Social media has been used in healthcare around the world for a number of years now, with the US hospitals being some of the early adopters. However, it wasn't until around 2011 that the adoption of social media in healthcare went mainstream and eventually got picked up by healthcare providers around the Middle East.
In most of the cases however social media was being used as a PR tool, where healthcare establishments were still largely broadcasting about themselves in the first person, announcing their milestones, initiatives and management updates in a way that looked very much like a press release.
Few healthcare organizations were aware of the potential of social media, and understood that their role as a "healthcare provider" is the best approach to leverage such potential. As a result we have seen a shift towards the wellness approach in social media to communicate with a target audience that is only growing more aware of its health and its vital indicators, with mobile applications and devices tracking quantified-self figures and providing health insights and alerts.
Healthcare organizations in the region who managed to adopt social media at an early stage have gained an incredible advantage and opportunity to demonstrate thought leadership on today’s most pressing healthcare topics such as diabetes, obesity, and wellness.
The American Hospital Dubai was one of the early adopters of social media in the UAE and have managed to create and maintain a presence that is focused on health and wellness and centered around individuals and their health needs. At Cactix we are proud to be managing the social media presence of American Hospital Dubai with a strategy focused on Active Listening and Participation, and Behavior Impact through Health Education.
Historically, healthcare providers have not had to compete for customers in the same way as other industries, but the rising demand for value is forcing organizations to find different ways to get closer to their customers. Despite the appeal of social media, many healthcare organizations in the region still haven't joined the bandwagon, mainly for concerns over a potential flood of negative comments and reviews, as well as compliance issues, and less often capacity issues.
The concerns are indeed valid, and especially the case for negative feedback as more and more individuals are only a tweet away from broadcasting their attitude or frustration with a certain physician, treatment, hospital, product, or insurance plan; but this is happening anyway, and there's no way to prevent it, erase it, or dilute it with a higher number of positive feedbacks. As the late majority of healthcare providers are sooner or later going to embrace social media, the challenge remains and possibly even grows. We believe that with the right strategy and approach, positive responses to negative feedback can carry equal or more weight than positive customer feedback.
Healthcare brands that are already established and known outside social media are at a head start when it comes to social media engagement, sentiment, and audience growth. For newly established brands, or internationally known brands that are newcomers to a local market, such as our client Bourn Hall Clinic, a world leading center for infertility treatment, the challenge was establishing trust to achieve the primary objective of increased conversion in the UAE, a market they entered recently after achieving success in the UK and India.
Establishing trust over social media is not an easy journey, especially when it comes to a sensitive matter like seeking treatment for infertility, where people might even be hesitant to like a page or a post for fear of exposure, let alone interacting and inquiring.
As we were tasked with handling social media, knowing that Bourn Hall Clinic had everything in its arsenal to convert customers who come through the door, we devised a strategy that revolved around running a free fertility seminar at the clinic on a regular basis, and then leveraging social media to invite potential customers to sign up anonymously to attend the seminars. As the future parents came to the seminars, met with the many doctors available who spoke their language and understood their worries and their culture and answered their questions in a personalized manner, and as they got to tour the facility and sample first hand the cleanliness and professionalism of the center, conversion rates started to increase. Apart from promoting the seminars, when it came to content, we focused on highlighting client testimonials, real life stories, motivational quotes, a constant stream of cute baby photos, and in lesser frequencies delivering credible education on infertility in small bites. The success of social media in establishing trust does not happen in silo, and in this case it was highly dependent on Bourn Hall's parallel efforts to increase brand awareness through media coverage and digital marketing.
Another key challenge for healthcare organizations when embracing social media is that of building and increasing brand awareness, especially for newly established brands such as our client Manzil Home Health Services.
It is crucial for decision makers at newly established healthcare brands to understand how social media brand awareness works, because no matter how creative the social media content or campaigns are, relying solely on organic growth is a recipe for failure.
Almost all social media platforms require spending before they give you access to their hundreds of millions of users. Though it shouldn't be zero or next to zero, it doesn't have to go over the top. Social media advertising is generally very cost-effective compared to other kinds of media, with the added advantage of selective targeting to help healthcare providers reach their exact target audiences, and the best part is that the acquired audience are for the keep. Audience growth is therefore crucial to brand awareness on social media.
Pharmaceuticals and Life Sciences
With an increased level of health awareness among audiences nowadays it's not only healthcare service providers that could leverage social media but also providers of healthcare products and supplements. For pharmaceutical and life sciences companies social media can be a great tool for promotion as well as market research and feedback. For distributors of such products social media can be an effective tool for creating and driving consumer demand. This was the case with our client New Country Healthcare NCH, a 38 year old company specialized in importing, marketing, and distributing dozens of pharmaceutical and nutraceutical, and personal care products. NCH engaged us to build and promote social media channels for three major brands: Vitabiotics, Enzymedica, and Neocell, as well as promoting the NCH brand itself among healthcare professionals and pharmacies. Social media marketing and advertising was a very effective way to increase brand awareness for the three brands and drive consumer demand and keep the market informed of special offers and product updates.
From our experience promoting healthcare on social media we found Facebook to be the most effective as it has the most airtime and the highest mobile penetration, and covers the diverse demographics of the region. With the advanced targeting and custom audiences configuration in Facebook advertising we are able to deliver targeted content to the right audiences at the right time.
Despite the popularity of Instagram and especially among local Emirati and GCC audiences, using Instagram was tricky in most cases as the UAE Ministry of Health seemed to be monitoring it closely among any other social media platform, and have imposed heavy fines on any healthcare provider posting content on it without sending it first to them for approval in the same way a magazine or billboard ad has to be approved. As a result many healthcare organizations in the UAE have opted to leave Instagram out of the equation for the time being. A trick around this was to keep the Instagram accounts without content but capture user generated content around the healthcare brand or geotagged at the healthcare organization. For instance, liking and commenting on pictures posted by proud parents of newborn babies who just got delivered at the hospital.
Twitter seemed to be an effective tool for immediate customer service as patients opted to use it for complaints over any other platform. Twitter was also an effective way to connect with influencers and journalists in the healthcare industry.
LinkedIn proved to be the optimal tool for connecting with healthcare professionals and medical referral networks, in addition to promoting CME credits events, and connecting with a massive base of job seekers in the healthcare industry.