Ruben Mesa, M.D., is the director of the Acute and Chronic Leukemia Program in the Division of Hematology-Oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. His YouTube videos on hematology and oncology topics1 – ranging from myelofibrosis to polycythemia – have been viewed tens of thousands of times.

These views have resulted in referrals and patient visits from across the country, suggesting that social media does, in fact, have a place in the world of oncology.

social-media-healthcare-educateIn fact, the Journal of Oncology Practice published a piece – back in 2012 – titled Practical Guidance: The Use of Social Media in Oncology Practice 2, exploring how oncologists could responsibly use social media in their professional lives. Their findings concluded that oncologists could benefit from using social media to:

  • Educate patients
  • Deliver authoritative health messages
  • Benefit from professional development
  • Provide knowledge sharing
  • Use as direct patient interaction

As you look to grow the digital presence of your hospital’s oncology practice, social media can play a rather significant role. The first step, of course, is to ensure your oncology practice has its own standing on social media. Create separate Twitter and Facebook accounts that focuses solely on the endeavors and news related to oncology (Instagram and LinkedIn are other potentially worthwhile platforms to create as well).

Once you have your profiles established, you can turn to these four strategies – which you can begin to implement immediately across all your social networks to generate buzz and attention around your oncology practice.

1. Highlight your hospital’s cutting edge technologies and offerings

Clinical trials and emerging research are a constant in cancer care, leading to new and exciting innovations all the time.

Patients like to know that the cancer care they’re receiving is not only cutting edge, but also backed by evidence and data. You can educate your patients on the latest technologies and approaches your oncology team implements through social media.

Whenever one of your oncologists publishes an article, promote that piece heavily on social media. If your hospital has just been awarded funding for cancer research, or has access to a new form of treatment not typically found in the area, promote it on social media.

In other words, consider social media to be your modern-day press release. When something new and exciting is happening with your oncologists, you want to make sure the world takes notice.

This means more than just sending out a quick tweet and being done with it, however. Social media marketing involves skillfully reaching out to influencers, using trending hashtags when appropriate, and sculpting a post with featured image that inspires your audience to click to read more.

2. Personalize your oncology practice with patient stories

Promoting the latest technologies your team uses is a great marketing strategy. However, keep in mind that your audience responds to stories. They want to be moved and inspired. Particularly if they are cancer patients (or family members of a patient), they want to read stories that evoke empathy.

That’s where patient stories come in.

oncology-social-mediaThis isn’t an elaborate testimonial, necessarily, where the patient speaks highly of the care received at your hospital. Rather, these stories follow the journey of your patients as they struggle and thrive through their cancer battle.

These stories talk about the patients’ history, the months and years that led them to your hospital. It takes the viewer through the realities of cancer care – including the treatments, the support of doctors and staff, the devotion of family members and friends.

In other words, these stories peel back the curtain on what it’s like to be a patient in your hospital, without excessive marketing slogans and catchphrases.

This type of raw, yet creatively designed story (told best through a video, although articles are a good supplement) is exactly what your social audience wants to read and share. They want to know that others are going through – or have gone through – what they’re about to embark on.

By creating this type of empathetic content, your hospital is building a connection with prospective patients, who’ll use that content to assess whether they can entrust you with their health and life.

You can also take a much simpler approach to sharing patient success stories. A good tip is to keep tabs with your patients once they leave your care. If, for example, a 5-year-old girl who you treated for bone cancer just danced in her first recital, promote that on your social platforms.

Don’t use overtly self-congratulatory language.

Put the spotlight on the true hero – the former patient. Celebrate her accomplishments with something as simple as: “The Oncology Team here at {name of hospital} always knew you’d go far! Keep making us and your family proud!”

3. Share knowledge that your prospects are looking for

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 90% of all internet users (or 93 million Americans) have searched for health-related topics online (up from 62% in 2001).

In other words, your prospects are looking for answers online that only you and your team can provide.

It’s time you start providing those answers!

Your oncology team – in conjunction with your marketing team – should be posting content on your site regularly. Each of these pieces of content should be heavily promoted on social media. However, a savvy social media strategy includes posting just as much content (if not more) from other sources.

A good rule of thumb is to create a list of influencers whose social circle you’d love your oncology team (and hospital) to be a part of. The Mayo Clinic is one. Kevin Pho, MD, is an extremely popular doctor on social media. The list is virtually endless. You can use a tool like Hootsuite, or even create lists directly within Twitter, to keep track of the latest social shares of your influencers.

You can then share quality content from these influencers with your own audiences. Not only will this strategy help build your social following, but it will also:

  • Help you share content regularly without having to produce more than your team can handle
  • Help your hospital and oncology practice get noticed by these key influencers

4. Use social media to promote upcoming events, seminars and webinars

webinarAs we mentioned above, folks go online to devour health-related information. That’s why it makes sense for your hospital to host events, seminars and webinars to answer questions or concerns about cancer care in the 21st century.

Social media serves as one of the most efficient ways to get the word out about these upcoming events.

Not only will this strategy likely grow attendance, but it’ll show your readers how invested you are in your community.

As you turn to social media, tread carefully

You know the old Spiderman saying: “With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s exactly the case with social media. Social media empowers your hospital to reach millions of prospects in your immediate region, as well as across the globe.

But as medical professionals, you can’t forget about the basics, including, for example, how HIPAA translates to the web.

Social media users tend to be fairly informal, but this informality can devolve into recklessness. It’s important that your team clearly know what can and can’t be posted, shared, or expressed on the hospital’s related social networks.

Create a clear social media guideline that not only outlines what’s allowed (and not allowed), but that highlights potential consequences faced by violators.

Social media can, in fact, grow your oncology practice. But it can also damage the reputation of your hospital if not approached with a clear strategy in place. Give your team the tools and resources it needs to succeed, and you’ll discover that the Facebooks and Twitters of the world can, in fact, cast a glorious spotlight on the tremendous strides being made by your oncology team.

1 YouTube videos on hematology and oncology topics

2 Practical Guidance: The Use of Social Media in Oncology Practice