Managing Social Media During a Pandemic

By The SHSMD Team posted 05-26-2020 11:52 AM

Robbie Schneider oversees social media strategy for Franciscan Health’s 12 hospitals in Indiana and Illinois. Franciscan Health was discussing COVID-19 in social media as early as January, though it wasn’t until six or seven weeks later that a critical number of cases emerged in their service area.

Schneider pointed out that “while we’ve always known that social media is flexible, but now with folks being at home at all hours and having different needs, you're not beholden to the old rules out there. And so I think this is a great time for experimentation and trying out new ideas.”

She notes two important challenges. The first is to stay on message and the second is to “allow ourselves to breathe.” Health care workers are facing multiple challenges during COVID-19 and it’s important to take care of oneself as a person, as well as fulfilling professional and family responsibilities. Unlike other crises, which might be resolved within a few days or a few weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing after several weeks, without a clear end in sight.

Because Franciscan Health’s system includes Chicago and Indianapolis as well as rural hospitals and a college town, one of their first challenges was creating relevant material for these very different populations. The first step was throwing the blog and social media calendar out the window. For example, they had messages about prepping for a spring break cruise for college audiences, and “all of a sudden, you’re not going anywhere for spring break except for your living room.”

This meant that they had to pivot to find or create content that’s highly relevant to different audiences, whether it’s about parenting topics such as talking to children about COVID-19 or helping people care for themselves, including adhering to medication schedules and managing stress.

At the beginning of the pandemic, their audience, regardless of demographics, had more or less the same questions. What is COVID-19, how is it likely to affect me, what are the symptoms and what should I do if I have symptoms? Schneider and her team first focused on these kinds of universal questions. As the crisis continued, questions became more focused on Franciscan Health’s responses, such as how they were dealing with the shortage of personal protective equipment and how they were protecting their patients.

Franciscan also engages in social listening, looking for the themes that resonated with people and what people in their community were saying. For example, they might see a social media post like, “I’ve been sitting on my couch for three weeks working and now all of a sudden I am hurting like you've never believed,” and responded with content on ergonomics.

Schneider noted another unique opportunity, to tap into experts, “not necessarily the ones you always think about.” For example, in addition to infectious disease or pulmonary experts, “look at the different ways that this is touching folks’ lives. So it may be dietary, how do you make what’s in your pantry more nutritious, or featuring your bereavement coordinator on how to deal with virtual grieving, supporting somebody during shelter in place.” She mentioned that a colleague is stretching out of her comfort zone to write a blog post on how to support new mothers at home, when they can’t ask their own mother or an experienced friend to come and help.”

During April, they created about 400 pieces of social content and the social media is getting tremendous engagement. The number of clicks rose to nine times its level at the beginning of the year and shares grew fivefold. The media relations team is also handling approximately four times its normal volume of requests.

One of the most popular posts is about COVID-19 symptoms and prevention, posted in January. They weren’t certain about posting it but decided that since there wasn’t much content yet, they should go ahead. Schneider and her team keep that post up to date with new information and FAQs and it has gotten approximately 60,000 clicks so far. Almost all of their growth is organic.

Schneider now is focusing on reaching people who are afraid to seek care for fear of contracting COVID-19, including those postponing elective care or not going to the emergency department for serious conditions. Franciscan emphasizing the availability of telehealth and that it is safe to come to the hospital for emergencies and elective procedures.

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For more to help your hospital or health system’s COVID-19 response, visit SHSMD’s collection of resources for hospital and health system marketing, communications, business development and planning. The AHA and SHSMD collaborated to create Resources for COVID-19 Communications.