Eight tips to boost your NHS social media marketing

The recent publication of the first comprehensive report into the use of social media in the NHS shows relatively widespread use of the channel across the health service, but a significant proportion still have no social media presence at all. What does this mean for B2B healthcare marketers and their social media activity?

The study drilled down into the activity of 238,927 individuals and organisations with the highest concentration of interest and engagement with the NHS and health-related social media accounts.

Whilst the results showed the relatively widespread use of social media across the health service, with 28% of organisations using Twitter, each organisation continues to use it to varying degrees.

From clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to ambulance trusts, the results – which are supported by NHS Providers (aka the Foundation Trust Network) – have found that a social media presence is not typically limited to one type of organisation. Yet around one fifth of organisations still have no social media presence at all.

Whilst the results of the study, and subsequent guidance, are aimed at encouraging the NHS to be more engaging and meaningful in their use of social media, they also raise questions for B2B marketers. How can they more effectively improve the way they use social media when the NHS is their target audience? Here are some pointers to inform your social media strategy.

  1. Are you using the right channel to target your potential NHS customers?
    Twitter is the most popular social media channel used by the NHS, and at least some of your marketing effort should be concentrated here. Although the report highlights that only 3% of organisations are on LinkedIn, do not let this mislead you. This number refers to corporate accounts and does not include the thousands of NHS individuals that can be found on the site. Targeting such individuals can provide a more personalised, private and direct approach to engagement. Equally, making sure you have a regularly updated LinkedIn company profile page will make your own organisation easier to find.
  2. Are you targeting the right individuals?
    It’s very easy to start following an NHS organisation in the hope that they will follow you back. However the chances are that they won’t. By only targeting the corporate trust or CCG social media account, you may not be reaching your target audience. Take time to seek out the chief executive and various board members, as well as any patient groups associated with the trust.
  3. What does ‘targeting’ really mean to you?
    Some people will say that targeting someone on Twitter means following them – but it involves so much more than that. Engaging in informed and intelligent conversations with people you are trying to build a relationship with can be done in numerous ways. These include showing them praise, asking for their opinion, mentioning them, and favouriting and retweeting their tweets.
  4. Are you proactively providing interesting content for your target audience?
    Another way to ‘target’ your audience is to become a useful source of information. Make sure that activities and content are tightly focused on key individuals and organisations. Where possible integrate, this with their strategic objectives, core business processes and operations. Use intelligence platforms such as EHI Intelligence or HSJ Intelligence, as well as news websites, to get background information about the organisation, and use this to create information that will be useful to your target customer.
  5. Don’t forget that the NHS is not your only audience
    Key thought leaders, policy makers, partners, patients and journalists should be given equal attention and are often easier to contact through social media than email or telephone.
  6. Are you getting the tone right?
    B2B marketers often struggle to strike a balance between sounding friendly and being unprofessional, particularly when words used on social media often have to be abbreviated. You should be aiming for informal and jargon-free, yet professional and knowledgeable. Meanwhile, you should aim to give your social media posts personality – add faces to names, publish pictures and videos or provide simple and easily digestible tips.
  7. Check that you are tracking effectively
    It is important to track and respond quickly to conversations, and having a real-time dashboard such as Hootsuite in place can ensure that this happens. You also need to use the right social media measurement tool to help you see the type of content that is popular. Google some and see which one is right for you.
  8. Remember that some NHS organisations are lurking
    Lurkers are people who are registered on a service, but may not fully participate. NHS organisations may listen rather than engage. Others may use social media to broadcast corporate messages, rather than communicate. Social media is your typical mass gathering; do not expect engagement from everyone.

It’s always important to review your social media activity regularly to take into account whether your approach is working for you. As the NHS is finding, social media is impossible to ignore. Used properly, it can be a highly effective B2B marketing tool.

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