networking as a tool for coping with the emotions of patients suffering from illnesses.
A condition-based social network called Panoply, created by computer coder Robert Morris, takes a medicinally proactive approach to connecting depression sufferers by matching users with helpful counterparts. The programmer engineered a user-friendly site that trains depressed consumers to reframe negative thoughts by using cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.
Analysts report that 6 to 10 percent of the population suffers from depression, and more cases are unrecorded. Morris views Panoply as a place where depression sufferers can openly learn and discuss mental health in a society where the stigma surrounding the condition has improved but has not yet been fully accepted.
Using Social Media to Promote Awareness
Across disciplines, social media has fueled information sharing, research, speed, and wellness participation. Organizations such as healthcare institutions and public health agencies increasingly use social media to improve community wellness by encouraging information sharing and making it possible for consumers to share information rapidly. This activity promotes relevant change in both individual and community health.
Health organizations use social media to influence consumer habits and publish time-sensitive information. Social media also serves as a forum where health organizations can host conversations with the public. However, the technology gives anyone with Internet access the ability to publish information. While social media can improve health-information sharing, the medium can also facilitate the spread of misinformation. Therefore, managing misinformation has grown just as important as sharing accurate information.
Promoting Health Services with Social Media
Social media has earned acclaim as a critical marketing tool for healthcare organizations. Some medical executives who have yet to embrace social media marketing may view it as an unnecessary, added expense; however, social channels can sometimes provide more advertising value than traditional outlets.
Health communicators begin the planning of social media marketing by identifying organizational objectives. To successfully use social media, consumers must absorb and understand the marketing message. Additionally, social media posts that include images attract more consumer attention. Therefore, the most engaging social media content includes appealing images, high-quality video, and interactive web pages.
Developing Impactful Content
While social media technology and analytic tools inspire awe, these resources do not equate to successful campaigns; relevant content is what draws consumer attention. Therefore, health communicators publish relevant, actionable information in plain, reader-friendly language.
Today’s consumers receive a seemingly endless volume of competing advertising messages across various mediums. Social media content delivers the most impact when the subject relates to specific consumer interests. It is therefore imperative that health communicators create pertinent, stimulating, and worthwhile content.
Easily digestible content does captivate readers’ attention. However, it is equally important to make posts easily sharable. If users must alter messages when attempting to share, they may change the content, or worse, abandon the task completely. With clickable buttons, health communicators maintain message accuracy and promote content sharing.
Interactive Audience Communication
According to a journal entry by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), interactive content that facilitates two-way communication between provider organizations and consumers enhances engagement quality. Complex interactive frameworks funnel consumers toward desired actions, support question-and-answer sessions, and solicit feedback on wellness initiatives.
While social media interactivity does not guarantee successful consumer engagement, health communicators still experiment with the best ways to implement this content. For example, healthcare communicators have discovered that moderators who to reply to consumer queries in real time increase interactive social media effectiveness.
Health communicators have also successfully deployed interactive social media to reduce suicide occurrences and improve outlooks among patients diagnosed with cancer. However, it is critical that they remind patients that online content cannot replace the in-person care delivered by qualified medical professionals.
Healthcare-Specific Privacy and Ethics Issues
As a field, the medical community has only recently become cognizant of the complex privacy and security threats that come with social media platforms. Consumers who have adopted the use of social media have growing privacy concerns as advertisers develop advanced, seamless tactics to mine sensitive user data. To date, consumer concern about privacy has not escalated enough to create overwhelming demand for software that blocks this kind of data mining. However, state and federal lawmakers are preemptively debating the topic of internet information privacy.
Existing legislation, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), may establish the foundation for future social media privacy. Currently, HIPAA regulations protect patient health information but not consumer social media posts. Enterprises could use this information, for example, to set service rates or recommend purchases without professional medical diagnoses.
Despite these risks, social media shows promise as a way for healthcare organizations to build comprehensive patient profiles. Nevertheless, health communicators should develop purposeful and effective guidelines for maintaining consumer privacy.
Social Media and Healthcare Professionalism
Unfortunately, negative incidents involving healthcare and social media have captivated audiences on several occasions. These professional missteps have highlighted the dark side of social media use in medicine. Fortunately, those mistakes do not eclipse the benefits that social media health communication might deliver. As a communication channel, social media allows care providers to network, learn, and publish important health information.
The takeaway is that healthcare professionals must establish guidelines for social media communications. The American College of Physicians (ACP), the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), and the American Medical Association (AMA) have published guidelines regarding social media professionalism. The bodies developed five similar points regarding social media professionalism:
- Maintain professional standards in online communication, including protecting patient privacy.
- Do not mix personal and professional social media content.
- To present one’s self and peers professionally, maintain and monitor appropriate online images.
- Use direct electronic communications only with patient consent, and document each transmission in official health records.
- Remain diligent in monitoring one’s own online presence, as internet communications have boundless reach and possible future career repercussions.
While maintaining professionalism is not a new idea, social media makes this concept exponentially relevant.
Learning Resources for Social Media Health Communicators
The Clear Communication Index from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides healthcare communicators with tools to create and evaluate digital media. These tools help develop successful campaigns. The organization’s landing page provides links to health marketing resources in one convenient location. Resources include the following:
- audience metrics
- CDC campaign materials
- health communication research and evaluation tools
- health literacy resources
- outreach distribution channel information
- risk and crises communications guides
- social media tools and templates
All CDC Clear Communication Index information originates from empirically proven practices. Furthermore, all information complies with the 2010 Plain Writing Act, requiring the Federal Government to produce literature that the public can easily understand and use.
For nurses or nurse administrators who are preparing their first public campaign, the site provides the “Health Communications Basics” guide and other resources. More experienced communicators can visit the CDC Newsroom, the Health Communications Science Digest, and similar resources for additional information.
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