Using the powers of Facebook for good, not evil

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Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

When we cover social media-related stories, more often than not they don't involve a positive, productive use of the online platforms.

They've typically been about workers posting questionable content on the photo and video sharing app Snapchat, or the fallout surrounding employees who vent about a relative's care on Facebook. It wouldn't surprise me then if the takeaway for many providers reading these stories was to lock down their facilities' social media policies and avoid online interaction like the plague.

But a study published earlier this month in BMJ Quality & Safety is offering providers a social media-related lesson beyond making sure their workers are keeping their phones in their pockets and their profiles squeaky clean. This time it's not about employees at all — it's about residents and their families.

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts and University of Rochester teamed up to dig through a sample of nearly 600 skilled nursing facilities to test how consumer ratings given on providers' Facebook pages stacked up to more “scientifically grounded” measures, like those given on Nursing Home Compare.

The results shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to anyone who's scrolled through online ratings websites like Facebook, Google or Yelp before. Researchers have found a disconnect between the survey-based, federally moderated ratings that appear on websites like Nursing Home Compare, and the Facebook ratings that residents or their family members post on Facebook.

Facebook reviews and ratings may be the last thing you want to worry about right now. After all, residents' relatives aren't the ones you need to answer to about your Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements. But as more people join social media and start voicing their opinions online, more long-term care consumers are likely to turn to social media ratings “given the lack of consumer perspective on most state and federal report card sites,” the study reads.

“Thus, social media ratings may present a unique opportunity for healthcare report cards to capture real-time consumer voice,” researchers wrote.

So how should providers position themselves for a future where consumers ratings are taken with more than the grain of salt usually afforded to keyboard warriors venting online? For starters, having a Facebook presence would help — the BMJ study found that of the 560 facilities studied, just 181 had an official Facebook page. Even smaller was the number — 113 — of facilities whose Facebook pages allowed for user ratings.

Having an official page gives your facility an edge in helping consumers find you, and in shaping their first impression of your before they step in the door. Take it from someone whose job involves a lot of looking up skilled nursing facilities — having an official page with your contact information, a bit about the facility and an active timeline of posts and photos is lightyears more impressive than the facility that shows up on a Facebook search as a blank page with just an auto-created map and phone number listing.

Obviously, opening up a Facebook page to user comments will bring in both good and bad from consumers. But take a page from successful customer service programs and stay on top of those reviews with helpful responses. If a negative review is posted, ask if that person would be willing to talk more about his or her experiences offline (in a civil way — you don't want to end up in an article like this for a crazy or inappropriate response) so you can identify and resolve possible care issues. When people submit posts praising your facility, thank them for the time taken to submit a comment, and for their continued support.

If you already have an official Facebook page and respond thoughtfully to customer ratings, congratulations! You've already positioned yourself for success in a future where social media ratings may play into your federal report card. If not, consider it a few extra minutes of work each day by a marketing or communications person that will help improve your internet reputation and, maybe someday, your overall quality ratings.

Follow Staff Writer Emily Mongan @emmongan.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.