IT’s Role in Measuring Social Media ROI For Health Care Organizations

Whether you embrace it or not, leveraging social media in healthcare is here to stay. This article is not to debate the benefit of social media (website, blog, eNewsletter, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) in healthcare, but rather to discuss the importance of IT involvement.

IT should be involved on several fronts, but one in particular is in the area of “measuring” the benefits, or Return on Investment (ROI) of social media in healthcare.

Why is it important to measure?

As with most business initiatives, someone in the corner office is asking (or will ask) the question about ROI. “What is the return from all of this time and money that we’re spending on social media?”

Not only does measuring ROI answer the question for the corner office, but it is essential in the program’s success, which is beneficial to everyone across the organization.

This is where IT comes into play.

IT’s role in social media measurement.

You (health IT professionals) are probably not the ones deciding “how” to leverage social media for marketing efforts or to reduce operational efficiencies (like reduced call center support), but you can play a large – even a critical – role in helping the owner “measure” and “refine” the social media program.

How and when does IT get involved?

Ideally, IT is involved as the social media program is being designed. It’s important to understand what channels are going to be used (website with blog, video on website and YouTube, Facebook, email for newsletters, etc.) and what the desired outcomes will be.

Once the desired outcomes are identified, this is where IT can provide significant insight/input.

How are those desired outcomes measured? As technology is evolving so quickly in this area, it’s important to stay on top of the capabilities of various tools. For example, some URL shorteners measure referring sites, some don’t. Unfortunately, one single application that measures everything does NOT exist.

Is measuring social media success as simple as counting the number of “Likes” on your hospital/practice Facebook page? Maybe – but probably not.

How do you determine which metrics to measure?

This depends on the desired outcomes mentioned above. The desired outcomes could be related to increasing patient volume, reducing operational expenses, increasing patient education, recruiting physicians or nurses, etc.

How do you do this? Let’s walk through a three-step process:

  1. Define your typical path(s).
  2. Starting at the end, define the key measurement metrics.
  3. Determine method of measurement.

Ultimately, you’ll be reporting the final outcome data (number of new patients, hours of call support reduction, etc.) and then “attribute” the amount of impact that your various channels had on that final outcome.

Work backwards, connect the dots.

Sometimes this “connection” can be measured with direct metrics and sometimes they have to be measured indirectly or through correlation.

Let’s use two examples of program goals to explain the process. We’ll use an example of increasing patient volume and one of reducing call center support time.

Example 1: Increasing patient volume.

For every new patient that walks in the door, you’ll want to understand “how” they arrived at your door.

New patients can come via a variety of “paths,” but this is one example. Let’s say that our patient’s name is Jane.

Step 1: Define Typical Path
  • Jane has a lingering medical condition that she’s mentioned to a friend – we’ll say that it was a phone conversation.
  • Jane’s friend receives a newsletter via email from her primary care doctor with an article specific to Jane’s condition.
  • Jane’s friend forwards the email newsletter to Jane.
  • Jane is intrigued with an article and decides to do some Internet research on her own.
  • Jane performs a few Google searches – many other articles (and some videos) appear – some from the doctor’s office that sent the newsletter, some from others.
  • Jane gravitates to the content provided by the doctor’s office.
  • Jane visits their website.
  • Jane signs up for their newsletter and “Likes” their Facebook page.
  • Jane gets distracted with other life situations and ceases to do more research.
  • As Jane is a Facebook friend, she glances at the periodic posts from the doctor’s office – some relevant, some not.
  • She also notices that other patients post very positive comments on the Facebook page.
  • At a certain point, Jane decides that it’s time to do something about her condition.

Who do you think Jane visits?

Exactly! I’d propose that Jane visits the doctor’s office without any further research.

Wow! So, how do we measure this?

Jane walks into the office. Does she fill out a survey that asks where she heard of the doctor’s office? Maybe, maybe not. This is good data, but she probably won’t remember or outline the entire process above.

Many factors contributed to the ultimate end result but let’s start to connect the dots.

Step 2: Define Key Measurement Metrics
  • Jane’s friend sending her a newsletter was the key introduction.
  • Jane’s Google searches resulted in seeing information from doctor’s office.
  • Jane visits office website.
  • Jane signs up for newsletter.
  • Jane Likes office Facebook page.
  • Jane periodically views positive comments on office FB page – does not comment herself.

Some of these activities can be measured directly, some can’t.

Step 3: Determine Method of Measurement

For this example, there are only two direct measurements – the newsletter subscription and the Facebook Like (Bullets 4 and 5).

All other activities will have to be measured or estimated with other approaches.

With the latest changes to Facebook Insights, bullet six can be measured indirectly. We can’t measure how many comments Jane read, but we can measure how many comments are occurring – we can measure the level of engagement of the Facebook friends.

Let’s discuss another measurement approach – correlation. Assuming that you have baseline data, correlation can be a very solid approach to measuring results.

What indicators can be used to identify whether newsletters are getting forwarded (Bullet 1)?

  • Do you see an increase in newsletter subscriptions within a few days of newsletter publication?
  • Do you have a landing page as a call to action from your newsletter? If you do, you can identify known and unknown visits to that landing page. From there you can estimate a percentage of newsletters that are forwarded.

For Google searches (Bullet 2), you can use another indirect measurement to determine which keywords are most successful – a web analytics tool like Google Analytics.

For the website visit (Bullet 3), you can use a direct measurement approach if the user is known (with Customer Relationship Manager). If not, you’ll want to correlate website traffic with other trigger activities – i.e., newsletter publication – with a web analytics tool like Google Analytics.

Key Metric Measurement Type Measurement Tools/Approach
Newsletter Forward Correlation # of subscriptions or landing page
Google Searches Indirect Google Analytics
Website Visit Direct or Correlation CRM or Google Analytics
Newsletter Subscription Direct Email list database
Facebook Like Direct Facebook Friend list
Facebook Visibility Indirect Facebook Insights
Example 2: Let’s use another example – the goal of reducing call center volume.

Step 1: Define Typical Path
  • Johnny wakes up with a sore throat.
  • Mom wonders if he should go to school – is he contagious?
  • Mom does a quick Google search on “sore throat contagious.”
  • Several articles appear – even one from the local doctor’s office.
  • Mom trusts the information from the local doctor’s office.
  • Mom definitively decides that it’s best to keep Johnny home from school.
  • No need to call the nurse line.
Step 2: Define Key Measurement Metrics

There are really only two possible measurements here – Did Mom view the article (Bullet 4)? And, how did Mom find the article (Bullet 3)?

Step 3: Determine Method of Measurement

Again, IF Mom is a known entity (via CRM), then you can cross reference the CRM log with the call center log to see how many people found their answer in the article.

If Mom is not a known entity, it’s best to correlate the activity on the article page (and other FAQ pages) with call center volume. Theoretically, as page volume goes up, call center volume should go down.

You can even track the types of questions that are being asked within the call center. Are commonly asked questions they addressed in the FAQ section of your site? And if not, have them added to the FAQ page.

To measure “how” Mom arrived at the article, you’ll want to look at web analytics to identify the most common “paths.” Was it a raw Google search that led to the article? Or other pages on your site?

Key Metric Measurement Type Measurement Tools/Approach
Google Searches Indirect Google Analytics
Article (Website) Visit Direct or Correlation CRM or Google Analytics

Conclusion and Best Practices

In conclusion, measuring the results of your social media program is critical. It’s a critical component to the overall success of the program.

IT is best poised to provide this critical function. IT knows the tools, knows how to apply the tools and knows how to design a simple, yet effective, measurement program.

If you follow these best practices you’ll be well on your way to developing a “measurable” social media program.

  • Whether you use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, newsletters, etc. as part of your digital strategy, you’ll want to look to “connect the dots” between them.
  • Always start at the end. The number of Twitter followers may tell you nothing. Unless, they are a connection as you move backwards.
  • Do not pick too many metrics to measure. Stick with a core set that provides you with 80% of the picture. You will never be able to map out each and every scenario. Map the top five to 10 scenarios and identify the common metrics.
  • The tool landscape for measuring social media outcomes is evolving – continually monitor the advancements in the tools market.
  • Lastly, as you will not be able to get by with one single tool, you’ll need to use a combination. Look for best combinations that allow you to get the most functionality with the fewest number of tools.

We listed a few measurement tools above, but the article by Rand Fishkin provides a more comprehensive list.

Again, the measurement tool landscape changes daily, so make sure that you do some research prior to selecting the appropriate tool(s) for your use.

What measurement tools do you use in your social media program? Please share.


Dean Berg, digital strategist at Anicca Media, brings 20 years of marketing experience to bear when working with healthcare providers on their marketing and branding strategies. From more technically oriented Product Management and Product Marketing roles in content and web technologies to Business Development roles, Dean has covered the spectrum.

While relatively new to the healthcare field, Dean brings another perspective to the utilization of digital/social media in healthcare marketing – a perspective that is based on delivering Return on Investment. Whether ROI is measured as a financial return or based on other business objectives, Dean’s focus is on designing digital marketing programs with ROI in mind.

To learn more about Anicca Media’s research into ROI, visit their website.

Guest Author

The mission of HL7 Standards is to engage conversations on healthcare and technology. In order to do this, we welcome the opportunity for guest bloggers to appear on our site and contribute meaningfully by offering other perspectives on key topics surrounding health care and health IT. Our guest bloggers contribute to the site on a variety of topics from specific HL7 messaging, to healthcare trends and other topics like Meaningful Use, to health care social media. Interested in guest blogging on HL7 Standards? Email info@corepointhealth.com, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter, for more information.

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4 Responses to IT’s Role in Measuring Social Media ROI For Health Care Organizations

  1. Laurence Zaied November 9, 2011 at 9:10 am #

    This is really interesting. I am not in the HeathCare industry since a long time but I have been in online media for a while…
    If there is one valuable thing in online marketing compared to traditionnal marketing is its capacity to measure allmoste everything and being able to have an ROI approach in each steps of marketing plan. And social should never be an exception.
    There are more and more tools to “measure” social media actions. Then measuring ROI should not be too difficult. Should IT be involved in this? I wonder… Traditionnally it is more a marketing job but if your marketers are not able to do it, then for sure you need to wake them up and help them define the tools they need…

  2. jas_cinammonagency November 9, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

    I found this article really interesting, especially as you took the time to put some examples in to help the ‘non-socialite” understand it.

    As for measuring, I always advise doctors to get their receptionists to ask where they came from – but in a way that it isn’t obvious!

  3. social media roi December 28, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    Social media ROI is needed for a health care organization, to know & measure the success of the organization on the social media.

  4. Darren March 20, 2012 at 5:27 am #

    Tracking ROI in the example above is a great way of showing that ROI doesn’t always have to be measured in Sales.

    Desired actions are what needs to be tracked – and this can save costs and expense in the healthcare industry the same as it can drive revenue up for other businesses.