Social media marketers often spend a lot of time selecting the right social media tool to use – Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, etc. Instead, they should be focusing on ways to engage online “communities of interest.”
What are “communities of interest?”
Social media and social networks provide the ways people can connect online. “Communities of interest” are why we connect. The very concept of social media is in allowing online groups to form around a particular topic or idea, and connect with others that have a similar interest. These are communities of interest.
It’s clear: “health” is the most significant area for which “communities of interest” seek online information today. And hospital marketers should recognize the importance of participating and engaging in these communities.
How can we do this?
There are many ways to engage online communities of interest. Here are three simple things to help you get started:
Identify if the community already exists. If it does, begin to participate in it. If it does not, determine if the need for a community exists. If there is a need (it fills an online niche your patients could benefit from), create one.
Don’t market – build trust. Instead of broadcasting your marketing messages, find ways the community can interact and engage with you. Ask questions and participate in conversations.
Remember: size doesn’t matter but interactivity does. Building a community online takes time – don’t expect it to grow overnight. Be patient and persistent and not only will your community size grow, but so will the trust they have in you.
I’ve visited many hospital websites. Some are designed in nice, clean ways and allow you to easily find content. Some have added interactive tools that allow patients to take quizzes and online screenings. Some sites are basic and straightforward. Regardless of how their sites look, feel or function, I am sad to report that most hospital websites have lost “site” of the basics.
I am not talking about SEO (Search Engine Optimization). SEO is important and can sometimes be executed artfully (remember, most websites are found through social media or search engines). I am referring to something even more basic – what I call the “www” (the “Who,” “Why” and “What”) of your website.
This refers who you are – not only the features of your hospital: your key service lines, your staff, your hours of operation, your role in the community. The Who can also illustrate who you will be in the future…and why this is important to the community you serve.
When people get to your website, they are “searching with intent.” Some people perusing your hospital website are looking for a reason why they should use your hospital over others. It’s important to use your website to tell them why they should choose your hospital over others. Why are you different? Is it the quality of your staff, your technologies and procedures? Is it your accreditations and/or your third-party awards? By giving them a clear illustration as to why your hospital is different – or better – than others, is critical.
The one thing that is often overlooked is perhaps the most important – now that they know the who’s and the why’s of your hospital, what do you want them to do? Consider this the business development portion of your site. What should they do to further engage with your hospital? Download additional brochures to share with their friends/family? Contact your physician referral line? Sign up for a community seminar or lecture? Hospitals that don’t give web consumers a “call to action” are leaving potential revenue on the table.
If people visiting your website can’t find the answers to these three questions, you’re not optimizing your online presence. Once your hospital site has addressed the who, why and what, you are free to focus on other elements of your site.