Most hospital tweets are useless and stupid

Hear ye, hear ye,  hospital marketers, I bring you a call to action. It’s time to wake up from the passive slumber you’ve been in and start thinking about Twitter as a strategic tool — as a way to find out what key stakeholders want, to inspire employees, to gather intelligence which can bond patients to your hospital and generally build your business.  It’s not a place to shoehorn your existing content is into a 140-character package.  My God no.

Right now, many hospital tweeters seem to think that Twitter is just another channel for publishing the same dull content they’ve always produced, and it’s killing their public image. Please believe me, because I’d dead serious about this: It’s killing your public image in Twitter-land. Many of you are coming across as slap-happy, unresponsive and, forgive me, actually rather dumb. I know you’re not, folks; I’m just telling you how it looks on our end.

What’s going wrong?  Well, here’s a few specific examples:

*  Twitter isn’t an appropriate venue for community relations messages.  Urging women to get a mammogram, announcing your new diabetes workshop or talking about the groundbreaking on your new parking garage all serve a purpose, but they’re b-o-r-i-n-g  tweets and do  nothing to build a relationship with followers.

*  Twitter isn’t a public relations platform. Who cares, even in your own community, that your maternity ward had a “babies are cool!” event?  Nobody. Once in a while, you may have real news to share — such as, perhaps, if your facility wins a national quality award like the Baldridge — but most of the time, the PR you generate is more for the benefit of your own bosses.  Please, spare us.

*  Twitter isn’t a tool for broadcasting blow-by-blow details of that neat Da Vinci robot procedure you had.  Sorry, guys, but the “tweet live surgery” idea wasn’t great to begin with, and it’s *certainly* played out now.

On the other hand, there’s dozens of ways hospitals can use Twitter to increase their credibility. I realize some of these won’t work for everyone, but they may kick-start some conversations:

*  Ask your followers to submit their most pressing questions about a common disorder (say, diabetes), then have one of your physicians to tweet answers to as many questions as possible. Follow  up the Q&A with a reminder that physicians like these can be found through your doc-finder line.

* Tweet a link to a survey on what services patients would like to see at your hospital. (You’ll find that you get a few responses from people halfway across the world, too, as everyone likes to be asked what they want.)  In the survey tweet, let patients know that they’ll get a reward for responding, such as a low-cost gift certificate.

*Rather than sending out blasts bragging about your own glorious accomplishments, send out tweets offering real medical news that might impact their life.  Act like your institution actually, uh, knows stuff.   If you’re trying to promote maternity services, for example, create a tweet stream updating moms-to-be on the latest advances in the field, suggestions on how to prepare for their birth experience and what they can expect when they arrive at your facility to give birth.

*  Hire an official tweeter with actual hard-news background, perhaps a freelancer with a broad view of the medical world, and let them find and pass along high quality news which increases your reputation among both patients and professionals.

* Create a sub-list of doctors affiliated with your institution (and perhaps those you might want to come over) and have an ongoing conversation with them about their needs and interests.

So, what have you been trying on Twitter?  And how has it worked for you?

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

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