Healthcare Marketing: Is Social Media Really Social?

Social media is no substitute for real interaction and relationship.

So there are now almost 600 million people who have joined Facebook.  That’s just about everybody isn’t it?  It’s the way we connect, network, create and maintain relationships.  And brands are trying to get into the social media mix and create meaningful relationships with consumers.  Healthcare marketers are slowly entering the fray and experimenting with ways to interact with their constituencies and their community.  Everyone is telling us this is the way marketing is done these days.  I have drunk the Kool-Aid and have strongly suggested the same thing.  And I’m not backing down from that belief.

But sometimes in our rush to adopt and to gain a competitive advantage, our thinking becomes a little skewed.   Social media is an aid.  It’s a vehicle.  It’s a tool.  But it is not a real relationship. Especially when we are dealing with service brands.

Pete Blackshaw in an Ad Age article referred to social media as “a relationship vitamin and sweetener and not a destination.  It should deepen brands, not defuse or soften them”.  He goes on to argue “volume doesn’t always translate into intimacy, speed doesn’t guarantee meaningful connections, retweets don’t necessarily confer respect and friending doesn’t always signal friendliness”.

The point is, social media is no substitute for real, meaningful relationships.  The kind that happens between people, personally.  Sure, social media can affirm and support those real relationships but it cannot take the place of what happens human to human in real life and real connections.  Brands are defined and brands become social with human things like customer service, caring, helping, smiling, being there and maybe just a soft physical touch. These kinds of things can ultimately only be delivered in personal ways. Human ways.  And not from places on the internet.  Sure social sites can support and confirm such activity, but not take its place.

We can be “social” all day long on the internet but unless we are truly social as we interact personally, human-to-human, it’s not real or sustainable.  Listening, authenticity, transparency and responsiveness have to begin in person. Although we use these words often when discussing social media, we are fooling ourselves if we think these uniquely human things can really happen on social networking sites.  Brands are made (and broken) at points of real human contact and only sweetened by social media.

We talk a lot about relationship building and conversational marketing.  That’s well and good.  But they begin with real personal contact.  Blackshaw references the fact that we are so “social” these days we all walk with our heads down and eyes fixed on our smart phones as we try to create and maintain relationships.  Wouldn’t it be more social to lift our eyes and see people instead of screens?  To use a smile or a word to communicate?  A handshake or a touch to connect?

Let’s don’t get confused and think we can make a service brand real by capitalizing on every social media site available.  The effort instead should go into people caring for and about people.  Personally.

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