Social media: How do you know if it's working?

So you're using social media to try to engage your patients. How do you know if it's working? That's the question I'll be joining a group of panelists to answer on Sunday at the Cleveland Clinic's second annual Patient Experience: Empathy and Innovation Summit.

This topic is a bit of a departure from most of the commentary--including mine--you typically see about practices using Facebook and Twitter, which usually focuses on the general benefits, along with some important reminders of what not to do.

Because I happen to be a person who really likes social media, who enjoys keeping up with the constant changes to Facebook and learning about concepts such as EdgeRank on my own personal time, I've admittedly not spent a lot of time looking for measurable benefits. Until recently, at least. For me, being able to justify much of the time I'd already be spending on these sites as work-related has been gift enough in itself.

But for practices that don't have a resident social media nerd or that simply need to demonstrate how being online benefits their bottom lines, the concept of measuring success is extremely important. Important--yes. Easy? Not so much.

While social media marketers have a variety of metrics at their disposal--number of 'likes', retweets, followers, page views and comments--it's nearly impossible to quantify many of the intangible benefits.

In a recent blog post, Chicago-area pediatric practice administrator Brandon Betancourt compared the ROI of a medical practice's social media efforts to that of a hotel concierge service. "A hotel concierge doesn't really provide a tangible ROI to the hotel," he wrote. "The concierge doesn't sell anything, really. But the benefit the concierge desk provides to guest is immensely valuable."

As Betancourt previously has shared with FiercePracticeManagement, Salud Pediatrics' social media efforts provide the following services, among others, to its community:

  • A source of current and reliable health information
  • Up-to-date information on new services, practice changes, policies and other information affecting patients
  • A more well-rounded sense of the practice's culture and philosophy, giving potential patients an immediate impression of whether the practice and its physicians would be a good fit
  • A place to transparently share and receive feedback about practice customer service

Despite these benefits (and a very interesting anecdote about the last item that I'll share later), when I asked Betancourt recently if he would look at things differently if he had to pay someone else to post and respond to such information--which he mostly handles himself--he admitted that it might not be worthwhile for his three-doctor practice.

There was a tone of sadness in Betancourt's voice as he said this. Even though the hours he spends cultivating Salud's online community may not directly translate to dollars, it seems apparent that part of what's special about the practice would be lost if its social media lights suddenly went dark.

So, while I'm extremely honored (that sounds more professional than flabbergasted, right?) that the likes of the Cleveland Clinic has invited me to share my ideas on how healthcare organizations can prove the payoff of their social media efforts, I'm very much looking to bring back more answers to readers like Betancourt who may not be able measure the magic of social media, but would hate to see it go.

If any of you will be attending the Summit, please do say hello. If you're a medical professional, stick particularly close in case I pass out during my first major (OK, ever) speaking engagement.

If you won't have the opportunity to join the discussion in Cleveland, I'd like to invite you now to share any questions or comments you'd like me to bring to the panel. And if you happen to follow me on Twitter, I'll be sharing some of the best lessons I glean in close to real time. After all, that's the kind of thing airport security lines were made for. Wish me luck. - Deb