MCSMN Blog

September 19, 2018

The Questions Your Patients Are Too Embarrassed to Ask: Using Digital Listening to Inform Your Social Strategy

By Erica Freckelton

Erica Freckelton will present "The Questions Your Patients Are Too Embarrassed to Ask: Using Digital Listening to Inform Your Social Strategy" at the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network 2018 Annual Conference. To learn more from Erica and other expert speakers, please join us!


What if you could tap into the data-based wealth of knowledge currently being aggregated from your patients' online activity? It could tell you a lot about them—their fears, hopes, dreams and the scary (or sometimes embarrassing) questions they don’t want to ask out loud. This information could be powerful in building an online community through your social channels, by allowing you to meet patient needs with the right information at the right moment.

Why Health Systems Have to Care About Digital Listening

It’s no surprise that health care consumers are increasingly turning to digital channels to share experiences and conduct research about their health, and digital listening holds the key to that rich information that tells you what makes your patients tick. If your health system isn’t listening to what your patients have to say online, you’re missing a huge part of the conversation.

So, what can you do about it as a health system marketer? How do you ensure your social strategy delivers value for patients and positions your organization as a trusted source that meets patients at every phase of their health care journeys? Because if your health system doesn’t—your competitors will.

Meeting Patients Where They Are

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my experience in search marketing, it’s that intent is vital. As healthcare professionals, it can be easy to forget that the way we talk about medical conditions and the treatments we offer don’t always align with the way our patients talk about their symptoms and needs.

As we begin tapping into the variety of digital listening tools available to inform your social strategy, it’s important to put ourselves in the mindset of our patients. While there’s no magic tool to accurately decipher intent, a keen understanding of your audience will help you begin to better assess the intent behind search queries. You can then tailor your social content to meet their needs.

Digging Into the Data

According to research from eMarketer, there will be an estimated 243 million search users in the United States alone by the year 2020. Beyond that, Google estimates that one in 20 searches are for health-related information—but how can health system marketers use that to inform social strategy?

  • External tools: With a variety of free, publicly available tools that aggregate searcher data, marketers have access to a treasure trove of information that can be leveraged to improve your social strategy. For example, Google Trends analyzes the popularity of top search queries across regions and turns that information into easy-to-digest data visualizations. Google Trends also allows you to compare keyword popularity over time, easily identifying seasonal spikes for particular topics. Armed with these tools, health care marketers can get ahead of the curve, timing social media content to align with seasonal interest.
  • Internal tools: Beyond publicly available tools, health care marketers can also tap into internal data to better understand consumers and how to customize a social media strategy to meet their specific needs. One such tool, Google Search Console, allows marketers to track which specific search queries drive the most traffic to their website. In turn, this helps identify which topics resonate most with consumers and are likely to garner the most engagement.

Having a solid understanding of the tools and resources available to better understand patient behaviors, motivations, and intentions is the way to transform your social strategy from reactive to predictive. It gives you the option to expertly forecast and meet patient needs before they even have to ask.


As the manager of digital engagement at ReviveHealth, Erica combines her passion for search marketing with her knowledge of digital platforms to uncover new opportunities for clients. Through the development and implementation of effective digital marketing strategies, she helps clients create compelling online experiences that align with overall business objectives and increase visibility. Erica is Google AdWords certified, and fluent in translating her expertise to both paid and organic search.

Share This Article

Here is a quick comment that you can include in your post.


Tags: Annual Conference, Platforms, Software, & Tools, Strategy, Tactics & Best Practices

Lots of richness in your ideas here. Some other simple things to understand the patient journey is really understanding what is happening on your primary website via simple analytics (page views and time is a good starting point).

There is also the question of whether or not you should listen to patients, potential patients, or an individual patient. it's one thing to use NLP ( natural language processing) to understand your communities sentiment, it's another thing to use it on a patients chart and social media history. ( As an aside, I think there is significant value in combining an individual patient's EHR data with their social media history, but, even with consent, there may still be ethical barriers to doing this).

Please login or register to post a reply.

© Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. All Rights Reserved.