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Written by: Michelle Seitzer, Senior Blogger at SeniorsforLiving.com
One bad post about your community or business is all it takes.
If a first-time visitor to your website or Facebook page sees it, a negative impression will likely be formed. However, the way the post is handled has an equally dramatic impact. If it is removed promptly, with a well-written follow-up apology/clarification, the potential for showing your company’s professionalism far outweighs the dangers that negative online feedback presents. But if it is left there, lurking online for days and turning off each new site visitor, your reputation suffers.
An online presence for senior living communities and providers is often viewed as a double-edged sword. Perhaps this is why some providers are delaying the inevitable. Says Craig Fukushima, a partner with the California-based healthcare consulting firm, The Fox Group: “Long-term care providers have been slow to adopt social media as a way of reaching out to their customers and potential customers, and as a way of monitoring their brand. However, it is gaining some traction, especially at the independent living and assisted living levels.”
Kellie Gundling, a consultant for The Fox Group with over 25 years of senior living experience, agrees. She believes that social media is definitely being used by more people in the industry (for example, in LinkedIn groups), but not as much as it could be. The main reason -- time constraints. “In the community setting, staff is so busy,” she says.
Dedicating already stretched hours and human resources to social media management may also seem like a luxury item your budget can’t sustain (especially with Medicare and Medicaid cuts looming), but the potential benefits for maintaining a positive online profile is huge.
If it’s done well, you’ll be maximizing your in-house marketing efforts globally and locally, virtually and in person (i.e., “I saw the info for this event posted on your website, and that’s why I’m here today.”). Besides attracting prospective residents, those currently living and working in the community -- and their family and friends -- have a public forum in which to sing their praises about your residence.
Best Practices for Building an Effective Online PresenceMichael Benidt, president of technology consulting firm, Golden Compass, Inc., believes that companies with an online presence -- be it a website, Twitter account, Facebook page, or LinkedIn group -- should be fully committed. “So many people never respond on Twitter, never thank people who comment on their Facebook pages. That’s got to be a customer turn-off.”
For Benidt, it’s not about how many tweets go out per day, or how many “likes” your page gets. Instead, it’s all about follow-up. “I think that’s a key part of good social media strategy. Too many companies/individuals don't realize the potential they have for building/retaining a strong following and garnering a good reputation simply by responding to posts and tweets. True social media experts – of which there are so few -- always respond.”
Being certain that your social media/online support staff is in compliance is only one side of the coin though. Most of your employees are Facebook users and tweeters too, so you need a policy that speaks to what they can post about the community outside of work hours (on your company’s Facebook page and on their personal pages).
“A bad experience with social media usually triggers a new policy,” says Kellie Gundling.
Be proactive: before launching a Facebook page, establish clear social media guidelines for all your employees, put it in writing (Gundling recommends inclusion of a confidentiality statement) and have each staff member sign and date the document. If your community is already online, make it a priority to get staff signatures on a social media policy as soon as possible.
Using Social Media for GoodYes, having an online presence is time-consuming, and it might seem easier just to scrap it entirely, especially since the return-on-investment is hard to measure.
And, of course, not all employees, residents and family members want to post negative comments or tarnish your good reputation. Providing a forum for positive feedback and a safe place to connect with others, share resources, and celebrate successes can be quite rewarding, with exciting opportunities for growth. You can use your social media outlets to present an idea your company is exploring, or to garner feedback on a new care approach. Gundling believes social media could also serve as an effective staff development tool in the future, teaching employees new skills and creating a stronger sense of community.
Until then, it’s important to keep websites and fan pages current, recommends Gundling. “Those of us who work in senior living need to be really sure we communicate well with residents, team members or family members,” she adds. That includes everything from making sure event postings list the correct dates and times, to making sure that tweets and posts are responded to in a timely manner, to encouraging engagement from all followers and fans.
For more on best practices in effective social media management, see Social Media and Senior Living Marketing: Putting Faces with Names.
The “real person” behind SeniorsforLiving’s social media outreach, Michelle Seitzer spent 10 years filling various roles at assisted living communities in Pennsylvania and Maryland, then worked as a public policy coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association in PA before settling down as a full-time freelance writer. Seitzer also served as a long-distance caregiver for her beloved grandfather, who died of complications from Alzheimer’s in 2009. She has blogged for SeniorsforLiving.com, which provides information on assisted living, home care, and Alzheimer’s care, since November 2008, and is the co-moderator of the first #eldercarechat on Twitter, held every other Wednesday at 1pm EST. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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