What makes a hospital Facebook page popular?

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BOSTON—The use of Facebook by hospitals has been increasing at a steady pace, but specific factors impact utilization, according to research conducted by Ricky Leung, PhD, assistant professor of health management and informatics at University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia, and presented during the Medicine 2.0 Congress.

Leung’s main question was what determines the adoption and utilization of social media among hospitals? He studied approximately 120 hospitals listed by the Missouri Hospital Association. Leung quantitatively examined the adoption rate of social media within a specific geographical region; whether selected factors influence the adoption of Facebook; and the usage of social media in terms of subscribers and discussions.

Qualitatively, he examined socio-technical factors that increase or limit the usage of social media for health communication.

Between February 2011 and September 2011, Leung found that hospital-sponsored Facebook pages increased 8 percentage points, from 39 percent of the hospitals sampled to 47 percent. The average number of “likes” and pages of discussions also increased, from 181 to 1,321 and 26 to 53, respectively.

Leung said that hospital size and time invested were significant predictors of likes and discussions.

The major types of content in wall posts were information, discussion, reputation-building and a combination of these categories. Information is the most common use but discussion seems to be the most popular.

Facebook pages primarily used for positive news, such as a birth announcement, tend to attract more subscribers, Leung said. The use of pictures and/or videos appears to be an effective means of information dissemination.

Patients with less socially desirable news to share, those without a network of social media friends and those without strong internet capability may not be able to utilize social media platforms such as Facebook comfortably.

Leung said he anticipates the further development of social media to unfold in the following two major ways:

  1. As social media continues to be widely adopted, health organizations may formulate clear guidelines to facilitate its meaningful use. For example, hospital employees may be given “social media time” at work to communicate with patients.
  2. New social media platforms may emerge to serve specific patient groups. In specific social media platforms, subscribers may seek social support more easily from others with similar health conditions or interests.