As social media becomes an increasingly important tool for reaching patients, it becomes more critical for C-suite executives to understand their health care organization’s ongoing social media effort and to feel confident that it is enhancing, not hindering, the organization’s brand.

While it’s important to grasp the basics of a social media program (such as regular posts, engaging content and transparency), there are other key elements that need to be in place for health care organizations to truly optimize their social media efforts.

A Response Matrix

Social media allows you to interact with your patient population in real time on a more personal level. Patients engage with health care organizations on social media with the expectation that they will receive a friendly and helpful response. But to respond quickly and accurately, it’s best to have responses predrafted to address common questions, comments and concerns.

A response matrix is a document with well-written, preapproved responses to such patient posts as:

Medical advice. While it is important not to provide a diagnosis over the Internet, it is critical to have multiple responses drafted for patients who are looking for medical advice. Take this as an opportunity to direct them to the appropriate doctor or service group at your organization. An example of a solid response would be, “Hi Jane, thank you for reaching out to us about your situation. Dr. John Smith, medical director of our wound care center, is an expert in head wounds and would be the best person to help you. Please give him a call at 555-1234 to set up an appointment.” This response shows that your organization is helpful; it also highlights your doctor’s expertise and drives a patient into your facility.

Bad service. Address complaints about bad service on social media promptly and respectfully. A quick and helpful response will show the patient (and all other patients who have seen the public complaint) that your organization cares about the patient experience and can provide prompt, high-quality service).

For less common questions, or questions that require a customized response, make sure there is a plan in place. For example, if someone is experiencing technical difficulties with the website, the response matrix should outline the process for quickly getting in touch with the information technology team to identify the problem and draft a helpful response to the patient.

All responses should be reflective of the tone of your health care organization’s brand.

Custom Multimedia

Did you know that humans process visuals 60,000 times faster than text? This makes incorporating multimedia (such as photos and videos) into your social media strategy a great way to set your organization’s content apart from that of other health care organizations.

Multimedia also strengthens overall engagement. Social media posts with visual content get 120 percent more engagement than text-only posts, and video content is shared 12 times more than links and text posts combined. With Facebook changing its algorithm to favor engaging content, posting photos and videos has become much more important.

Cleveland Clinic and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are successfully reaching beyond text-based content and providing rich, unique multimedia content to engage their target audiences:

Cleveland Clinic. Positioning itself not just as a hospital, but also as a health and wellness resource, Cleveland Clinic is using Pinterest and its blog to share colorful visuals and infographics that provide parenting and wellness tips to its followers. As a result, the hospital’s social following and level of engagement are considerably strong. In fact, one of the hospital’s infographics received more than 3.6 million views after being shared by major news sites likeThe Washington Post and Business Insider.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Dana-Farber posts at least three high-quality videos per month to its Facebook page. Educational in nature, each video aims to break down medical misconceptions about cancer and to offer expert health tips. Additionally, the institute’s social pages are full of contests, which boost user engagement, as well as “photo of the week” features, which give patients a look at the patient experience inside the hospital.

The key takeaway here: It has become increasingly vital for health care organizations to incorporate custom multimedia into their social media plans — especially video. Twitter recently reported that video views have increased by 150 times in the past year alone, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that by 2020, most of Facebook will be video content.

A Social Media Policy

While social media is undeniably a valuable tool, it is also a place for people to share their personal lives with a large number of people, which can make it a bit of a wild card. From the emergency department team to the maintenance staff, health care organizations have a lot of employees to manage — and it’s important that they all know what is and is not appropriate to share on their personal social networks in relation to the organization. The best way to do that is to develop a formalized social media policy. Work with your communications and human resources teams to draft and implement the policy so that all employees are aware of, trained on and committed to it. This will help to protect against HIPAA breaches and avoid negative perceptions of your organization.

The following are examples to consider including in your organization’s social media policy:

Patient privacy restrictions. Prohibit employees from sharing patient information such as diagnoses, photos and so forth.

“Friending” and “following” patients on social media. Determine whether it is appropriate for staff members to connect with patients on social media.

Your health care organization in personal social media names or handles. Mayo Clinic’s social media policy, for example, says that employees are not permitted to use Mayo Clinic’s name or logo in their social media names, handles or URLs unless that employee has received approval to do so. This is critical in protecting your health care organization’s brand and making sure employees’ personal opinions are not directly tied to your organization.

It’s important for leaders of health care organizations to understand the value of social media and the critical elements to implement to manage the brand from a social perspective. Having top-down support for social media initiatives is what brings true value and return on the effort.

Amanda Karfakis is president and CEO of Vitamin, a Web and public relations agency in Baltimore.