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By Heidi Holman

Heidi Holman

I’m still thinking about the recommendation of my colleague, OPEN MINDS Executive Vice President Tim Snyder, in his recent article, Online Ratings Are All Wrong. Consumers Don’t Care). He wrote, “…the first question you should ask your marketing team is, ‘what is our online reputation?’ And, the second question is, ‘what are you doing about it?’” If you are managing the marketing team at your organization, answering that “what to do” question is your responsibility.

Managing online ratings in health and human services presents a unique set of challenges – challenges that other service industries, like restaurants and landscapers and car dealerships, don’t have to deal with as they manage their online reviews. First, consumers do not often have an in-depth understanding of the treatment they are receiving. Consumers tend to go to reviews to talk about what happened to them, not to discuss the clinical care and traditional measures of quality. This is the challenge for service provider organizations – responding to critiques that combine the consumer experience and the clinical treatment. Second, due to HIPAA, organizations cannot actually address the negative online review directly because it would be confirming that the reviewer was a consumer. Additionally, most ethical standards do not allow for treatment provider organizations and clinicians to ask consumers to leave a review, as that would be quid pro quo.

So what are the rules for the road for marketing teams in health and human services?

Monitor online ratings and reviews – Monitoring the sites can be a challenge, given the number of sites and the size of the provider organization, but it needs to be done (see Best Practice Online Marketing On A Budget!). But provider organizations need to be aware of what is being said about them online and need to spend time each week searching for their organization online to monitor the “conversation” that’s happening online. You should be looking for two key things as you monitor your online feedback: immediate issues that have the potential to escalate and patterns that show how your organization is viewed overall.

Develop a “reputation management” strategy – Monitoring your online ratings is an act, but doing that over time and with a policy in mind to achieve your online goals is a strategy. This strategy should include setting guidelines for employees and developing a standard response procedure for all online activities.

Manage your “response level” – You may want to respond quickly when your reputation is being damaged (and in the ‘real-time’ online world this is smart), but your response can’t be needlessly aggressive or indicate that reviewer was a client. Refute false claims when you can, but don’t turn it into a “fight.” This is where you decide how to address any patterns that you’ve found in your reviews by encouraging the continuation of positive feedback (do your reviews consistently talk about good experiences with your reception team? Let them know and build on their success) and addressing negative feedback at an operational level (do your reviews complain about your scheduling process? Find a way to address this issue internally without responding directly online).

Enact a social media policy – Your policy needs to lay out clearly what you expect from your staff regarding their use of social media in relation to your organization. This can cover a lot of ground, but here are five items the policy should clearly state or include to protect staff and clients:

  1. Social media is monitored during normal business hours
  2. Include a 24-hour crisis hotline on all social media sites
  3. Ask reviewers to contact the provider directly for a response
  4. List office hours and phone numbers on as many places as possible
  5. Posts will not be addressed online due to HIPAA

While there is not much that a provider organization can do to keep negative (true or untrue) off the internet, they can still give great services when customer come in to see them – everyone from office management to billing to executives to front line staff. We are all marketers now.

I think this is a great approach and supports what Mr. Snyder addressed in his original piece – a lot of what successful provider organizations need to do is develop a great brand at the same time they are developing great services, and build the mechanisms necessary to monitor how consumers perceive that brand. That demand is what is shaping online marketing for provider organizations.

For more on the rapidly changing tech requirements in health and human services, join OPEN MINDS Senior Associate, Jim Gargiulo on November 7 at The 2017 OPEN MINDS Technology & Informatics Institute for his session, “The Leader’s Challenge: Leading The Technology Imperative In A Provider Organization.”

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