5 ways hospitals can fight fake Facebook identities

Gaston Memorial Hospital had a doppelganger. The Gastonia, N.C., hospital in August discovered that another Facebook page with the same name and company logo had been touting anti-Obama messages, The New York Times reported.

Posts included messages, such as "obama is lie big time and please do not vote for obama" and "we do not like Obama care is not good at all," the Gaston Gazette reported. Although the grammatical problems alerted one follower to the suspicious nature of the content, the Gaston Gazette noted, the fake Facebook page had amassed hundreds of other followers and likes, posing an obvious PR nightmare for the real hospital, the NYT reported.

The fake page vanished but reappeared again on Oct. 4. Days later, the real Gaston Memorial Hospital posted, "We apologize for any confusion … and appreciate the support of our followers."

Hospital Public Relations Manager Dallas P. Wilborn told the NYT that Facebook at first said the fake page did not violate its terms of service, but eventually the social network ruled in the hospital's favor. By then, though, the issue had resolved itself when the fake Facebook page disappeared again.

This isn't the first instance of Facebook imposters in the healthcare setting. Last December, Murray-Calloway County (Ky.) Hospital's CEO Jerry Penner realized a fake "Jerry Penner" account has been "friending" his employees.  Although most of the friending was harmless, a hospital employee (and Facebook friend) received a request from the imposter account with the inappropriate message, "I love you."

Such instances on Facebook highlight security issues around social media. Consider the following tips to keep your social media accounts safe.

1. Monitor your brand
Although the most popular social network in the world is a powerful tool, hospitals must be vigilant when it comes to monitoring the Web and their brand name.

"Even if you aren't talking about yourself in the social media world, you can be sure that others are," Nancy Cawley Jean, senior media relations officer of social media at Lifespan, said recently in a Hospital Impact blog post. Jean said she uses Google Alerts to monitor what's being said about the hospital system.

2. Create a social media advisory board
Your hospital might also consider creating a social media advisory board. This board could be made up of social media influencers who are knowledgeable about healthcare and/or are members of the community who are engaged in social media, Jenn Riggle, vice president at Weber Shandwick Worldwide and member of its healthcare practice, wrote in Hospital Impact. The board publishes content, aligned with the hospital's goals/initiatives, and engages the organization on social media by retweeting or posting comments on Facebook. The social media board also serves as a built-in safeguard to monitor what's happening on the Web.

3. Dedicate resources to social media
YouGov Healthcare Managing Director Jane Donohue previously told FierceHealthcare that hospital social media is a full-time job. "Social media needs a [full-time equivalent]. To just throw this at someone in marketing or communications as an add-on could be shortsighted. This is an incredibly powerful tool to create and sustain loyalty."

According to an April report from consulting firm PwC, 41 percent of consumers say Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and online forums influence their choice of a specific hospital, medical facility or doctor.

4. Change your passwords
To prevent hackers from hijacking your social media account, be sure to change your passwords regularly and make sure that the strength of the password is strong, just like all other healthcare logins.

5. Notify and work with Facebook
In August, the social media network revealed that there were more than 83 million fake Facebook accounts. Facebook told CNN that it disables any fraudlent accounts that it finds. To report violations, users can go to the Facebook help page.

For more information:
- see the CNN article
- read the NYT article
- here's the Gaston Gazette article