Social media ROI: How 3 hospitals master the metrics

Bon Secours, Inova and Swedish have distinct approaches. Which would work best for your organization?

It’s the $64,000 question for a hospital communicator engaging in social media:

How do you measure ROI?

It’s a tough question, but we’re not going to gloss over it with feel-good anecdotes. (“We hear our patients like our blog!” or, “I know in my gut this video about getting a flu shot is helpful!”)

Instead, we’re going to get right down to the dollars and cents of how you can prove that your efforts on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are bringing in “patient volume” (money) to your hospital.

Let’s face it: If you can prove health care social media ROI, you’re proving your worth. This helps justify your position to your executive staff, and it could bring more resources to your department. If you’re not measuring, your career as a health care communicator involved in social media could be in jeopardy.

Again, the question is how?

We talked to several health care communicators and found out there are viable ways to measure what your hospital is doing, whether you’re focusing on Twitter, Facebook or specific social media campaigns to see if patients are coming to your hospital. You can look at data through your hospital’s integrated system, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system or create your own Excel spreadsheet.

The bottom line (no pun intended) is this: If you’re a hospital communicator, it’s time to start measuring what you’re doing. If you don’t, your successor will.

Tracking Twitter referrals

Nick Dawson, interim administrative director of community engagement at Bon Secours Hospital, says he’s been thinking about ROI since his hospital’s social media program began.

“It was our internal goal,” Dawson says. “We decided that if we were going to try this and dedicate the resources, we wanted positive revenue within the first year. We wanted to recoup someone’s salary in our department.”

Dawson and his team far surpassed that goal.

For the first six months of the fiscal year of 2010 (October 2009-March 2010), Dawson says the hospital made $250,000 through social media referrals alone. Dawson says 85 percent of those referrals—50 patients—came through Twitter; the rest came through Facebook and YouTube.

Dawson and his team use Twitter for referrals in three ways:

1. Directly responding to patients who are looking for a Bon Secours doctor.

2. By using search functions, finding people on Twitter who might need a doctor.

3. Simply saying on its Twitter feed: “We’re here to help.”

If a person contacts @BonSecoursRVA to make an appointment, a social media team member calls that person to set up an appointment. Dawson says this optimizes and facilitates the tracking and quantifying of social media referrals.

Dawson, a former director of the revenue cycle, uses a database and program that can perform an intricate analysis of patient revenue. He says he can find out within 20 seconds whether any patient in the system has been referred to the hospital via social media.

Even though Bon Secours can measure the ROI of direct social media referrals, however, there is something for which Dawson has no metrics:

“What we can’t measure is the connection that someone feels to the health system because of social media,” Dawson says. “Maybe they came to us because they saw something on Facebook or saw a doctor’s tweet, but we don’t have a concrete way of knowing this.”

Nonetheless, Dawson says the executive staff is happy that he’s been proactively reporting on social media referrals about four times a year.

“This is something we want to share,” Dawson says. “We satiated the need before it was even realized. We’re beginning to get asked about it more and more, as leaders are becoming savvier about social media.”

Dawson says hospital communicators need to prove ROI because it can help justify why they’re so passionate about social media. If you don’t, your social media program could fade into obscurity, he says.

“If hospitals don’t start linking things to traditional metrics and values, it’s very challenging to overcome this hurdle: ‘We’ve got the presence, but we never do anything about it,'” Dawson says. “No matter how passionate you feel about it, you’ve got to tie it in to the stakeholders.”

In other words: “When you extrapolate value, stick a flag in it,” Dawson says. “Claim it as revenue. Other service lines do the same thing, regarding a seminar or a marketing effort. You can, too.”

The benefits of a CRM system

Chris Boyer, director of digital marketing at Inova Health System, measures social media ROI through his hospital’s CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. A CRM system collects demographic, procedural and diagnostic information about each patient at the hospital. It can look at patterns and create models to hypothesize about a patient’s future actions.

Boyer shares an example of how he was able to use the CRM system to track the ROI of Inova’s Fit for 50 wellness campaign. The multimedia website provides daily video tips from Darrell Green and Inova doctors, inspiring people to lead healthier lives. The program was also promoted on Twitter and Facebook. However, Boyer says the program had no direct calls to action.

There were 7,200 people who registered for Fit for 50. Information about 6,500 registrants was updated in the CRM system; this included 2,250 who were altogether new to Inova. In addition, by offering to mail participants a pedometer, Inova was able to capture every registrant’s home address.

When the program ended Oct. 31, Boyer calculated revenue through the CRM system. For the three months after the program ended, $10,000 was brought into the CRM database from new patients of the Fit for 50 program. In addition, $91,000 was added to the CRM database from the remaining registrants. You can see how Boyer calculated the revenue from each new and current patient here.

“Fit for 50’s goal was to get people inspired and to develop a long-term relationship around wellness—a change in tactic from the direct call to action of a traditional marketing campaign,” Boyer says. “It’s hard to say if there’s a relationship between the program and direct ROI. What I do know is that through Fit for 50 we found new patients who had never had a relationship with Inova before that appeared in our database. And they started using our services.”

However, a CRM system isn’t a silver bullet for measuring social media ROI. “A CRM system for your hospital is an investment, and it’s not immediately tied in with money generated from social media ROI,” Boyer says. “You have to integrate all your database system into it.”

Boyer says his goal for a CRM system is to record and analyze patient behavior. Understanding patients better helps you market better, he says. “If you’re at a hospital with no CRM system, and you don’t know what patients like or don’t like, and you have no way of knowing it, you can’t measure and improve your campaigns.”

Measure smaller elements

If measuring all your social media efforts at once seems daunting, you could break it down to measuring a specific social media program or event.

Swedish Medical Center does something like that.

Last June, it created “Sleepless in Seattle: A Night in the Sleep Center” with Swedish’s Sleep Medicine Associates. It was an online live stream of a patient’s overnight sleep-disorder testing experience. The stream was moderated by doctors and specialists, along with Swedish’s social media team, which answered questions via Twitter.

Dana Lewis, the hospital’s interactive marketing specialist, says the primary goal wasn’t to bring in revenue, but to educate people about sleeping issues and to provide access for interactions with sleep medicine experts. The program had 10,000 people interacting directly with Swedish physicians and 5.5 million media impressions.

At a Mayo Clinic and Ragan Communications health care conference session covering ROI, Boyer calculated that the program had a 109 percent ROI for the hospital.

Boyer’s ROI formula:

Money earned from the program (minus) the amount you spend to promote the program (divided by) the cost of the promotion (equals) ROI

These numbers are not provided nor endorsed by Swedish, but you can see how Boyer calculated the percentage here.

Swedish also measured its latest social media project itself.

Recently, the hospital broadcast and live-tweeted a knee operation, as 4,500 people monitored it through a live stream and Twitter. Simultaneously, Swedish encouraged people to sign up for seminars about knee surgery, through this link embedded on its Web page and in tweets.

Now, Swedish is ready to track.

The medical center, in addition to counting how many people clicked on the seminars link, is asking attendees how they found out about the seminar. Because registration was possible online, in person or by phone, Swedish wants to make sure it can accurately track the number of attendees who learned about the seminar from the knee-surgery broadcast.

Determining what to measure in advance, Lewis says, simplifies the process.

“It’s only hard to measure if you don’t know what you’re measuring or why,” Lewis says.

COMMENT Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from directly in your inbox.