We’re becoming accustomed to social media campaigns. Clothing stores posting pictures of their newest, chicest clothing; promoting sales and events on Facebook and Twitter; offering digital coupons and contests online. But promotions and contests are calls to action. But this isn’t the only way to employ social media in a marketing plan.

Hospitals, in particular, have been utilizing social media in new, interesting ways to promote their good works. Why shouldn’t they? With 61 percent of adults using the web to find health information, according to Pew’s Internet and American Life Project, there’s a lot of opportunity for hospitals to engage.

[numbers  icon=”group”  size=”medium” start=”1″ stop=”61″ suffix=”/100″]Adults use the Internet[/numbers]

Case in Point

 A fifteen-year-old boy listens to the beat of his mechanical Berlin heart in Montreal, Canada. Vincent is at the top of the heart transplant list and is simply waiting. Wouldn’t it be great to share Vincent’s story? Talk about the courage his courage? If you’re part of the hospital’s PR team, don’t you want to raise awareness about the importance of organ donation? Don’t you want to tell people about your hospital and the important work you do?

Well, Pamela Toman, a public relations officer at Montreal Children’s Hospital, thought the same thing. Pamela took to Twitter, creating the #AHeart4Vincent/#UncoeurpourVincent hash tags. Within days, people were talking about Vincent—hockey stars from the Montreal Canadiens paid Vincent a visit just a few days after the Twitter campaign was launched, national news broadcasts followed.

“We are so excited to see that our message is reaching people across Canada,” said Pamela. But it didn’t only reach audiences in Canada. Ronnie Magro of MTV’s Jersey Shore even showed up to support Vincent. Vincent’s successful heart transplant generated good publicity for the hospital and allowed them to highlight their talented surgeons and life-saving programs.

Montreal Children’s Hospital is not the only medical facility getting involved in social media. The Health Care Social Media List counts 967 hospitals across the U.S. using Twitter to create conversations and raise awareness about what they do.

[numbers stop=”967″ suffix=”+” icon=”hospital” size=”medium”]Hospitals in US using Twitter[/numbers]

According to MHA Degree.org’s Top 50 Most Social Media Hospitals for 2013, the Mayo Clinic won top honors based on their presence across social media platforms, their followers and amount of activity. Mayo won top rankings in Twitter, with 567,998 followers and 11,392 tweets.

[numbers stop=”11″ suffix=”k” icon=”twitter” size=”medium”]Mayo’s tweets[/numbers]

[numbers stop=”568″ suffix=”k” icon=”group” size=”medium”]Mayo’s Twitter followers[/numbers]

Part of their success with Twitter comes from its brand of Tweets—short news clips that encourage conversation and promote education and awareness. Not only do they retweet health related news, but they also invite followers to post questions for a doc to answer on Mayo Clinic’s weekly radio show, Medical Edge Radio.

Though news and education is not as emotionally gripping as Vincent’s story, it is safer. There is a danger with emotionally charged stories—especially in medicine, where stories can take hard turns. This YouTube clip from New York Presbyterian Hospital is a good example.

Though the story certainly highlights the work of New York Presbyterian Hospital and its dedication to this young child with a brain tumor, it also has a sad ending. The child ultimately loses the battle. Incorporating this case into a marketing campaign invited criticism from marketing expert Harvey Chimoff, who said: “My view is that the story is inappropriate for this usage.  It feels wrong and perhaps even somewhat exploitative of the family.”

This highlights the sensitive subject matter involved in hospital marketing. But then, there are few industries that have such powerful and universal stories to share. Hospitals could feasibly share dozens of stories across social media, raising their profile and promoting their good work, but how to track it? How to control it?

Pamela Toman of Montreal Children’s used SalesForce’s Marketing Cloud—a powerful tool that allows PR officers to track social media online activity and respond to it immediately.

With Marketing Cloud, she could immediately respond to tweets about Vincent and keep the campaign on track and—more importantly—foster an online community through interaction. She could not only see who was responding to her, but who—out of the millions on there using the world wide web—were talking about Vincent and the work of Montreal Children’s.

Hospitals aren’t just promoting their services. Their methods are aimed at creating communities by consistently engaging patients and colleagues over social media. They’re creating new ways for patients to get answers, which is much more powerful than a coupon.