The Problem With Social Media and Healthcare Marketing

Yes, you can market, communicate, and build community with patients and their loved ones using social media.

The problem, however, is that the center and circumference of online media are predicated on peer-to-peer connectivity.

If Healthcare marketers and communicators break that geometry then brands tarnish, returns vanish, and frustration levels creep.

I”ve talked with all sorts of organizations – I’ve even been asked to interview for Healthcare digital media positions in last couple of years (companies are starting to create these sorts of positions).

These are good organizations with smart and kind people running them.

A common temptation I sense in many of Healthcare organizations, however, is to go the “safe” route – the well-known, tried-and-true practices of 20th Century Marketing.

But playing “safe” that way is actually playing with fire.

The concentric and overlapping circles of peer-to-peer connectivity are like rings of fire.

If you want to “play it safe” in Healthcare marketing, public relations, and general communications, you will eventually get burned when you jump into to the rings of fire without fully mastering – and realizing – the prowess of the supple musculature and passion demanded of 21st Century pressures.

So many traditional PR pros – with outstanding skills and experience – have serious troubles making the flip to today’s communications and community-building. I hear this complaint all the time from those Healthcare PR and marking pros who have completed the other half of public relating and are doing well with social media.

So, a few practical tips:

  • Don’t ask patients, er consumers, to Like you.
  • Tweeting and Facebooking are not marketing nor communicating nor building.
  • Don’t be lazy about content creation.
  • Learn more about Search algorithms.
  • Develop CRMs amenable to today’s nebulous networks.
  • Put the on-the-ground communications before online syndication and engagement.
  • Critical: Hire smart people with Healthcare backgrounds – if you stumble upon a physician or nurse or other HCP who is not only tech-savvy but also adaptive and who can learn new things: grab her or him! If not, your competition just scored a huge advantage and you’ll regret your decision when you realize what you let pass out through the door.

I understand the concerns – and fears – executives and managers of Healthcare organizations. Their concerns are rational, while the fears are not. Unfortunately, organizational fear often holds more sway than rationality.

But history has shown, over and over, how so many companies that faced changing conditions simply refused to step back, brave self-critical analyses, and profoundly apprehend and exploit a changing world.

In the end, patients will bear the costs of fearful leadership in today’s participatory communications – safety belongs at the bedside, not the boardroom.

The problem of Healthcare and Social Media Marketing is within you. So is the solution.

More crudely: You are the problem.

Good news (maybe): You are the solution.



7 Replies to “The Problem With Social Media and Healthcare Marketing”

  1. Sweet Phil! I might add that the ‘safe’, sappy corporate ‘happy-talk’ of most v1.0 healthcare social media engagement strategies is a net, negative. If social media in the healthcare space is not about transforming unsustainable business models, then it is an exercise in futility and a waste of cash and scarce brand equity. Building a nervous system to listen, learn and adapt is a much different matter then new approaches to a ‘patient acquisition strategy’ into a tired business model.

    As i’ve noted in the 7 myths of social media piece (see:, finding cuter ways to sell us stuff we don’t need, to solve problems we don’t have, does not advance the quality of the human journey.

    Driving accountable care, better engaging patients with their health and wellness challenges, or tearing down the moats and silo’s of our many cathedrals of medicine and building a patient centric culture, well that’s a different matter.

    Thanks for the reminder and the opportunity to look into the mirror. You are a valued and insightful voice in the conversation.

  2. Very good piece. social media helps create a good environment for
    interaction between doctors and patients.On top of this,social media is
    also cheap as compared to other methods.The doctors are able to reach
    more patients.Through interaction segments the doctors are also able to
    know the desires of the patients and this help improve their quality
    control programmes.

    Erick Kinuthia
    Team MDwebpro

  3. and this post my friend from the early days highlights why social media is not even close to the potential that attracted us to this sandbox. In an interview with Robert Scoble years ago he said perhaps social can reach it’s potential through attrition. That being said, at 53 years old, I might not be around to see it. Hope you see it through, : ) all the best.

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