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Social media has yet to rise as a cornerstone for senior living marketing; in part because the audience to which it markets is not the mainstream user of Twitter, Facebook, or growing sites like Instagram.
Twitter users among the 65-plus population counted just 5% as of January 2014, with just shy of half of the age group reporting use of social media sites in general, according to the Pew Research Center, which compiles data across the U.S. on social media use.
But some communities are now finding that social media can play an integral role in promoting communities—not directly to consumers, but as a ways to gain the following of other industry players, and in turn, local and national media.
Several communities put this strategy into practice in promoting a recent Caring.com’s Caring Champions competition.
More than three-dozen professional caregivers at assisted living communities, in-home care agencies, Alzheimer’s care facilities, adult day centers, and nursing homes were nominated for the Caring Champions distinction by their clients, co-workers, and employers using social media platforms.
Stories about the nominees were featured on Caring.com — and those pages featured social action bars that allowed visitors to share or like the article using social media. Participating providers also shared nominees’ pages on their own social media platforms to garner support.
During July, Caring.com visitors cast nearly 4,400 social media votes using Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other platforms for their favorite nomination stories, and in August, a panel of judges chose the the top-10 caregivers.
While social media was one factor among several others, including the sentiment and volume of reader comments and quality of the nomination story, it played a key role in drawing attention to caregivers nationwide, the employers of the winners say.
Getting Plugged In
When licensed practical nurse Abu Fofanah of Roland Park Place was nominated to be a Caring Champion, residents who previously had no interest in joining Facebook or Pinterest signed up to vote for him, says Bridget Forney, public relations manager of the nonprofit continuing care retirement community (CCRC).
Though the Baltimore, Md.-based CCRC has fewer than 250 residents, social media helped Fofanah to be recognized as one of this year’s top 10 caregivers.
“We have a really active Facebook page,” Forney says. “We get a lot of engagement from loyal fans — residents, residents’ families, employees and employees’ family members follow us. Family members use it as a source for information about their loved ones.”
Social media allows residents to connect with staff and board members they might not otherwise meet, Forney says.
At Silverado Senior Living, counting the votes certified nursing assistant (CNA) Eva Ayala received up until the days of the winning announcement bonded staff and residents, says Samantha Johnson, administrator of Silverado’s Orchard Park Memory Care Community in Morton Grove, Ill.
Ayala, a cancer survivor who traded in a career in real estate to be a caregiver, also placed in the top 10.
“We were excited to rally families and associates to vote for Eva,” Johnson says. “And social media played a big part. It was inspiring to see the response, and it was fun to see in real time.”
Spreading the Word
Beyond just connecting residents and staff, using social media to highlight standout employees is good for PR, says Caring.com President and CEO Andy Cohen.
“The best stories include above and beyond examples of how the professional caregiver is uniquely engaging the older adults in their care, and illuminate heartwarming ways that the professional caregiver stands out as exceptional and worthy of public recognition,” Cohen says.
In fact, the story of West Africa native Fofanah, who came to America with his family after living through the Sierra Leone Civil War, struck a chord with local media.
“He has such an interesting story,” Forney says. “He’s a Civil War survivor. He has this incredible success story; so, we posted that on our Facebook and shared that as his champion caregiver story.”
After seeing Fofanah’s story on Roland Park Place’s Facebook, local publication The Baltimore Sun interviewed him for an article — bringing wider attention to the CCRC.
“It’s driving traffic to our website, which we can see through Google analytics,” Forney says. “While we can’t confirm leads come from Facebook, it’s helping us cross-promote our stories and touches a lot of different audiences — that increases our chance for a lead.”
Cohen says it’s common for nominees and award winners to attract local press, and even receive awards from community members outside of the senior living facility in which they work.
“Both years of the program, we’ve seen some great coverage in mainstream media, particularly with local daily newspapers,” Cohen says. “One winner last year even received a mayoral proclamation in their town. This program is definitely reaching beyond industry insiders.”
One Size Fits All
Even though the program is in its second year, Cohen says providers’ grasp on social media fast evolved since the program’s inception.
“During the first year of the Caring Champions program, we did receive a handful of messages from a few smaller providers who feared that their nominee(s) might not be able to compete against the larger chains with social media teams,” Cohen says, noting that the company promoted all entries through its active social media profiles and newsletter as well.
This year, Caring.com didn’t receive any concerns about the social voting aspect of the program, and with fewer nomination stories, the competition garnered almost the same amount of social votes, he says.
“[That] indicates an increase in comfort with social media in the industry and an uptick in social engagement as well,” he says.
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Written by Cassandra Dowell