According to the Arab Social Media Report, “There are more than 135 million individuals using the Internet in the 22 Arab countries. This is coupled with a mobile penetration rate of around 110% on a regional level; and more than 71 million active users of social networking technologies.”
In the United States alone, 26% of all hospitals are on social media. 31% of healthcare professionals use social media mainly for networking. These are the healthcare entities – clinics, health centres, etc., which began marketing their services to gain advantage against their competitors and provide customer service online.
Social media has become an effective means of reaching people mainly because consumers trust and recognise the brand and the information they provide. A survey recently conducted by Nielsen Media Research indicates “90% of respondents from 18 to 24 years of age said they would trust medical information shared by others on their social media networks. While 60% of social media users said they would trust social media posts and activities by doctors over any other group”.
Creating opportunities for easier interaction, people are inclined to pay attention to health care entities’ activities in social media. According to the survey, the information they find on social media greatly affects how 40% of consumers deal with their health. By far, video content from these heath entities is performing better, as YouTube traffic to hospital sites have showed tremendous increase. Plenty of video hosting channels have doctors and medical practitioners showcasing health tips and helpful information about a particular ailment or disease, and getting real time feedback from interested consumers. An inquiry to the nearest hospital or clinic to their place is just a Facebook comment or a tweet away.
In the Arab region, there have been immense efforts from the healthcare industry to engage consumers and inspire other influencers to reach out on social media. Accounting a large percentage of Internet penetration in the region, a number of healthcare providers, hospitals, and also the government’s health sector in the United Arab Emirates are also actively maintaining their presence online.
Non-profit organization and Nobel Peace Prize winner Doctors Without Borders Middle East have established good following on social media with a total 1,012,652 followers on Facebook, 27.5K followers on Twitter and almost 200 followers on YouTube. Doctors Without Borders channels are a mix of practical health tips, industry-related news and useful information on certain diseases. It makes use of gripping stories, info-graphics and photos depicting the state of healthcare in the Arab region. The organisation aims to increase awareness on key health issues and raise funds for its volunteer works and projects.
Another example of social media put to good use is the Ministry of Health (MOH), the public and private sector health regulatory organization in UAE which has 16,000 followers on Facebook. MOH UAE is more active on Twitter with 97,000 followers. It successfully strings all its e-services, community events, health news and tips on its Facebook page. Government e-services are also further promoted on other channels such as Twitter and YouTube. This move was also followed by a large number of government health regulators in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar to establish their social media presence.
Acknowledging the importance of an ICT driven economy, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has launched the Arab Social Media Award on 15th June 2014. Focusing on its positive employment, the summit provides a platform for innovative ideas to establish a new phase in the evolution of social media by tapping into the capabilities of young people in the development of Arab society.
“The significance of these channels lies in their ability to reach out easily to all members of society through personal devices. It is our duty to help our young people and future generations by building a knowledge platform to protect them from any destructive and negative thoughts that affect their full potential and create constructive paths for Arab societies,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
The Health category of the Arab Social Media Awards “honours the best use of social media in campaigns conducted by individuals, institutions, and healthcare companies to promote health awareness in the Arab community, regarding the most important risks and health issues faced by the region”.
This year’s awardee for Health Category is Jordan-based healthcare directory and e-commerce site, WebTeb. The website aims to provide comprehensive medical information to the Arab community through the Internet. You can find a doctor by specialisation, calculate your calories, body mass index and get some useful information on different kinds of medicinal drugs. Webteb has over three million followers on Facebook, 61,767 Twitter followers and almost 500 followers on YouTube channel. It integrates a Facebook application, the TebChecker. The new symptom checker tool includes extensive information created by and licensed from Harvard Health Publications (Harvard Medical School). The tool helps users understand what their medical symptoms could mean and provides them with the possible causes, diagnoses, and treatments of common conditions through an interactive, step by step guide.
While the Arab region is a diverse market of different cultures, social media channels are mostly written in two languages – Arabic and English.
According to Arab Social Media Report, the limited availability of relevant Arabic content online is one of the key barriers facing Arab Internet users. Findings suggest that “accessibility and connectivity”, “cost” and “lack of content in my language” were the top three challenges facing internet users in the region.
As for online marketers, healthcare marketing isn’t easy as easy as it seems. Healthcare marketers are up against privacy regulations, nursing and support staff shortages, and increasing demand for services. Compared to other industries, healthcare may not be as quick to adopt social media. A valuable tip would be to leverage good examples like Mayo Clinic and PatientMe, who try to cater to all areas of health and provide services and quick responses to inquiries on social media.
Mayo Clinic executed its social media strategy in 2005, utilising social media channels to promote and increase downloads of its podcasts. The clinic posts informative podcasts (along with video and text) on its blogs, which garnered positive response from people. Aside from this, Mayo Clinic has a Facebook fan page, a Twitter account and a YouTube channel with noteworthy number of followers and more than 8,000% increase in downloads of podcast have been recorded since then.
Moreover, patients as well as potential future patients—are all involved in social networks. Studies suggest that time spent on social media sites now accounts for almost 10% of all time people spend browsing the internet. Hospitals can utilise social channels to answer healthcare- or illness-related questions or simply provide medical information. In the same way, physicians and other health practitioners are also spending time online. Social media can be a good mechanism for hospitals and other organisations to share information and best practices between their staff.
Healthcare is continually changing and is always at the top priority for most people. Thus, social media is just one marketing tool for hospitals and healthcare organisations to stay top of mind and relevant for the people.