The Anatomy of a Successful Hospital Fan Page

by Brett Pollard on July 18, 2010

Recently, I wrote a series of articles regarding the best hospital Facebook fan pages.  While preparing for that project, I reviewed hundreds of pages of which one in particular seemed to stand out – Children’s Hospital Boston (Children’s).  Since that time, I have had the opportunity to discuss the specifics of Children’s Facebook history and strategy with their Social Media Specialist, Ryan Paul.

In this post, I discuss 17 elements Children’s uses to make their page a shining example of what hospitals can accomplish on Facebook today.  The process started for Children’s less than 1 year ago. In order to better understand the impact the page has had in such a short period of time, I have provided a timeline accompanied by some compelling page statistics.

Timeline of the Children’s Fan Page (11 months):

151,000 fans and counting

  • August 2009 – A Children’s fan page is started by an unaffiliated Facebook user from the United Kingdom and gains its first fan
  • September 2009 – Children’s merges the unofficial fan page with a new fan page recently started as a 50/50 collaborative effort between the marketing department and Children’s Hosptial Trust (giving department).
  • November 2009 – Ryan Paul is hired as a Social Media Specialist in the marketing department and inherits about 10,000 existing Facebook fans
  • February 2010 – The Children’s fan page is named as one of the Alert Presence Best Children’s Hospital fan pages while exceeding 90,000 fans
  • July 2010 – The fan page surpasses 151,000 fans

Current Stats:

  • 151,546 fans
  • 45,101 “likes” and 8,257 comments on 377 posts
  • 2,409 wall posts by fans
  • 337,239 page views
  • 696 fan photos
  • 34,720,101 impressions (reflects data from 12/14/09 to present)

As you might expect, these dramatic results are not a matter of chance.  They are the direct result of a comprehensive social strategy carefully executed by qualified and well-trained employees.  In order to understand what has made the Children’s page so successful, I will break down many of the visible elements of the page itself and then examine some of what goes on “behind-the-scenes” at Children’s to make this page one of the clear leaders in the industry.

10 Visible Elements of an Effective Hospital Fan Page

Custom URL – This may seem like a simple step, but I was surprised to find a large percentage of hospital fan pages lacking a custom URL.  Simply put, custom URLs make it much easier to market your fan page through non-digital means.  Promoting a fan page in print (newsletter, postcard, flyer, etc) would be awkward and difficult without a custom URL since the default URL for a fan page includes a string of numbers irrelevant to the user.  The current requirement for claiming a custom URL for a fan page is only 25 fans.  Page admins simply need to visit in order to claim a custom URL.

Well-designed profile picture – Not only is the Children’s profile picture creative, but they make great use of a 200 x 500 footprint (Facebook’s maximum size 200 x 600).  Strong visual appeal with a profile picture can often times buy a few more moments of a visitor’s time and attention before they decide whether to explore the page or move on to something else.  Profile pictures are a key element in setting your fan page apart from others and giving it a unique quality.

Fan activity on the wall – It certainly helps to have 150,000 fans of the page but without thoughtful and engaging posts from the page admins, you wouldn’t see such an active response from so many fans.  In the example below, a simple post generates 157 likes and 32 comments in only 2 hours.  For the record, the best response received was from a simple Valentine’s Day post that read “Happy Valentine’s Day” accompanied by a picture of a teddy bear holding a heart.  This garnered 1761 likes and 255 comments!  Every time a page gets a strong response from fans like this, it exposes the page to potentially thousands of additional Facebook users who may otherwise have never seen the post or the page.

Screenshot of the Children's fan page wall. The profile picture displayed has since been updated.

Customized tabs – Getting creative within the limited framework of the Facebook fan page environment can sometimes be a daunting task.  Successful fan pages find ways to customize the page experience in order to make the page stand out.  Unfortunately most fan pages on Facebook are almost identical (with the exception of a custom profile picture).  Customized tabs provide a way for page admins to deliver a unique experience – even if the tab content includes very basic applications such as a YouTube feed or Twitter feed.

Creative use of FBML – Along with customized tabs, Facebook allows page admins to create completely customized layouts bypassing the restrictions of status updates, notes, events, etc.  In the example below, Children’s uses FBML (Facebook’s equivalent to HTML) to create a tab layout with information on their other fan pages, fan badge downloads, e-books and a Twitter accounts.  In addition, they have FBML tab layouts for donations and a few viral Facebook applications created in-house by another department.

Screenshot of the customized Children's "Connect" tab

Post frequency – Children’s posts updates about twice per day to their wall (once per day on weekends).  These frequency patterns are not arbitrary.  They have been determined by testing different frequency variations and observing the results.  It’s important to note that determining the frequency of posts and analyzing the impact of fan response differs from page to page.  Page admins should determine their own frequency guidelines based on experiences from their own individual pages.

Screenshot of the Children's "Interact" tab featuring their own Facebook apps

Promotion of other social media accounts – Not only does Children’s link users to their other Facebook fan pages, but their page helps promote their various Twitter accounts, YouTube channels and blog.  An important element of social media strategy is tying together various accounts in order to deliver a unified presence.

Variety of post types – If you navigate through the history of Children’s wall posts, you will find a wide variety of updates.  Not only does this assist in keeping the page interesting and fresh, it opens up the possibilities for a large number update choices in order to maintain their 2 post per day rate.  You will find announcements, videos, pictures, links, events, interviews and more regularly mixed amongst their posts.

Clearly defined social media policy – I strongly believe any fan page for a healthcare provider should include a clearly outlined policy.  Children’s does a very nice job by including a link to their social media policy in the pull-down tabs.  Furthermore, Children’s provides both an “English” version and a version full of the necessary legalese.

Quantity of fans – I have saved this for last since the quantity of fans is an important consideration of effectiveness, but it is probably one of the least important of all the page qualities listed.  150,000+ fans is certainly nothing to overlook and it speaks to the commitment and marketing of the Children’s page.  However, the volume of fans is largely due to a combination of the other elements listed in this article.

7 Invisible Elements of an Effective Hospital Fan Page

Social media management – The Children’s social media team is made up several qualified professionals.  Ryan Paul is responsible for the management of the marketing department’s half of the page while Charlie Schick spearheads the efforts of the Children’s Hosptial Trust half.  In addition, they collaborate with each of the department and program page admins to help develop their subpages.  As you might expect, management and co-workers have been extremely supportive in helping develop content and aid in keeping the positive energy going.

Erin McColgan in the marketing department is responsible for Children’s primary Twitter feed and there is a team of bloggers led by Matthew Cyr and Melissa Jeltsen responsible for Thrive which produces a lot of content for the Facebook efforts.  Last but not least, Ryan has access to an in-house videographer to post videos for YouTube.

Analytics – The Children’s team uses a combination of Google Analytics, Google Docs and Facebook Insights in order to measure the success of their efforts.  Without analyzing the available data, it can very difficult to optimize your fan page efforts.  While Facebook Insights have improved over time, they still do not offer enough data for savvy page admins.  Ryan Paul was kind enough to provide an example of how Children’s uses Google Docs to measure the success of each post they add to the page wall (see image below).  By measuring the response of each action, Children’s is ultimately able to determine the nuances of effective posts.  Then page admins can key in on the types of post their fans appreciate.

Google Docs spreadsheet measuring results from individual posts (click to enlarge)

Promotion – The Children’s Facebook presence is promoted in a variety of ways.  The following 2 images are examples of print promotions utilized by the Children’s team.  Note how the postcard promotion specifically addresses reasons to become a fan of the page.  Beyond their print campaign, Children’s has long been promoting the Facebook page on their closed-circuit television system, website and the Children’s blog.  This ensures most patients and visitors will at least be aware that a page exists.  Furthermore, Children’s offers a liberal in-house social media policy which encourages participation from their 8,500  employees and strengthens word-of-mouth efforts.  For more examples of how their social media presence was promoted in their recent summer magazine, Dream, click here.

Advertisement displayed in a Children's newsletter

Postcard promotion for the Children's Cleft Lip and Palate page

Monitoring – When it comes to social media monitoring, Children’s uses a combination of Google Alerts, Facebook “Posts by Everyone” search and Meltwater BUZZ.  Ryan considers Google Alerts to be the most effective for daily monitoring as Facebook search is limited to public posts and Meltwater BUZZ is more a specialized tool that helps identify important information such as top influencers on Twitter.  These tools enable the social media team to keep tabs on discussions related to their brand throughout the web.

Long-term strategy – Children’s has started to launch additional pages for specific departments and programs. It’s a bit of a delicate balance in that they don’t want to take anything away from the main page. This same approach is  also being applied to  Twitter.   So far they have found it to be successful and hope to expand it so that the main Children’s fan page and feed becomes a place to highlight the “best of the best” content from the related subpages.   To see a complete list of these subpages along with a list of their accounts on other social networks, you can visit the Children’s website.

Project management – As the social media presence at Children’s has grown and become more complex, the need for managing work flow necessitated the use of a project management solution.  Their solution to this problem is the popular web-based collaboration tool, Basecamp.  This allows everyone on the social media team to be aware of the status of multiple projects.  They also upload weekly status updates and important files so they have a record in one consolidated system.

Ideas and testing – Truly effective fan page admins never stop testing new and creative ideas.  This is precisely why the previously mentioned analytics are such an important factor in success.  If you can’t measure the results of a test , you’re just spinning your wheels.  For example, Children’s recently launched a “photo of the week” series which encourages fans to upload their own photos to be selected for repost on Friday afternoon.  The results have been fantastic.  The number of fan photos has increased to nearly 700 (many of which have great stories attached) and they have proven to be some of the most popular posts.


Without a doubt, Children’s is helping lead the way with respect to hospitals on Facebook.  It’s refreshing to the see their commitment to social media despite a fear that still seems to permeate throughout the industry.  The team at Children’s has demonstrated that well-defined policy combined with educated professionals can create an environment where the benefits of Facebook clearly outweigh the risk.

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The Big List of Smart Hospital Marketing Ideas « The Adams Group Blog
August 6, 2010 at 1:44 pm
The largest hospital Facebook page: how we made it happen
September 13, 2010 at 7:05 pm

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Miles July 20, 2010 at 3:58 am

Amazing article – been looking for something like this for ages


Brett Pollard July 20, 2010 at 7:45 am

Thanks, Miles. I’m glad you found the information useful. My hope is for healthcare providers to continue finding creative ways to connect with patients and their communities online – not just Facebook.

Eric Osterman August 10, 2010 at 1:32 pm


Thank you so much for this article. There is so much jargon out there it’s great to read a very well thought article with respect to one industry. Keep up the great work.

Eric Osterman

Brett Pollard August 10, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Thanks for the comment, Eric. I’m glad you found the article helpful. I noticed from the website that your agency is “semi-local”. If you have a LinkedIn account, we should connect.

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