The importance of being social
How care organisations can use social media to engage and inform
Most care home providers recognise that, in a competitive environment, they need to invest time and resources to ensure that would-be residents and their relatives are aware of them and the myriad ingredients that make them stand out from the competition. In years gone by, providers might have readily turned to usual tried and tested marketing tools – a brochure, community newsletter, or even a nice shiny website. Social media, on the other hand, is used less consistently by care homes – and more’s the pity. In today’s digital age, social media is no longer a ‘nice to have’ optional extra, but is instead an important channel for highlighting what makes your home special and why people should choose to live and work there.
The vast numbers of people using social media means that it is an effective way to engage stakeholders and inform the local community, potential residents and prospective new staff. Social media is a way to reach people who you would not otherwise be able to, in the digital spaces they already use regularly. It’s not just young people who use social media, but actually, it is fast growing among older generations too. This means a relative looking for a care home for their parents could be searching and seeking advice from the internet before deciding on a home, meaning they are your perfect target audience.
The right social media channels can function as your ‘shop window’; a snapshot of events, news and job vacancies. Whether you’re sharing pictures from residents’ latest trip to the seaside, highlighting a positive CQC report, or talking about a visit from local schoolchildren – social media can provide people with a regular glimpse into life at your home. When it is done well it can help increase reputation, attract new people to work, attract new residents and give an organisation more of a general presence.
But where to focus your resources when staffing is tight and resources are finite? Social media may seem like a minefield, but the most popular platforms are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Facebook is probably the most important tool for care organisations to communicate effectively to a general audience, as it has 1.8 billion monthly active users - far more users than any other social platform, and allows you to interact with a targeted group of people who have ‘liked’ your organisation’s page, meaning you know they are interested in you and the content you are publishing. When choosing which social media channels to use, less really is more – it is far better to focus on one social media channel that you can nurture and update regularly, than to spread yourself thinly across multiple channels in a way that dilutes your effectiveness.
Crucially, social media can be free, and the return can be a lot bigger than what you are putting in. Ideas of things to post include pictures of day trips and events at the home – these should always include a photo, preferably of a resident or volunteer, to bring the post to life and give a true picture of what you are talking about. It is also a good idea to post about upcoming events, job vacancies and anything interesting happening at the home. Think about what you would want to see from an organisation that you are potentially interested in working for, volunteering at, or sending your elderly parents to. Try and post regularly – a page or feed that hasn’t been updated for months will not impress! It’s worth drawing up a day-to-day plan to ensure that there is a reasonably constant flow of content and that you assemble the necessary ingredients, such as pictures or quotes from residents, ahead of time.
One word of caution - do ensure all staff who have access to post on social media are aware of all guidelines around what can and can’t be posted, for example confidential details about residents should be kept off social media, and some residents may object to having their photos posted on the internet. Make sure you obtain consent before posting anything.
And how do you know if social media is working? A good way to measure this is through something tangible – whether that’s visits to your website, enquiries made to the care home, applications to a job role or resident occupancy numbers. You may be surprised at the number of people you can reach through social media, and maybe some people who have never heard of your care organisation before. It really is a valuable tool for enhancing and increasing reputation. And one thing is certain – if you’re not doing it, your competitors will be!
Alex Goldup is a communications consultant at The PR Office (www.theproffice.co.uk) and has advised a number of care homes, care organisations and care charities on reputation management and PR.