In digital marketing, attention for social media has exploded in recent years, taking its reputation to legendary status. Much of this climb can be attributed to the ubiquitous success stories of social media celebrities and the requisite tens of thousands of followers. However, these social celebrities often become better known for their marketing influence than for the expertise they sought to market in the first place. Another cause for social media’s growing popularity is the illusion of it being easy and free to manage, with some amateur marketers even convinced that all successful businesses need do is exclusively focus on producing constant social media posts.
The reality, of course, is somewhere in the middle. Social media can be a productive channel, but only when managed professionally and when working in concert as a contributing instrument in a larger, thoughtful marketing plan. For those elective healthcare marketers relying on social as a solo act, consider how patients will credential physicians, consume testimonials, research other procedures or even learn about facility parking in social channels? How will patients seek out and study before and after photo gallery cases in social. If not obvious, those patients will be funneled off to other marketing channels, especially the practice website. As one considers how social media plays effectively with other, more conventional marketing channels, several helpful comparisons become instructive.
A particularly important comparison is audience size. For decades, trusted digital marketing experts have extolled search engine optimization (SEO) as a profitable and productive way to drive more of the right eyeballs (potential patients, in the elective healthcare space) to websites for businesses to receive higher ROI from their digital marketing dollars. In similar fashion, promotional newsletters that reach a larger audience have more influence for the exact same content. If all else is equal, newsletters or e-blasts reaching 5,000 readers command 10 times the influence as those publications reaching 500 readers.
Why wouldn’t it be the same for social media marketing? Of course, it is the same. Sure, great content published at the right frequency with the right messaging is necessary for maximizing the impact and natural growth of followers in social, but the social media landscape is littered with businesses that do everything else correctly with content for years to only reach an audience of a few hundred friends and family devotees. Having called out the extraordinary value of audience size, practice professionals should take note that there are clever means of leveraging advertising, automation, and even artificial intelligence to target and grow social audience size quickly (over 25 percent per month initially) in certain social channels and by careful use of particular types of third-party tools.
In another comparison, it’s pointless for medical practices to improve search rankings (SEO), receive numerous website visitors and successfully convert potential patients online to actual inquiries if the practices won’t then call back, answer questions, and encourage consultations. Similarly, in social media, why would practices endeavor to regularly publish great content and grow their audience to immense numbers, only to then ignore conversations with patients? Practices that effectively leverage social media channels engage with patients and stakeholders to enrich and further the conversation.
There’s a subtle, secondary, engagement-related comparison to websites and SEO. Websites that show signs of searchers sticking around longer and digging deeper into the site eventually earn more authority in search because the search engines see that the website is achieving real engagement. Likewise, social media channels measure engagement and reward profiles with more frequent content placement on more followers’ walls when profiles meet certain thresholds. And, as with followership, practices can either attempt to manually engage with their audience, or they can make clever use of automation and artificial intelligence tools to juice up engagement so they demonstrate “opinion-leader”-level performance in the eyes of social media channels.
Websites, newsletters, and blog campaigns are all managed as systems. A smart Web campaign, for example, requires great care, as the website must be planned and built from ground up for intent, organization, future expansion, SEO, functionality, and a sense of style (design aesthetics), among other aspirations. After a website is launched, its performance should be monitored, and its metrics measured and compared over time. Subsequently, based on data, websites are tuned up for continuous improvement. Similarly, smart and successful social media campaigns are designed and managed to achieve many of the same goals, with the right metric tracking in place for continual improvement. Nearly every marketing company will have moments of creative inspiration, but professional marketing managers will also have the acumen and discipline to successfully shepherd social media initiatives from ground up and over an extended period of time, by treating them as living, evolving systems of subcomponents.
There are even further insights to explore in relation to social media content, and how it compares to content in other digital marketing channels. In newsletters, blogs, presentations, or websites, nobody appreciates content that is overly self-serving or too commercial. Especially in the present state of “Internet Everywhere” and digital bombardment, market audiences crave authenticity, creativity, transparency, substance, and often a healthy dose of fun. Likewise, social media channels that are tuned up to be successful in every other way structurally will reach a higher level of engagement and impact if they are developed from the outset with the audience in mind, with self-awareness, and with a keen grasp of tone. Content prose should be on message, thoughtful, and creative. Graphics should be unique, meaningful, and striking. Posts should selflessly bring real value to the audience while demonstrating expertise in contemporary topics. At times, great social media content producers will even have the courage to be controversial, and truly great social media posts that receive stratospheric engagement will more often than not convey a wry, playful element of fun.
When organizations truly commit to a social media campaign in concert with a larger, thoughtful marketing strategy, they bring value to their audience and to themselves by carefully crafting and executing social communications with an eye to how it all plays alongside other important initiatives, and to core principles that have worked in alternate channels.
Brent Cavender is a co-founder of MetaMed Marketing. He heads up business development and marketing for MetaMed where he is the organization's chief practice educator and primary point of contact.