Patient Advocacy: Ten Tactics for Mastering Social Media Success

Social media extends beyond the world of Facebook and Twitter. It encompasses blogs and other newer social platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest. If you want to raise awareness of your cause, amplify your patient advocacy activities, and create change where it’s needed most, social media is an important channel to share your message with the world.

Here are ten tactics you can use to master social media, make your cause better known, and grow your online influence.

1. Define Your Purpose

The success of any strategy, whether it happens on or off line, starts with defining a clear purpose for your activities. Ask yourself what you want to achieve with social media and then set specific and actionable goals to achieve it. Goals are the forerunner to success. You need big-picture long-term goals and smaller weekly or monthly goals that allow you to stay on track. For a goal to become a reality it needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, and realistic, as well as time specific. These are often called SMART goals.

Let’s take as an example, a goal to grow your Twitter followers, the following are the steps you would take to make this goal SMART.

  • Specific. The more specific you can be in defining your goals, the easier it will be to clearly see what it is you are trying to achieve.
  • Measurable. Give your goal a number. For example you could state you want to double the number of your existing Twitter followers or grow your following by 10%.
  • Attainable. Is your goal attainable? Can you realistically double the number of your Twitter followers? Or should you aim for a smaller increase to start with?
  • Relevant. Does this goal support your organization’s (or your own personal) objectives, vision, or values?
  • Time Specific. Give your goal a deadline, for example, “I will double my Twitter follower numbers by 10% in three months.”

2. Perfect Your Social Profiles

As I’ve written here before, patient advocates who are looking to change hearts and minds should consider the image they present online. What will people’s first impression be of you when they encounter your online profile? What might make them decide to follow you?  Review each of your existing social profiles with the following questions in mind.

  1. Do you need to update your bio with new information? Is there a project you are currently working on? Or a campaign you are part of?  Add this information to your biographical details.
  2. Is it time to use a more professional picture to represent yourself online? Upload an image that is clear and easy to see, like a head and shoulders shot, or your organization’s logo. You also have an opportunity to personalize your profile on Facebook and Twitter by uploading a custom header image. Use this opportunity to bring more authenticity to your account, for example you might use a picture of yourself holding a sign with a hard-hitting message.

3. Focus on Being The Expert One Channel At A Time

Each year brings shiny new social media tools and new features for existing tools. It’s tempting to jump on board the latest social platform with the aim of being everywhere at once; but rather than spreading yourself too thinly, focus on mastering one or two platforms really well before moving on to the next one. Look back on the past six months and ask yourself what you were good at doing. What worked well for you? Then do more of the same. Aim to become known as the go-to expert on one channel before you move on to the next one.

4. Create Share-Worthy Content

If you want people to share your content, you need to give them something worth sharing. The New York Times did a fascinating study a few years ago on the psychology of social sharing. It revealed that people want to connect to other like-minded people and they want to support issues they care about. Above all they want to share content that will be useful for those others in their network. Create content that your audience will want to share because they believe it will be of value or interest to others. Don’t just add to the online chatter. Before you post something, stop and ask yourself would this pass the re-share test? Why would I want to click on this information? Would I want to share it with my friends/family?

5. Create More Visual Content

In an age when people’s attention span averages 8 seconds (that’s shorter than a goldfish!) visuals are memorable and effective because they help people process, understand, and retain more information more quickly. Furthermore, people connect more emotionally with images than text, and in an increasingly crowded digital landscape images can break through the online content clutter. The type of visual assets you can create include images, videos, infographics, quotes, and GIFs. There are many tools out there which help you create appealing images without any design skill. I’ve put together a list of free tools here which you may find useful.

6. Make It Easy For People To Share Your Content

By making it easy for visitors to your website or blog to share your content, you increase the likelihood that they will take this action. Make sure your social sharing buttons are clearly visible. This is the most obvious (though sometimes overlooked) way to encourage readers to share your content. Make it easy for readers to share your posts by incorporating share buttons for the main social media sites on your blog. By placing the buttons on the side or at the end of the article, people will be more inclined to share the article.  Use a tool like Click to Tweet which generates one-click tweet boxes or links that can be shared through your website, your blog, or via email, to increase social shares and highlight relevant quotes, stats, and key takeaways.

7. Leverage Hashtags

A hashtag (#) is a popular way of creating and monitoring a conversation on social media. While most often identified with Twitter, posts can also be tagged on Instagram, Pinterest, Google Plus, and Facebook. Don’t over-use hashtags on Twitter. Research shows that tweets with more than two hashtags actually see a drop in engagement. Check the Healthcare Hashtag Project for relevant healthcare hashtags.

8. Maintain a Consistent Content Creation and Promotion Schedule

Social media marketing is an ongoing commitment. You need to post consistently to stay in front of your audience’s eyes and keep growing. Set aside one day each month to map out upcoming events, holidays, and so on, which you would like to write or post about. Then use a simple excel spread sheet to create your content calendar. Do the same thing with another spread sheet for social media postings.

One key to maintaining a steady stream of quality content is to re-purpose what you already have. Check your blog’s analytics to see the most popular posts you’ve written. Can you expand on these to include new research or thinking? Perhaps the content can be turned into an infographic or a slide-deck. By re-purposing content you have already written, you can extend and breathe new life into your current and past content. Check out these ten creative ways to repurpose your content for more ideas.

9. Optimize Your Engagement

To optimize your social media engagement, it’s useful to know the best times to post your updates so they reach your audience when they are online. If you search for optimum posting times, you will find many guides online. They vary in their advice, so it’s always a good idea to do your own testing to determine the optimum times for your own particular audience. Once you’ve determined your optimum posting times, use a scheduling tool like Buffer or Hootsuite to schedule your updates to reach more people, more often.

10. Track and Measure Your Progress

How do you know if all the time you’re investing in social media marketing is paying off? You don’t know unless you put a system in place to measure and analyse your progress. Most of the main social platforms has their own analytics built in. Regularly tracking and measuring your activities on social media helps you see what is working (or not).

Using these ten tactics will help you focus on your goals more clearly, promote your key messages better, and measure your activities more effectively. Don’t expect all of these tactics to work right away. Social media is a strategy that will succeed long-term, rather than be a quick success. If you want to see real results, you must be prepared to commit to it long-term. Finally, remember the goal is not to be good at social media for its own sake; rather the goal is to be good at patient advocacy because of social media. Social media are powerful advocacy tools, but they are just tools. It’s within how you master those tools that the real power lies.

A Stanford Medicine X e-Patient scholar, Marie Ennis O’Connor is an internationally recognized keynote speaker, writer, and consultant on global trends in patient engagement, digital health and participatory medicine. A board member of the Patient Empowerment Foundation, a network of people, foundations, organizations and medical institutions dedicated to empowering patients worldwide, Marie’s work is informed by her passion for embedding the patient voice at the heart of healthcare values. She writes about the experience of transitioning from breast cancer patient to advocate on her award-winning blog Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer.