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Social media in social care
Boosting business, transparency and sharing

Jonathan Papworth sets out the benefits of using social media in social care to increase transparency and boost your business.

Facebook’s creator Mark Zuckerberg said that, ‘By giving people the power to share, we’re making the world more transparent’.

For a sector that is not well-understood by the general public, being open and transparent can have a big impact. Added to this, transparency is a key message of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), with the lack thereof identified in Inadequate care, such as, ‘Complaints are not dealt with in an open, transparent, timely and objective way.’ Whilst Outstanding care includes, ’All staff are open and transparent, and fully committed to reporting incidents and near misses.’

Therefore, there ought to be some connection between transparency in social media and meeting the objectives of CQC, which logically should lead to better care.

There are lots of statistics that show people increasingly make buying decisions based on online research. A study in America by Software Advice showed that 72% of patients use online reviews as their first step in finding a new doctor.

Translate this to social care and potential residents’ families will be using the internet to try to find the best care for their loved ones, and engaging with social media can help them achieve this. By having a presence on social media, you also demystify social care, increase transparency and give people a window into the quality care you deliver.

Steps to social media success

There are a lot of social media platforms, but the most used in the UK are Facebook and Twitter. As such, it makes sense to start any kind of social media initiative with these.

Other platforms like YouTube and Instagram are also widely used, but a good engagement on one platform is better than poor engagement on several.

There are four fundamental steps to success with social media:

  • Strategy and foundations.
  • Engaging content.
  • Building a following.
  • Achieving your goals.

Strategy and foundations

The first step is to decide what you want to achieve. This is not necessarily the number of followers or likes, it is the end goal. That goal could be to have a certain number of enquiries through social media, which should in turn increase occupancy; or it could be to engage with a different demographic of potential service user.

Next is to set out the plan to achieve your goal, including what platforms you will use, what type of content you will post and how often. Also consider who is going to be responsible for keeping to the plan. It’s important to ensure there are clear measurements, it is very easy to start an initiative like social media and then let it flounder. People who are successful tend to allocate 30 minutes a day to managing their online content, and whilst this might seem onerous, it is necessary to allocate some time to keep information fresh.

From here you should optimise your social media accounts. You have a split-second to grab people’s attention as they flit around the internet, so make sure the message you want to convey is very clear and concise, and put it on your header and cover image.

The best header image is not a picture of your home, or happy clients. The best picture has words which tell prospective clients what you do, such as ‘Specialising in dementia care’ or ‘Focused on keeping clients active’.

Whatever you want people to know about you, put it on the header and cover image, and keep it consistent across all platforms. In that split second mentioned above, people need to see the same message everywhere.

Your biography text should explain what you do and clearly detail the benefits of what you provide. Remember to make it personal and engaging.

Also, make sure your social media accounts link through to the right page on your website. This might not be your home page, it could be the page that invites people to visit you, or details a special event.

If you participated in the Care Home Open Day recently then this would have been the perfect place to link social media, although now it needs to be moved to another page because that day has passed, and you don’t want your link going to an out-of-date page.

This is one of the reasons time needs to be allocated to maintaining your online presence, the passage of time changes things and it is important to keep everything up-to-date.

Engaging content

With the strategy and foundations in place, it is time to move on to providing engaging content. One important rule is not to use social media to sell to people. Instead, use it to provide information and entertainment so that people get to know you, and from there to like you and finally to trust you.

Even when using social media as primary sales tool, the rule is that no more than 20% of the information posted should contain a sales message. There are four types of content that work well:

  1. Talk about what you are doing, recent activities, birthdays or other highlights. Show your personality.
  2. Tips and advice to help and educate people.
  3. Ask questions, because people are inclined to answer questions on social media. This can be about your organisation or something generic, just to get a conversation going.
  4. Share interesting content that other people have written, such as National Care Forum, CQC or Care England. Alternatively, use sites such as BlogLovin.com or Google Alerts to draw relevant content from the web that might be of interest.

Building a following

Next, we come to building a following, which can take a long time although there are some shortcuts which some might be willing to use.

It is important to identify the type of person you want to engage with. This will probably be people with elderly parents if you provide older people’s services, or those with children with learning disabilities, if you provide specialist services.

If your market is older people, your target audience will normally be the eldest daughter, or eldest son’s wife as these tend to be the people who decide on the care. By all means engage with other people, but remember the strategy at the outset and ensure you are focusing on what it is you want to achieve from your social media.

To reach the people you want to engage with, simply think about complementary organisations they could be following. If you specialise in dementia care, then the people you want to be in contact with might be using an Admiral Nurse, and could be following them on social media.

One option to get to know your target audience would be to ask existing clients’ relatives if they use social media, and what type of organisations they follow. It might be that the local church or golf club has a big following. Don’t forget to ask them to follow you or like your page too.

Once you know your complementary organisations, consider how you want to target their followers. The simplest way on Facebook is to follow them and comment on their posts. By doing this, you will pick up followers, however it will take time, which may be fine for your business and aims, but there are ways to get there quicker.

For Twitter, there is a tool called ManageFlitter which has a free version and a more powerful paid version. ManageFlitter allows you to search the biography text of all Twitter’s users, including their location. From this, you can follow the people who meet your search requirements. Statistics show that in so doing, 30% to 40% will follow you back. It is also possible to use ManageFlitter to find the followers of other care providers, and follow them to build a following, but I suggest this might be a step too far.

Another option is to use Twitter’s advanced search strategy which allows you to search the contents of people’s tweets whether they follow you or not. Set the location to your target area and then search what people are likely to be looking for – such as ‘looking for a residential care home’, or maybe their issue, such as ‘caring for elderly parent’.

Achieving your goals

Once you have followers who are engaged because of the content you are providing, then you should be on your way to achieving your goals, whether that’s increasing enquiries or the number of people interested in visiting you, an increase in visits to your website or ultimately more customers.

Ideally, one goal will be that everyone who visits your website will contact you. However, not every care provider can handle inbound enquiries at all hours of the day.

One option to address this is to set up a chat box on your website. These can be automated, but there are also options that mean for a monthly fee you can have enquiries handled by a real person, which could be better than your busy care staff being interrupted at all hours.

Social media can be really effective as a way to boost business. However, it has other benefits when used by clients and families. I know of a family whose father has dementia and lives in a care home. When the family went on holiday to New Zealand they used a photo sharing platform to send pictures to their elderly father via the carer’s tablet.

When the family returned, their father who normally couldn’t remember them when they come back from a break, remained engaged with his family and remembered them all. His dementia symptoms were improved simply by sharing holiday pictures online.

Social media is a fantastic tool to use in social care; whatever the application, it can help you grow your business, open up your organisation to potential clients and help to improve the quality of life of the people you support.

Jonathan Papworth is Co-Director of Person Centred Software. Email: j.papworth@personcentredsoftware.com Twitter: @PersonCentredSW

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