Caryn Zengel on how she built MedStar Health’s social media infrastructure from the ground up

In 2008, when now Social Media Strategist Caryn Zengel first joined MedStar Health, she recognized quickly that they didn’t have a robust presence on social media. And due to industry trends at the time, they would miss a great opportunity if they didn’t start building out their channels.

Now, she leads the three-person corporate social media team that runs 80% of MedStar’s consumer-facing content across 69 social media pages. But, according to Caryn, it was a long process for them to get there.

It all began when she approached her boss about the opportunity she saw in social media.

“I gave her a sense of what the current landscape was and shared with her information about our two hospitals in D.C. that started a Facebook page and how they were using their pages,” Caryn explained.

By having that conversation with her boss and sharing the value she saw from their small social media presences, Caryn got the go-ahead to start at the hospital where she was stationed at the time — MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center.

Initially, Caryn said their main focuses on social were awareness, engagement, and driving traffic to their website.

She explained they started out thinking social media would predominantly be to drive traffic to their website.

And it is very valuable to hospitals. You can drive people through the entire patient journey using social media. “Caryn
“But in those early phases, we were really just trying to learn,” said Caryn. “There weren’t specific goals that we measured against, it was just to have a presence and build that awareness and engagement with our audience.”

Then, once they started seeing promising results at MedStar Franklin Square, Caryn started planning to expand their social footprint across the organization.

Part of that plan was making sure they were communicating with marketing leaders at other MedStar hospitals to help them establish their channels. “I worked with them to make sure they were on brand and talked through how they could grow their page,” Caryn said.

At the same time, she was also working on her hospital’s page to increase their handle on what worked and what didn’t.

“We started internally and looked to our associates to like our page and share it with their friends and family,” said Caryn. “We did anything from flyers, to talking at town halls, to promoting our channels in our internal newsletters. And we ran contests and raffles that asked both our associates and people in the community to like our pages for the chance to win a prize.”

According to Caryn, because they hadn’t started experimenting with paid social media yet, these tactics were beneficial for the early stages of their page growth.

Once they started establishing their pages more, Caryn wanted to begin building out their metrics.

I did the tool assessment and decided that HootSuite best met our needs at that time. Caryn Zengel
They started to measure likes, comments, and shares, as well as traffic they were driving to their websites through their social efforts.

“We had pages that never got any organic traffic, but as soon as we had a social media post go out about them, we would see an uptick in traffic,” said Caryn. “We were starting to see some real value there.”

Through that work, Caryn was recognized as a leader in social media by the corporate team.

She was recruited to join the corporate MedStar Health team as their first social media coordinator in 2013. “We didn’t have a social team at MedStar when I started out, we didn’t even have a system MedStar account,” she explained.

Because of that, they also didn’t have any real best practices at the time. The first thing Caryn wanted to do in her new role was lead the development of their social media best practices guide.

That included the type of content to post, the best times of day for posts to go out, how many hashtags to use, the types of imagery they recommend, and overall tone. “It was a very robust 35-page document,” said Caryn.

At that same time, she started work on their system page.

I also helped to develop our social media policy, so if there were any new accounts that needed to be created for MedStar, there was a workflow for what the application process looked like and what our criteria was. “Caryn
Caryn led the development and creation of the MedStar Health System branded pages, as well as managed those pages and curated content.

“The entities were managing content on their own pages, but I was responsible for best practices and new account creation,” explained Caryn. “I also helped to develop our social media policy, so if there were any new accounts that needed to be created for MedStar, there was a workflow for what the application process looked like and what our criteria was.”

As a then team of one, Caryn looked to industry leaders to help her define those best practices and policies.

Aside from speaking with other marketing leaders at hospitals in the Baltimore area, one of the biggest resources Caryn used was Social Media Examiner.

Then, she brought in a social media management tool. “Once we had all the infrastructure in place, we needed something to match everything,” she explained. “I did the tool assessment and decided that HootSuite best met our needs at that time.”

For content curation, Caryn repurposed content from their internal newsletter and other external facing messages.

Put together that overall strategy first — of why you’re on social media, what you’re going to do, how you’re going to measure, and what your content strategy will be. Think through all that before you do anything. “Caryn
“We also had community newsletters that had good content for social, but we would distill it down or turn it into a teaser on our channels,” said Caryn. “The majority of our content is hosted on our website, so we did these teasers to send people to our site and read the rest of the story.”

According to Caryn, at the hospital levels, it was easier to curate content because of entity-specific news stories and community announcements.

“There’s always something happening at the hospitals,” she explained. “But for the system, it was more challenging because there aren’t programs and events here. So, we’ve relied on entity content to share from the system as well as content from our website.”

Caryn said one of their biggest learnings through this process was including social media in their marketing campaigns.

They started doing paid social media in 2015 and learned that having a multichannel approach to their marketing helps the overall performance of the campaign. According to Caryn, they started these experiments as a way to bring in leads and acquire patients through their social channels.

“We started utilizing paid advertising on social forum marketing campaigns at that time,” she explained. “Now we’ve seen huge growth in that area.” In their 2017 fiscal year alone, they launched 313 campaigns and got 51-million impressions from their paid advertising — as well as 1,193 leads.

“It was exploratory at first, and we didn’t have good metrics or strategy at that time. You definitely need a strategy, that was a big lesson learned for us, too,” she said. “But, there’s a lot you can do there just by starting small and growing. It’s definitely taken us time to get to where we are now with a very robust social advertising strategy and a process for strategic planning when it comes to campaigns.”

Throughout their social media transformation over the past 10 years, Caryn said the biggest challenge has been proving the value of social media.

“If someone wants something included from a marketing perspective but doesn’t have the money to do it, they say ‘let’s just use social media, it’s free,'” she explained. “We have to combat that and remind people that social is a valuable channel that has strategy tied to it.”

Caryn emphasized that they need to constantly educate and show data that demonstrates the value of what they’re doing.

“And it is very valuable to hospitals. You can drive people through the entire patient journey using social media,” she said. “You can give high-level, top of funnel, awareness that patients need before making a decision to come see you for care — as well as engage with them, tell stories, and have meaningful content that produces a dialogue at the middle of the funnel. And then drive patient acquisition as well, which is the bottom of the funnel. No other channel does that.”

For anyone looking to build out their social media infrastructure, Caryn emphasized the importance of starting with strategy.

“We didn’t necessarily do that at the beginning. If I could go back to 2008, I would tell myself, ‘don’t just jump right into it, even though it’s exciting,'” she said. “Put together that overall strategy first — of why you’re on social media, what you’re going to do, how you’re going to measure, and what your content strategy will be. Think through all that before you do anything.”

Caryn Zengel has been a member of SocialMedia.org Health since 2017. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.