Sharp HealthCare Shares Insights on Award Winning Social Media Program

October 6, 2014

This month we are pleased to feature April Le, digital producer for Sharp HealthCare. Sharp is among the largest hospital systems serving the San Diego region. In 2013, April’s team was recognized by the Greystone Best in Class Awards receiving the Gold Award for Best Execution of Social Media Tactics and the Bronze Award for Best Use of Analytics. They also received accolades at the 2013 eHealthcare Leadership Awards ceremony including the Gold for Best Social Networking and Best Digital Marketing Campaign.

Executing social media with this level of success is no simple undertaking in a highly regulated industry. They are among the few hospitals who are using healthcare social media well, nationwide. In this interview, April provides insight about how her team works together to extend “The Sharp Experience” to connect with patients in meaningful ways.

BWF: How does your brand build online community and connect with patients?

Le: One of our biggest strengths is that we’re constantly listening. We’re listening all day long, including evenings and weekends. We know what people are saying and let them know that we’re here for them and want to help. We respond to patients by thanking them for their compliments and assuring them that their message to a doctor or nurse will be received. We’re constantly having conversations with the people in our community.

BWF: What is the concept behind the Sharp Experience?

Le: The Sharp Experience is all about creating a personal experience for patients and their families. Our employees, physicians, nurses, volunteers and other staff are all dedicated to transforming the experience these patients and their families have in our hospitals, clinics – and online. We really want to be the best place for employees to work, the best place for physicians to practice medicine and the best place for patients to receive care. In the universe! And we try to bring that Sharp Experience to our patients and the community through social media.

We tried Vine, had fun with it, and realized that it wasn’t for Sharp. Our audience isn’t there.

BWF: What has been your biggest challenge?

Le: Currently, the biggest challenge seems to be trying to find the right, all-in-one tool for listening, responding, tracking, publishing and reporting. We’ve tested several companies this past year and are still looking for “the one.” Our reporting is a mix of manual and automated, so ideally, we’d want something that does it all.

It’s also challenging to be on every channel. But then again, I don’t think each organization needs to be on every channel. Think of which channels have a relevant audience and focus on those. We tried Vine, had fun with it, and realized that it wasn’t for Sharp. Our audience isn’t there. We’ve got hundreds more followers on Instagram – plus 9 more seconds, so why not leverage that instead?

BWF: How do you measure success?

Le: We have weekly content meetings and a biweekly social media strategy meeting. During content meetings, our digital analyst reports our top visited pages, our highly searched keywords and what people are doing on our mobile site. In our social strategy meeting, we review our top visited pages through social media and the pages that had the most social engagement. We also compare promoted posts [advertised] to non-promoted posts. This helps us to be a more strategic in the content we share and how we share it. For example, when promoting events, the data allows us to determine how, when and where an event should be shared in order to get the most visibility, activity, traffic and conversions. We know what works and what doesn’t.

We have marketing leads at each hospital who manage their individual Facebook Pages.

BWF: What does your social media team look like?

Le: We are a team of four who, depending on the day of the week, weekends and evenings included, are responsible for monitoring, responding, escalating, forwarding and reporting. We have marketing leads at each hospital who manage their individual Facebook Pages. They’re all very social media-savvy, and know what works well for their specific location.

In addition to meeting for content and social strategy, we meet quarterly with all hospital marketing teams to review social media, and discuss their digital success and opportunities from the previous quarter.

Although not officially part of the social media team, we work very closely with our patient liaisons at our medical centers and hospitals. Most of the time, our team doesn’t know the whole story behind a complaint. But if we reach out to the person who has concerns and escalate those concerns to our liaisons, the liaisons may have more background. They’ve been instrumental in closing the loop and have helped many patients who reached out to us through social media.

BWF: Where do you get content?

Le: Content comes primarily from the marketing leads at our hospitals as well as from our team. During our meetings, we’re always looking ahead, talking about what events, classes and observances are coming up and how we can be strategic about what we’re posting on social media. The marketing leads at the hospitals keep us in the loop as far as what’s coming up at their locations so we can support them.

We also have a blogger ambassador program where we’ve recruited local bloggers to amplify Sharp’s messages and brand to their social followers. Bloggers receive details on Sharp events, classes, campaigns, programs and services and are invited to Sharp events and facility openings. It’s been very successful.

Social media makes opportunities to improve visible.

BWF: Can you share a success story?

Le: One of the reasons I love what I do, is knowing I can turn an experience around with service recovery. Or can make a person’s day just by letting them know that I’m listening. I can share a couple of success stories.

A complaint from a patient came through. He was at the doctor’s office and had been waiting for a while and expressed his frustrations through Twitter. We quickly responded, escalated the post to the patient liaisons we work closely with for each hospital and medical center, and they were able to talk directly to him to explain why the doctor was running late. Shortly after, the doctor came in, apologized, and the situation was defused. He later retweeted our response to him, tagged us in a positive post, and posted a compliment about Sharp HealthCare on Facebook.

Another success was the kidney transplant cookie story. A girl and her relative were at our hospital and we tweeted to her, letting her know that we were there for her if she needed anything. She requested some cookies and we were able to get some to her. She snapped a photo, posted it on Twitter and sent it to us! Of course, we favorited it.

Social media makes opportunities to improve visible.

A sign at Sharp Grossmont Hospital that said, “Foreign Language and Hearing Impaired translation services may be access by calling the hospital operator. Dial “O” from any hospital phone.” Someone posted a photo of the sign and added, “What’s wrong with this picture?” The post was shared multiple times and had many comments. We sent it to the folks at Sharp Grossmont Hospital who were able to modify the language on the sign.

You think you’ve got the lingo down, you think you’re ahead of the game, then your intern shows you how to blow up your Instagram posts with #wellnesswednesday videos!

BWF: What changes in digital marketing have impacted the healthcare industry? What has surprised you the most?

Le: The speed in which social media is evolving has impacted us the most. Our social media team went very quickly from being just me checking out Google Alerts and writing up a one-page Word document on what people were saying about Sharp to a growing team, that each day monitors, responds, escalates, posts, reports and manages all of our channels. We’ve had to tweak our process a couple of times, but we’re always talking about what works and what doesn’t within our team. We’re always looking for ways to make the process more efficient. We have an intern and she’s fabulous. Fresh out of college and armed with so many ideas.

Having an intern on our team made me realize how much more there is to learn. You think you’ve got the lingo down, you think you’re ahead of the game, then your intern shows you how to blow up your Instagram posts with #wellnesswednesday videos!

BWF: What advice would you give to marketers?

Le: Measure! Review what works, what doesn’t. Posting without knowing what your audience responds to isn’t being very strategic, and you have to be strategic to be successful.

Educate your staff. Make sure your company’s social media policy is on their mind when they’re posting on their personal accounts. Educate your team. Let them know how well their social media channels are doing. Celebrate successes and review opportunities to improve. Be open to their ideas.

Keep an eye out for what other brands outside of your industry are doing. Sharp HealthCare is a pretty conservative brand, but we find inspiration in Starbucks’ and even Louis Vuitton’s social media accounts. They’re all doing really exciting things, and even though much of what these big brands are doing on social will never be done on Sharp’s channels, we’re inspired by them.

Have a plan for disasters and crises. This is really important. We know it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” something big, like an earthquake, is going to happen here in San Diego, and we’re prepared. We’ve had a few instances where we had to post within minutes of something – like a water main break, a fire, or a blackout – on social media. It may be a while before you have specific details to post so you’ve got to have those first responses ready to go, and you have to make sure you’re keeping everyone involved in what is being posted, from PR to digital to your contacts at the hospitals. Keep communication tight, know who needs to be involved, and have backups.

Last but not least, make sure you participate in social media personally. You’re never going to “get it” if you’re not playing around with it yourself. That’s the only way you’ll build confidence in the platforms.

April Le_108x108

April Le is a Digital Producer at Sharp HealthCare. She manages the organization’s social media efforts while also providing digital content support for



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