Social marketing strategies and tactics in hospitals

by Daphne Swancutt

Last year, I was part of a group judging hospital and healthcare organization marketing campaigns for a national awards program.

I left disgruntled. Not because of the experience itself. The coordinators were great; the other judges were thoughtful, thorough and serious about their roles. There was a nice camaraderie.

But the work we were judging was predictable and unmemorable. For me, at the center of “why” were three things:

  • Plucked passion
  • Gaping holes in the use of social media
  • Little apparent effort to talk with “customers” instead of at them

Basically, I felt like hospitals need to be like Stella and get their groove back.

The passion thing is a problem, and at the core of my discontent. As I looked over various campaign materials—broadcast ads, websites, microsites, direct mail, newsletters, etc., etc.—something had been beaten out of most of them.

The dearth of social marketing strategies and tactics wasn’t surprising, but nonetheless galling. The demo that hospitals are typically targeting is women between ages 35-55. According to iVillage, BlogHer and so many others, we are mobile, reading blogs and interacting on social networking sites like Facebook. Among the programs and tactics I reviewed, not a single mobile or social networking effort.

Finally, and this one is an ongoing rant of mine, hospitals must figure out the “talking with” concept. Part of this is tied to messaging and part of it is tied to tactics. Either way, they still aren’t getting it.

And, I’m not just a proselytizing agency flack. I’ve been one of those hospital marketers—overseeing marketing departments in three different hospitals—so I understand the challenges. Shrinking budgets and staff; physician and C-suite agendas; internal perception that marketing and PR are fluffy and foo-foo; project lists that run 30-plus pages and never get shorter. I get it.

In particular, I get that hospital marketers become weary of, and frustrated by, the drivel they frequently are coerced into publicizing. My finger points to the competing internal agenda challenge. Docs who like to see pictures of themselves or who think they’re the marketing experts; C-level folks who don’t have a clue, yet are compelled to wordsmith messaging; or, the “marketing” VP, who is really a business development or strategic planner and squashes all attempts at boldness and creativity.

What’s required is a team of enlightened folks at all levels with the foresight, knowledge and—yes—passion to do something that truly has impact. That’s rare.

When you’ve got it, it’s a gift you should use. When you don’t, it’s a recipe for mediocrity—and ineffective marketing.

Daphne Swancutt is Director, Healthcare Strategy at IMRE, and blogs at IMRE Health HQ.

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