Social media comes of age.

This article was produced by Kate Crawshaw, Director Engagement, and Rhod Ellis-Jones, Principal, for the September edition of ACCViews, the quarterly magazine of Aged and Community Care Victoria.

Just over a year ago, I fronted a packed crowd at the ACCV state congress. The theme of the presentation was social media and its arrival as a major platform for communication. About a third of that audience scribbled diligently on their pads. Another third stayed focused for about half of it – and then started thinking about the night’s networking event. The final third stomped and nodded in earnest agreement as a few self-elected voices  stood up to declare social media a fad, only for the young, and downright dangerous!

This was not a reaction unique to aged care. I see it very much like the arrival of the radio, TV, and mobile phones. Some people launch in, others stand back and some run a mile. However, there is one major difference with social media. The adoption has been so rapid that even the more conservative members of public are now very keen to learn. Just a year after that enjoyable day at Melbourne Park: in this sector, social media has come of age.

Over the last 12 months we have witnessed a considerable rise in both the application of social media strategy to solve business issues within the aged care industry, and a steady increase in the use of social media by aged care employees, residents and families alike.  While mainstream media depicts social networks as being dominated by younger generations and large global brands, other activity bubbles away.  In the aged care space that activity includes:

  • Facilities engaging with families.
  • Aged care nurses building online support networks.
  • Employees sharing their love for and frustrations of their jobs.
  • Commentary on the state of aged care in Australia.
  • Families looking for advice and support when about to seek or place a relative in care.

In a number of business leaders roundtables, training programs and social media campaigns, we’ve seen aged care providers and member groups embrace social media as a communication channel, reaching and understanding their stakeholders better than ever before. We share some particular insights below.

Employee engagement as a major opportunity.

One of the earliest and most interesting applications of social media has been the overwhelming interest in its use as an employee engagement tool.  The cost of effectively engaging employees within a multiple shift environment has, and continues to be, an ongoing challenge for this sector.  As smartphone use rises exponentially, (forecast to constitute over 50% of the Australian mobile subscription base by 2013) online access can now be easily provided to workers who do not work at a computer desk.  With over half Facebook web page hits being requested by a mobile device, the opportunities for industry to communicate with employees via this channel becomes a more viable option.

In many industries where the availability of skilled labour is tight, social media recruitment is also being adopted. Employees are being enlisted to tell their stories and use their networks to attract the right kinds of candidates – those they would prefer to work with. Graduate campaigns are getting to nurses before they make a decision on their future pathway.

Meaningful engagement with residents’ families.

The ability to develop relationships with families based on regular interaction on the day-to-day life of their loved one within the facility is another important objective cited by providers.  This is seen as not only developing trust and understanding for current families, but also a source of credible testimonial for those investigating potential care options for their loved ones.

The ‘communication landscape’ is changing considerably, with many more people searching, sharing and making decisions online.

Searching for health information online has become increasingly more popular with around 83% of adult users in the US. A report by Pew also found that carers in the US are more likely to gather and share health information and support.

But people are not just looking for information; they are also sharing the experiences they’ve had with different organisations.   Family and food are two subjects that top the charts in emotional triggers.  When combined with elderly family members not receiving adequate food in care, it is a particularly emotive topic.   Last month, a Facebook group called The unacceptable food served in residential aged care in Australia in 2011 obtained significant coverage in print, radio and on television. As a consequence, it has gone from virtual obscurity to an active and very passionate discussion group of over 200 fans.

Word of mouth statistics (online and offline) quickly dispel the rumours that people are more likely to talk about a bad experience than a good one, with 61% of all word of mouth (online and offline) conversations in Australia recorded as positive. In fact, more than half of Australian conversations actually contain an active recommendation to buy or try a particular brand, with the majority of advice coming from people’s “inner circle” – spouse/partner (29%), friends (25%) or family (24%) (Keller Fay).

But what to do?

So what does this mean for the aged care sector? As I write this, according to Google search statistics, there have been 590 searches for “Melbourne nursing home” in the last month, 210 for “aged care Melbourne” and 590 for “home care Melbourne”.

Comparison aggregation sites for aged care facilities are also starting to pop up and it won’t be long before Victoria’s aged care facilities are posted and rated by people – just like you see on TripAdvisor for travel, Urbanspoon for dining out or GetPrice for shopping.

Social media groups can grow quickly and organisations, still coming to terms with the process of communicating their own messages, are often overwhelmed with the idea of having to monitor others. But a ‘do-nothing’ strategy leaves you exposed: families will make decisions without you in the conversation or a local issue, which grew steadily on Facebook, simply wasn’t on your radar.

A considered and strategic approach will manage risk. It will give your organisation more capacity to shape how you’re perceived than ever before. Best of all, it will establish aged care providers as valued and active members of Australian communities, helping to attract residents, clients and volunteers, and shape the political agenda.

Social media has come of age. And aged care, more than most other industries, has the most to gain by coming to the party.

View a recent social media strategy presentation Rhod made to ACCV (Aged & Community Care Victoria).

image credit : Beth Jusino