Consumer engagement is getting more attention. That’s because engaged consumers are generally “more satisfied” consumers (see The Dollars & Sense Of Consumer Experience and Consumers Don’t Know What They Don’t Know) and because they have a better health status and lower health spending (see Is Consumer Engagement A Habit At Your Organization? and Consumer Engagement Is The Missing Piece In Population Health).

But how to make consumer engagement a reality? Social media can be an effective (and no-cost) way to reach them. One important facet of engaging consumers through these platforms is listening to the online conversations they’re having about your organization, their own concerns and priorities, and the health care field in general. If you aren’t familiar with this concept, “social listening” can be defined as “tracking conversations around specific phrases, words, or brands, and then leveraging them to discover opportunities or create content for those audiences” (see What Is Social Listening & Why Is It Important?).

How to do this? There have been reams of advice on how to manage your social media efforts, but my main takeaway from all of it is that at heart, this approach is about collecting data. And the best way to make data more useful and simultaneously use it to make better decisions is to collect that data into a “dashboard” that allows you to organize the data.

I found the advice given by Chief Executive Officer Marcela De Vivo on Social Media Examiner to be a good first step in building the social media listening arm of your online marketing strategy (see 6 Steps to Build a Social Listening Dashboard). She notes the following key activities:

Organize Notifications & Content: In a phrase, put the incoming information into a central location (a “dashboard”) that allows you to organize and parse the information. This sounds like common sense, but I’ve seen too many organizations that are checking their social media “when they remember.” Dashboards keep management teams abreast of key conversations coming across social media in real time.

Track Social Mentions In Multiple Conversations: Social media can enhance your online presence and increase brand recognition, but you need to be aware of the tone of the current online conversation no matter where it’s happening (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Google Plus/Google Places, etc). Remember, public perception will ultimately be the authority of your brand image, and you can’t change that perception to the positive if you don’t know where to begin (see Assessing Your Organization’s Brand Identity: Is Your Market Positioning a “Winning” Position?).

Monitor Social Media Daily: For your performance to improve at any level of your organization, you need to do the work and measure it. This also holds true for your online presence. Take time every day to target and engage your consumers where they participate online, and educate consumers about who you are and what you do every chance you can. This often means sharing educational materials and other resources to establish yourself as the local expert and connect with your community (see 5 Keys For Optimizing Your Online Brand).

This can be an important tool for your larger consumer engagement strategies — as you track those online discussions and opinions about your organization and its services, as well as address your consumer’s concerns and needs, you will be better able to understand your consumers in “real time.” An added bonus is that you aren’t “muddying the waters” with your own bias by being directly involved. Your consumer engagement and marketing teams can listen in on consumer conversations “in the wild,” so to speak (see To Get More Out of Social Media, Think Like an Anthropologist).

If you think that social media is a “nice” online marketing tool with very little real potential to drive better service, take a moment to remember the 2013 flu season when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began tracking the flu with social media data (namely, Twitter). They were able to predict outbreaks up to a week before they actually happened (see Predictive Analytics Allows Feds To Track Outbreaks In Real Time). At a smaller scale, the same could be true for tracking your consumers concerns and needs.


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