The phrase “social health” is the new buzzword in the healthcare marketing industry.
But what is social health?
If you run a search on the term, you’ll find topics that pertain directly to medical issues stemming from socialization problems, but in the marketing sense, it means something quite different.
Put simply, social health is the way consumers of healthcare services (everybody) engage with each other. This makes social health something marketers need to understand, and, to the extent possible, to measure.
Referrals are as important online as they are in the face-to-face world. A recent study showed that nearly 4 in 5 patients seek digital social outlets to find answers to personal medical questions. That same percentage of people will go to these outlets after an office visit to discuss their experiences.
You probably already know that social media platforms—from Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn—have to be a part of your marketing strategy. That’s one part of social health, but the concept is much bigger than that. You need to think in terms of where people gather in groups to talk about their healthcare—e.g., online communities, message forums and the comments sections of prominent blogs.
These are challenging audiences to reach. Advertising is usually not even available and unlikely to work in any case. All online communities—from social media to the message forums—have some people whose word is taken seriously. They are what we call “influencers.” A part of any social health marketing strategy should involve developing a relationship with an influencer.
An online message forum is a challenging place to develop a relationship. People usually post under a fake name, so it’s not like you can reach out privately, but you can engage with the person in the public sphere. Perhaps try to gain their respect; over time, they may become your advocate.
However you choose to engage, social health marketing is something that will take time. The costs for this kind of marketing are not advertising dollars, but sweat equity—the time it takes to engage thoughtfully with other members of the community.
From a measurement perspective, these are activities that take place at the very top of the marketing funnel—the part traditionally marked “Awareness.” You’re simply making people who are clearly interested in discussing medical services aware of who you are, and in a place where their mind is attuned to healthcare subjects.
Immediate results will be unlikely. But like any digital endeavor, once you gain traction, you’ll enjoy a significant edge on your competitors who aren’t putting in the difficult initial work.