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Three Ways Health Plans are Using Twitter to Engage Their Members (and Potential Members)

By Marshall Riddle, September 20, 2012

Case Studies in Health Care Social Media

Last month MCOL released its 2012 update to its Benchmarking Healthcare Social Media Learning Kit. The base of the learning kit is a white paper which covers a study on 216 social media accounts representing 58 healthcare organizations from five sectors and takes data from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. A number of benchmarks and ratios were developed for the study including the Twitter engagement ratio which measures the “quality” of an organization’s followers. Quality in this case pertains to an audience who interacts and is more likely to be interested in the content an organization is tweeting about. The engagement ratio is the percent of followers who are of “quality”. If a health plan’s goal in using twitter is to engage and be engaged by their members (and potential members), then this ratio is a relevant way to measure whether their approach to Twitter is effective.

Based on Twitter accounts utilized by health plans that were looked at in this study there are three basic approaches to using twitter in this industry sector:

1. Promoting company brand and activities: tweeting what would normally go out in a company press release

2. Customer Assistance: helping plan members with questions and navigation of their coverage whether solicited or not

3. Health/wellness/fitness advice: promoting the well being of their members in order to create a positive and interactive brand image

One account type not listed here and not focused on in the study were those which focused on job listings. This type of account does not have the goal of engaging with consumers and thus is not relevant to this list.

The 36 Twitter accounts from eight health plans that were included in this study spanned all three approaches. Examples of each are detailed below.

Promoting Company Brand and Activities

As Twitter has become as much a news aggregator as a social media platform, some health plans have focused their use on this aspect which was a natural progression from posting press releases in the media section of their website.

One plan which operates an account that spotlights its brand is Health Care Service Corporation (@HCSC). @HCSC tweets about:

Company achievements:

Company Programs:

How the company supports the community

@HCSM will also occasionally send out tweets with wellness and health information, though many of them link back to one of their plan’s press releases.

@HCSM has an engagement ratio of 1.58% which is below the average engagement ratio of plans included in the study at 2.83%. While @HCSM’s audience is not as engaged as other plan’s its maintenance takes much less effort than the other two approaches health plans are using on Twitter.


Customer Assistance

Whether a company has a presence on twitter or not, people will be talking about them, usually to complain. When a health plan has a customer service style account and someone tweets a complaint (or insult) at them or about them they are able to respond with an offer of help. Kaiser Permanente is one plan which does this with their @kpmemberservice account.

They respond to:

Negative references:

Questions or help with member services sent to any of their organization’s accounts:

And the very rare compliment:

@kpmemberservice has an engagement ratio of 4.15% which is above the health plan average of 2.83%. While this is a high engagement ratio for a health plan (most accounts of this style are similarly high), some of the engagements driving this are negative as seen above.


Health/wellness/fitness advice

Some health plans choose to focus one of their twitter accounts (or there whole twitter presence) on creating a positive brand image rather than promoting their company or services. They do this by tweeting about healthy living, nutrition, and fitness. Much of the time they tweet in the form of questions in order to start a conversation about a positive non controversial topic.

Humana has been using this approach with their @humanavitality account. Their positive tweets include:

@humanavitality has an engagement ratio which falls more towards the average at 2.96%. This is a lower engagement rate than what you would get from a customer service style account, but on the whole, the engagements with users are positive.

Each approach has its pros and cons. Promoting company brand and activities puts out the exact information a plan wants to and is low maintenance, but has limited engagement with consumers. Customer Assistance has a very high engagement ratio but does attract negative comments (though the negativity much of the time is already out there.) Health/wellness/fitness advice accounts have a good engagement ratio and have mainly positive engagements. The only drawback to the advice accounts is the plan is not able to offer material information on their plans and services.

To see how your plan stacks up to plans with similar accounts and to learn more about the study and benchmarks used check out The Benchmarking Healthcare Social Media Learning Kit 2012 ( 

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