June 25, 2024

Holistic Pulse

Healthcare is more important

How to Use Social Listening for Healthcare Organizations

7 min read

If your company receives more mentions, DMs and attention on social media than in the past, you’re not alone.

Social media has democratized access to medical information and empowered patients to take charge of their health. But it also has negative consequences. Like increasing the spread of misinformation and excluding healthcare workers from vital conversations with their patients. It has pushed some hospital systems, professional societies and pharmaceutical companies into an unflattering limelight, as patient and provider criticisms go viral. Risks like this have caused healthcare organizations to recoil, and grow cautious of being present on social channels.

The reality is that the future of the healthcare industry will be a hybrid of online and offline experiences. People will use social media networks to look up health information, find care providers, search for employment and receive updates from their healthcare team and hospital systems. They expect you to show up on social—and social data can provide value for your company, too.

A screenshot of a Northwell Health Post on X (formerly Twitter). The post reads: Sandra Lindsay RN made history as the first person in the US to receive the COVID-19 vaccine—again! Nearly 3 years after receiving the very first hashtag COVID vaccine Nurse Lindsay volunteered to be the first American to receive this season's shot, too. The posts includes an image of a woman receiving a vaccine from a healthcare provider.

By using social listening tools, you can keep an eye on trending conversations in your community, stay ahead of crises and receive real-time patient feedback that helps you improve your care. Keep reading for examples of social listening for healthcare in action.

The benefits of social listening in healthcare

The sheer volume of social content published hourly makes it tough for healthcare companies to find their patients, providers and community members. Social listening enables you to cut through the noise, hone in on relevant conversations and share valuable timely insights with your leadership team.

Here are specific ways teams can use listening to monitor and analyze audience conversations in an efficient, centralized manner, featuring advice from Sprout Social experts.

Proactive crisis management

The best things a social team can do when it comes to responding to an impending crisis are: already have a crisis plan in place and catch minor crises before they spiral out of control. According to Jill Florence, Director of Enterprise Sales at Sprout Social, “Unfortunately, PR crises are common for healthcare systems and other healthcare organizations. Many have gone through a challenging event themselves, or have seen it happen to other companies and they’re afraid of it happening to them. Whether it’s a patient who had a negative experience, a violent threat or mishandling patient data, leaders want to know about it in real-time.”

Of course, crises can be external, too. Katherine Van Allen, a Senior Solutions Engineer at Sprout, adds, “Healthcare organizations can also use listening to pay attention to government decisions, relevant current events and specific bills and or lobbying conversations that will impact care units beyond the marketing team.”

By including Sprout Social tools like Listening Spike Alerts in your crisis plan, you will be alerted to shifts in conversations around topics like your hospitals, facilities or supply chain, plus trending news. These alerts will help your team stay on top of current events, and be the first to know if a crisis is about to unfold. As Florence explains, “You don’t want to be in a situation where the CEO is the one informing you about a situation, and you’re just reacting. Getting listening alerts right away is critical to proactively managing crises, and leading the charge at your organization.”

A screen capture of a short video of a user configuring a Listening Alert in the Sprout platform. When enabling an alert, users can select metrics, alert sensitivity and key team members to notify.

Real-time patient and clinician feedback

While receiving feedback from patients and clinicians on social might seem daunting, it’s the best way to source unfiltered intel. By intercepting this feedback, the social team accesses voice of customer knowledge that can help improve multiple aspects of your organization.

With social listening insights on hand, it’s possible to understand the needs, opinions and feelings of patients, physicians and community members. And understanding them translates to better content, care, and recruitment and retention strategies. As Van Allen puts it, “The [healthcare organizations] who use social listening make more informed decisions about their content strategy.”

By making brand health a part of your listening strategy, you can consistently monitor audience sentiment on social. A platform like Sprout enables you to visualize overall sentiment trends and zero-in on key audience pain points. With this presentation-ready business intelligence, you’re empowered to share audience feedback—like how patients feel about your current wait times and the care they receive, to how physicians would describe your culture—with the rest of your organization.

A screenshot of the sentiment summary in Sprout's social listening solution. In the middle of the report is a chart that shows how much positive and negative sentiment there is for the brand. On the right side of the report are messages and their assigned sentiment type. This empowers you to explore what messages and customer feedback is impacting your brand's sentiment.

“Comparative” intelligence

In the healthcare industry, it’s common to consider other healthcare systems and companies “comparators” rather than competitors. While you might not consider other organizations your direct competition, you can still use them as a barometer to measure your performance—from patient care and satisfaction to talent recruitment and culture.

Van Allen describes, “Use listening to understand your share of voice and how people are talking about comparators. Ask yourself: What kinds of specialties, hiring conversations and patient feedback are they getting? How does that compare to us?”

This is especially helpful amid an industry-wide staffing shortage and quickly evolving patient expectations. “The hiring landscape is so competitive that customers need to understand why other companies are being chosen over them,” says Florence. Social listening delivers key learnings that can help you reach (and exceed) care benchmarks on social and beyond, and rethink how your company approaches hiring and workplace culture overall.

Sprout’s Competitive Analysis report aggregates social data from your comparators, including impressions, engagements, sentiment and overall share of voice. You can dig deeper into specific audience feedback in the Conversation and Messages tabs.

A screenshot of Sprout Social's Competitive Analysis dashboard that demonstrates how three competitors compare in share of voice, impressions, engagements and sentiment.

5 examples of social listening for healthcare in action

We researched examples of ways real healthcare companies use social listening to increase patient satisfaction and engagement, while balancing growing needs around hiring and patient care standards. Here’s what we found:

A list of 5 ways to use social listening as a healthcare organization. The reasons listed include: guide expansion, provide audiences with relevant content, route audiences intel to the right department, track awareness campaigns and increase share of voice.

1. Guide expansion

As hospital systems and other healthcare organizations expand, real-time audience feedback gleaned from social listening empowers marketing teams to provide a strategic vision.

Florence cites a specific example of a hospital system she worked with that used customer feedback from social listening to guide expansion. “They were completely maxed out. They didn’t have large enough facilities or enough clinicians to accommodate their community, and they felt the backlash on social. Customers complained about long wait times, poor physician care and overall bad experiences. As their company increased capacity, the social team was on the front lines. They managed customer pain points and kept decision makers abreast, while using that feedback to influence expansion in a way that maintained positive brand reputation long-term.”

2. Provide audiences with relevant content

Social listening insights give you a window into issues that matter to your patients, community members and physicians, and enable you to craft an audience-centric content strategy.

A screenshot of a Post on X from the Cleveland Clinic. The Post reads: Five health benefits of pickleball, and links to a relevant article. Attached to the Post is an image of four people playing the trending game on a pickleball court.

Van Allen describes how organizations can use listening to adapt their messaging to meet the needs of their audience. “We see healthcare organizations use social listening to research trending conversations and industry topics, and use that intel to inform their content strategy. For example, a hospital system could create a Listening topic about going “back to school” and surface that parents within their community want more tips to prepare for cold, flu and RSV season.”

3. Route audience intel to the right department

At some healthcare organizations, multiple social marketing teams work together—each representing a different department (e.g., cardiology, dermatology, oncology, etc.). Using a robust and intuitive platform like Sprout makes it possible for these teams to share social listening insights with one another, and facilitate stronger communication and cross-team collaboration.

Florence adds, “Using Sprout’s custom Listening reports lets healthcare marketers generate and share insights with other functions.” By creating department-specific Listening topics, social marketers at healthcare organizations—like hospital systems—can find the specific insights they need to reach their unique goals, like increasing cardiology patient satisfaction. Sprout’s centralized platform houses all of this data in one place, making it possible for marketing teams to work in harmony.

A screenshot of Sprout Social's Query Builder in the Listening tool. From the Query Builder, you can provide a query title, description and sources, and see a preview of the results.

4. Track awareness campaigns

Healthcare organizations can use social listening to gauge how effective promotional campaigns for emerging research and timely initiatives are.

For example, a medical society specializing in cardiology ran a major awareness campaign centered around American Heart Month. To measure the performance and impact of their work, they created a listening query around their organization name and the branded campaign hashtag. By analyzing this Listening data, they were able to identify key strengths and weaknesses of the campaign, resulting in valuable strategy refinements for upcoming initiatives.

A screenshot of the Listening engagement report in the Sprout platform. In the report, you can see topic engagements broken down by comments, shares and likes, plus average engagements per day. You can also see engagements visualized over time on a line graph.

You can also use listening data to find advocates who were vocal during a past campaign, and tap them for future partnerships.

5. Increase share of voice

Listening is a valuable tool for healthcare organizations who want to improve their credibility and rise up to the level of other comparators.

In one instance, a children’s hospital looking to raise its national ranking through strategic media opportunities created a competitive listening topic to track its share of voice against higher-ranking hospitals. While analyzing the Listening data, they identified opportunities for submission-based awards and event sponsorships that might help bolster their reputation. They also established new competitive benchmarks for engagements and impressions.

In healthcare, you hope that people never need certain services (especially emergency/urgent care). But you do want to be top of mind, in the moment, when they do.

Social listening shows your audience you care

Your audience expects healthcare brands like yours to be present on social media. Despite its reputational and compliance risks, social offers a wide variety of insights that enable you to manage crises effectively, gather real-time patient and provider feedback, and stay on par with your comparators.

Finding value in social as a healthcare organization requires tools that capture actionable insights and mine value from social to drive exceptional patient and provider experiences.

Want to start turning social data into elevated patient care? Request a demo of Sprout Social’s Listening solution today.


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