If your traditional healthcare marketing strategy isn’t succeeding, social networking might be the cure. A Forrester consumer poll conducted in the second quarter found that 75 percent of Internet users participate in some form of social media, up from 56 percent in 2007.
We’re all familiar with the big social networks Facebook and Myspace, but social media also encompasses blogs, wikis, social tagging, and photo and video sharing. Since online social media now gives marketers the ability to build and measure these connections, strategic healthcare organizations are using social marketing to develop effective strategies that drive results.
TRADITIONAL ADVERTISING IS LOSING TRACTION
Consumers are tired of advertising and are now in control of which advertisements they receive. They can skip commercials using their DVR, block pop-up ads on their computer, and sign up for do-not-call lists. To make matters worse, a 2005 UCLA “Don’t Blame the Metrics” study shows that a 100 percent increase in traditional ad spending yields only a 1 to 2 percent sales increase. This comes as scary news for marketers, especially during a recession.
But there is a silver lining—and it’s social media. Rather than being part of the clutter that consumers are increasingly tuning out, organizations can add their voice to the social networks consumers embrace.
According to the findings of the “2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study”, 56% of American consumers feel a stronger connection with and are better served by companies when they can interact with them in a social media environment. This level of engagement drives results in the form of increased satisfaction ratings, loyalty, and overall awareness. The IDC reported that social networking had a revenue growth of 191% in 2007.
Marketers are taking advantage of their incredible reach and generating new opportunities. For example, the American Cancer Society (cancer.org) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.gov), have engaged consumers on the virtual three-dimensional site SecondLife (secondlife.com)—a virtual world that is entirely created by its residents. The ACS and the CDC are spreading the word about important issues such as nutrition, cancer screenings and infectious diseases through their participation. They have established credibility and built a community among their target audience through a low-cost, high-impact medium. Advertisers also use SecondLife’s virtual stores, hospitals, restaurants, and more.
This approach allows advertisers to integrate its marketing so that it becomes the service. People share healthcare problems and solutions with others who are similar to themselves or have relevant experiences.
HOW SOCIAL NETWORKS WORK
A social networking site builds its reputation by word of mouth. It brings together people with similar interests to share experiences and create new ones. Healthcare marketers should listen in on these online conversations and learn what people are saying about your hospital’s services, physicians and competitors. You can even set up email alerts, so you are notified when keywords—which you designate—are used in conversations on the network.
Social networks can be used in a continuous loop to feed your marketing strategy. First, you should listen to what is being said so you to understand your consumers’ wants. You can then use that information to improve your services.
Once you have done a good job of listening and gathering, you should then participate. At this point, you can begin to measure interactions with your brand among members of the network.
The loop completes itself when you observe and listen to how the community responds to your participation. Be careful not to broadcast your messages and thoughts, because these consumers are media savvy, and know when you’re trying to pitch them your services. Be relevant, timely, and transparent. Provide helpful information as a trusted thought leader, and show that you have a vested interest in their community. This strategy will help you engage your customers in a two-way conversation, grow relationships and spread word of mouth.
Source: American Marketing Association
HEALTHCARE SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES
Social networks connect customers to the information they need. Nowhere is this more true than in health and wellness networks. According to a Harris Interactive poll conducted this in 2008, 150 million people have gone online to obtain healthcare information, which includes 66% of all adults and 81% of those online.
New health social networking sites are cropping up everywhere. According to NOP World, 93% of customers identify word of mouth as the most reliable source of ideas and information on products and services. Using the Internet, consumers have become accustomed to instant answers to all their questions. To give you an idea, here are some popular health and wellness social networks and online communities.
WebMD.com might be the largest and most well known health online community. It started as an informational site, where people could look up symptoms, possible causes and treatments for what ails them. They have now incorporated personal profiles much like Myspace and Facebook.
DailyStrength.com is a community of over 500 support groups for health issues and life challenges where discussions range from the latest medications to alternative options.
Medpedia.com, an up-and-coming site, will be offering free information on everything medical when it is launched later this year. It will give fast information on procedures, treatments, illnesses, medicine and much more, and unlike some other wikis, information will only be uploaded by certified healthcare professionals and doctors.
Sermo.com is for qualified physicians only. Physicians aggregate observations from their daily practice to then challenge or corroborate each others opinions. The idea is to apply the collective knowledge of more than 65,000 registered physicians to accelerate the emergence of medical trends and insights, and achieve better outcomes for your patients. But limitations in security, branding and tools mean they are not geared up for corporate use. Hospitals can use this online social networking group for endless applications, but they must build trust and aggressively not “push” their own agendas – just like any other real life social network.
Trusera.com is led by former Amazon executive Keith Schorsch. The company vision is inspired by Keith’s own struggle with Lyme disease. Trusera is an online health network where you can find and share real-world experiences with others who’ve been there. The company is made up of experienced technology pioneers who share a passion for helping consumers take control of their health.
Grouploop.org is specifically for teens with cancer. Group Loop is a safe place online for teens with cancer away from the daily pressures of classes, after school activities, family and work responsibilities, let alone treatment schedules. Many teens with cancer are unable to leave their homes, drive cars, or attend social activities. Group Loop will serve as a unique place for teens with cancer to “connect” with other teens and forge friendships while battling unwanted aloneness, loss of control and loss of hope associated with the disease.
MedicalMingle.com is a professional social network for people working in, servicing, or studying for a career in the healthcare and medical field. MedicalMingle offers information on job postings, the latest care news and educational information.
Wellsphere.com is comprised of online health living communities that help people take a proactive approach to their health. Through these communities each member is connected with local health and wellness resources, classes and activities that match their unique interests and goals. Wellsphere positions itself on three criteria; personalization, social and community support, and incentives.
HealthWorldWeb.com is a social network of patient communities, offering help and emotional support. Besides connecting patients, Healthworldweb.com also helps patients find, rate, and recommend local doctors, dentists and chiropractors.
WebTribes.com is a network of online community support sites such as addiction, anxiety, depression, OCD and HIV/Aids. Webtribes believes that serious ailments such are much better dealt with in a “tribe-like” fashion instead of individually. Webtribes positions itself as a supplement to professional therapy not an alternative.
RealMentalHealth.com is a social network for those who struggle with mental illness. They position themselves as the first social networking site focusing on mental health treatments and wellness. The site offers individuals and their family members a resource of information ranging from mental illnesses symptoms, treatments, and ways to be supportive to one afflicted with a mental health issue.
A social network approach is different from conventional advertising, and Web 2.0 applications offer not only a platform for messages, but a way to listen, engage, and interact with our customers. Additionally, it gives customers the tools and forum to interact with other potential customers, creating a viral effect that’s difficult to achieve and measure in traditional advertising. In fact, you shouldn’t even look at your social media efforts as advertising, because using a traditional advertising model on social network sites will be experienced as an interruption. Part of developing a savvy social marketing strategy is to know how and where to place messages.
“There is no demand for messages. The customer doesn’t want to hear from your business. The message that gets broadcast to you, me, and the rest of the earth’s population has nothing to do with me in particular. It’s worse than noise. It’s an interruption. It’s the Anti-Conversation.”
“Cluetrain Manifesto” by Rick Levine
The reason social networking sites show such strong adoption is because they center on real people in their real lives. And they build off the flow of naturally driven conversations rather then derailing them. They satisfy our basic desire to connect, share, and discuss. What better way to support a patient’s own well-being?
SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING DON’TS:
- Don’t push your marketing messages; it’s a recipe for disaster. Remember, this is a “pull” communications strategy, not a “push” strategy.
- Don’t just submit press releases.
- Don’t wait too long to comment on postings. People like immediate satisfaction to comments.
- Don’t start posting content before listening to the respondents, learning the site, and understanding its community first.
- Don’t email links for every item you submit. Save this for really good content or important items.
- Don’t mislead people regarding your affiliation or intent. People appreciate transparency and honesty in your communications.
SOCIAL MARKETING DOS
- Do have public relations and legal criteria in place before commenting on any negative postings.
- Do submit original and interesting content.
- Do encourage patients who have positive experiences to share them on key sites you have identified. This builds your patient loyalty opinion leadership.
- Do be friendly and professional in your responses even if it is a heated topic.
- Do participate frequently to build a network.
- Do add contacts to your profile – again, you need to build a network.
- Do comment more than you submit.
- Do try to be open-minded of negative criticism on your submissions or comments as you’ll typically receive more complaint mail than thank-you letters. These negatives are opportunities to create positive relationships if handled the right way.
Consumers are connected like never before with blogs, IM, forums and public social networks. A good social marketing strategy starts with listening and uses relationships to build brands, gather information, and provide easy to use polls to test the community’s opinions and preferences. What are people saying about your brand? What do they think and expect in the future? Social media is an effective and low-cost medium to improve your service and build strong community relations. They also provide a point of engagement for customers with a bottom-up approach through brand advocates, or opinion leaders, building relationships with those individuals. In turn, word of mouth can build an emotional attachment for your brand.
Social networks already exist, and conversations about your organization are already occurring without your involvement. Healthcare marketers should use these networks to discover what people are saying about your services.
For more information about social networking and how to build a powerful social marketing strategy, please contact Gabrielle DeTora at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally posted on HealthLeaders.