10 tips for optimal social media use

6. Recognize social media as an opportunity to improve experiences and quality. Use it to demonstrate a sincere interest in improving patient experiences and quality, said Thielst. “Monitor conversations and engage with those who are posting reviews of their experience with your facility—good and bad,” she said. Keep in mind the importance of these reviews, and the impact a response can have. “Your responses will be seen by others researching your facility,” said Thielst

7. Integrate social media into day-to-day work processes to keep it "real." Don’t have one person charged with pushing out “scripted messages,” said Thielst. “There has to be some amount of realness to your social media engagement, and that’s what it’s about,” she said. Personally, Thielst will share a link to a story she deems interesting, and in addition, will ask a question or add her own two cents – "something to make it where it’s not like generating tweets for the sake of tweeting,” she said. “There has to be some bidirectional communication, and sometimes I don’t see that.”

8. Use social media to provide information and content. “Reach out to ePatients by providing information and content consumers can use to participate more actively in their care,” said Thielst. According to her, it’s important to think about branching out to newer forms of social media, such as video blogging, to reach patients on media they’re already using. “Reaching out to patients [to] provide information and content that’s directed to them helps patients make better decisions,” she said. “Especially in reform: patients need to make better decisions.”

9. Ensure appropriate privacy settings and safeguards on your sponsored social networking channels. Thielst suggests encrypting and monitoring all your social media accounts, if possible. “Approve who’s joining or leaving the community,” she said. For example, recent sites allow patients staying in hospitals for an extended period of time to remain in contact with friends and family. “[Organizations] need to make sure those sites are secure,” she said. “If they’re working with a company, my guess is they’re secure. But, if you’re going off and working with the guy down the street, you have to make sure they’re putting in those privacy and security safeguards so people who don’t belong in the community don’t get access to it.”

10. Find ways to offer appropriate social supports using social media. This last point “pulls on several things,” said Thielst. Mainly, using social media for those who are challenged when it comes to participating in traditional opportunities, or those who are struggling with behavior changes or a new diagnosis. “HealthCare Partners on the East Coast are using texting messages to remind people to use their medication,” she said. “Like sunscreen for younger people or appointments for recovering opiate addicts.” In essence, this use of social media is helping people transition through major life changes. “It’s using social media to support people who need help because they’re trying to make some behavioral change to improve their healthcare,” she said. 

Follow Michelle McNickle on Twitter, @Michelle_writes