Today’s transformative social media environment poses a major challenge for brands, especially healthcare brands. In a fractured environment of dense misinformation and mistrust, platforms continue to rise and fall at lightning speed. Threads exploded in popularity near-overnight, but activity on the platform is already waning. And in response to TikTok’s rapid ascent in popularity, competitors at Meta, Twitter, and LinkedIn are leaning increasingly into recommended content, where healthcare brands often struggle to show up.
Today, healthcare brands must compete not only with one another, but with all the consumer brands and influencers their target audience follows. This has only intensified since the pandemic — more brands and creators are engaging with health and wellness issues than ever before.
Across industries, companies face steadily declining organic reach as platforms become increasingly pay-for-play, creator-centric, and video-forward. On Facebook, the most used social media platform on the planet, just 0.07% of a page’s fans engage with the average organic post.
The good news is that with a shift in mindset and strategy, healthcare brands can thrive in tomorrow’s social media landscape. As someone who helps trusted healthcare organizations navigate these challenges every day, I’ve seen firsthand how accepting and addressing these shifts can not only improve performance, but propel brands into positions as leaders in the field and in the digital sphere. Here’s how:
Get specific about who the brand needs to reach.
While social media founders assert that their platforms are a vital public space for civic discourse, this simply is not the case. Every social media user views content through a personal lens — the unique mix of content selected by the platform’s algorithm to keep them on the platform for as long as possible. There is no digital “town square” when every user is fed only the content most likely to hold their interest.
And yet, most health brands continue to treat social media like a megaphone to the masses. When brands appeal to everyone, they’re unlikely to truly engage anyone.
Instead, health companies need to approach content creation with the end goal of appearing in the “For You” page of specific groups of consumers. This could be new mothers, college freshmen, or middle-aged men concerned about their heart health. Specific content is easier to serve to the users most likely to interact with it, and will perform the best.
Don’t try to be everything, everywhere, all at once.
With new platforms emerging every few months, it’s easy for companies to stretch themselves thin. But health brands do not need to prioritize, or even have a presence on, every platform.
Instead, embrace a culture of flexibility. Prioritize resources and efforts for the platforms that offer true exposure to key audiences, and a voice among competitors. And brands may not have the type of content needed to succeed on some platforms: without quality graphics, photos, or video content, a brand won’t see much success on Instagram, for example.
It’s also important to track performance to identify the platform or platforms with the greatest ROI. Social media success may be an art form, but it should also be data-driven. If you aren’t getting engagement on a particular medium, don’t be afraid to pivot or scrap it altogether.
Trade in trust.
During the pandemic, consumers around the world started to lose trust in their healthcare systems and providers — and that trust hasn’t rebounded. Instead, people are turning to influencers for health guidance — even when it contradicts their doctor.
What’s a health brand to do? To start, be the kind of messenger your audience finds trustworthy — one that is competent, honest, and caring. How a brand and its representatives look, sound, and act on social media deeply matter
Then, bring other trusted messengers into the fold. Patient influencers play a critical role in followers’ health choices — with 90% of patients saying that online communities play an important role in their health decisions. Partnering with influencers who already have the trust and attention of your target audience is an effective way to build trust in your own brand, and in turn, build trust in science and public health. As platforms become increasingly creator-centric, an influencer marketing strategy is an essential piece of any brand’s social media presence.
Make entertainment a top priority.
Many healthcare brands deal with serious topics, but their content doesn’t need to be funny or frivolous to entertain and engage. The hearts and attention of consumers can be captured in a variety of ways. Trends (e.g. health myths circulated via social media) can be opportunities. Wit, empathy, and emotion are all vital tools.
When all else fails, lean into the media most likely to engage. Half of users today prefer video over other content. Instagram videos receive up to twice as much engagement as photo posts. On mobile devices alone, YouTube reaches more adults aged 18 to 24 than any TV network, and accounts for more than 25% of worldwide mobile traffic. This year, as much as 82% of online content will consist of video, and still, users want more. It’s essential that health brands meet this demand with the high quality, short form video content consumers prefer.
Health communicators will need to wield their strategic and creative flair to navigate the ups and downs of this shifting social media landscape. With an adaptable and strategic mindset, these changes can be harnessed as opportunities to advance health for all.