When I think about social networks and their influence on the lives of all of us, I notice that my opinion is practically not far from the many of the experts.
Indeed, in all the reality that surrounds us, also in the health sector, where I exercise my professional activity, there really is no business, relationship, communication, without the use of social networks.
Organizations today, more than ever, need to recognize the importance of social media as part of their communication and public relations strategy. The numbers speak for themselves when today Facebook has more than 2,700 million monthly active users, Twitter with about 330 million and Instagram with more than 1,000 million.
Social networks play an important role in connecting people and in developing relationships between them, not only with influencers and journalists, but, above all, for the opportunity they offer companies to provide better customer service, through which they can gather information, give answers and, even better, get feedback on your actions.
They also allow the discovery and learning of new information, the sharing of ideas and the interaction between people and organizations, in addition to having contributed not only to the way people live today, but also to making communication between the parties easier and agile.
The insights collected on social networks allow, in addition to everything else, organizations to have a better understanding of what is working and what is not, thus contributing to the improvement of their public and private image. It is really important for companies to be able to understand, in real time, not only what the public is saying about the company, but, above all, how competitors are doing their jobs.
The benefits of integrating a communication strategy for social networks, in addition to a traditional communication and marketing campaign, can be achieved in several ways:
• Speed in disseminating the message to the target audience. The content created can be shared immediately, whether it's a statement, a video, or a news story, thus more quickly drawing the attention of stakeholders, for example;
• Sharing and involvement. People are constantly sharing and getting involved with the communication shared on social networks, and therefore channels like LinkedIn are useful tools to get the word out to a greater number of people, creating engagement with them;
• Value for money. Social networks offer a cost-effective approach that allows companies to dramatically increase both their visibility and brand awareness.
Regarding the use of social networks in the health context, this constitutes a challenge, not only for patients, but also for organizations.
In addition to promoting patient autonomy by functioning as a complement to the information provided by health professionals, its use by patients can also be an aid to health professionals. This happens to the extent that it is a tool that strengthens the organization's market position, at the same time as it stimulates conversation between the parties, with a view to strengthening the brand and providing better services. Above all, the use of social networks in health boils down to the ability to give “power” to patients, by providing them with complementary and reliable information, which allows them to become more literate in health, resulting, in turn, in processes of informed decision-making on their part.
Despite the fears that organizations may have about the disinformation that can be generated on social networks, among patients, this is precisely why they must not only be present, through official channels, but act as moderators between conversations, dissipating doubts and providing useful and reliable information, thus contributing to improve the literacy of its audience.
Public institutions, namely hospitals, have to be part of relevant conversations and, therefore, be available on any channels where their customers want to connect. It is also an obligation of health systems, the reliable dissemination of immunization, diseases, therapies, among other topics relevant to the community.
Through social interactions, patients have the possibility to develop a first impression about a hospital, or a health professional, even before going to the institution in question, or meeting the professional in person.
According to a study by the Health Information Technologies Commission of the Health Parliament Portugal, about 90% of Portuguese people who use the internet do research on health, however only 20% consider the information they obtain credible.
It is not surprising, therefore, that social networks are used as a preferential vehicle by institutions and health professionals to increasingly be in constant communication with their users, patients and other community, ensuring not only proximity to them, but also the credibility of the information to be shared.
Social networks have clearly revolutionized the health sector and are becoming the main source of information for individuals searching for health information.
Patients turn to groups on social networks in search of other individuals who suffer from the same diseases (patients who are in the preparatory phase for surgery, often turn to this type of groups to demystify the surgery and reduce their own anxiety), to share advice, recommend doctors and other health professionals, while clinicians connect to these networks to share information and learn from each other.
In turn, by getting involved and interacting through social networks, health institutions are able to improve their references through word of mouth, while eliminating barriers that existed due to the lack of two-way communication.
More and more hospitals around the world use social networks as a marketing and communication tool to educate, advertise or entertain, and also to establish themselves as the privileged place to visit by all who need health information (including the media). Through the use of a Facebook page, users are regularly kept up to date on the activity carried out on a daily basis, while a Youtube account is used for sharing educational videos, with Twitter or LinkedIn being used for dissemination. press releases or institutional information and blogs to educate citizens about specific diseases and health conditions. Thus, a communication strategy for social networks must consist of creating conditions for institutions such as hospitals to be recognized as credible brands in terms of health literacy, making them the main sources of information, in the first instance for the community that they serve directly and also for all those looking for health information, but have difficulty finding content they consider reliable.
Last but not least, the commitment to social networks by health institutions should also be seen as a way for institutions to interact with their stakeholders, not only because it allows reaching them in a more direct way, but also also, because it enables a healthy dialogue between them and the institution, always with a view to sharing information/constructive criticism and helping to fill the gaps that may eventually be identified.
Social networks are thus an excellent opportunity to be more attentive, more involved and more likely to provide a better experience with health systems. At the same time, they allow organizations to create bonds, share innovative discoveries and increase the credibility of those responsible as leaders. Contrary to what happens in other areas of activity, in which the search for the greatest number of “likes” and users is what matters most, in health, the focus is placed on the impact created by the messages that are intended to be transmitted.
In other words, the central and only objective is to “build trust”.