An important shift is taking place right now in the marketing world. A few months ago, research firm eMarketer predicted that total annual spending on digital advertising in the U.S. would not only surpass broadcast television ad buys in 2017, but also that the two categories would reach near-parity with each other this year — approximately $36-37 billion apiece (for more information, see “Digital Ad Spending to Surpass TV Next Year”). But online marketing and branding is much larger than paid advertising. Just about every company of note promotes itself through accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, as well as a professionally developed website.
Marketing money and creative energies are being redirected to the Web because that’s where the consumers are going. Tim Snyder, executive vice president of marketing at OPEN MINDS, drove that fact home during a pair of sessions on online marketing and social media last week at The 2016 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat (see the presentation slides from What Is Your Online Marketing Strategy? An Executive Guide To Optimizing Your Website & Social Media Presence and An Executive Guide To Using Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, & More: Improving Your Organization’s Profile With Social Media).
According to Mr. Snyder, the number of worldwide Internet users recently topped 3 billion people, and 2.3 billion of them also have some kind of social media account. And they’re coming to the Web to do more than network. They now go online to investigate products and services of all kinds — including health care. He cited recent statistics showing 84% of consumers researched treatment services on the Internet, using sources ranging from provider websites to ratings and reviews found at places like Yelp! and Angie’s List.
Interestingly, many consumers don’t think there are substantial differences among providers in the areas above, Mr. Snyder added. Online marketing is critical because more often than not, their first touchpoints with your brand will be on the Web.
What information are they looking for specifically? He said common questions can include:
- How do your treatment costs compare to competitors’?
- Is your organization’s quality of care best-in-class?
- What do other consumers say about their experiences with your organization and its employees?
- Are there any major red flags (unsafe facilities, malpractice claims, etc.)?
The key question for health care executives: If they find your organization there, will it stand out from your competitors?
“Your brand is built online,” Mr. Snyder explained. “Brand perception and brand loyalty are going to differentiate you in a market where most providers are seen to be more or less the same.”
Jean Drees, Mr. Snyder’s co-presenter and executive director of marketing and community relations at Harbor Behavioral Health in northwest Ohio, knows the power of building an effective brand online.
Branding and awareness initiatives at Harbor have involved everything from a branded blog series on prevention of substance abuse to short-term campaigns designed around well-known events, like Mental Health Awareness Month in May. As a result, Ms. Drees and her team are attracting attention and accolades from local journalists, reputable special-interest blogs, potential patients, and more.
The “secret” behind her success is really no secret at all: produce interesting and valuable content, consistently.
“Everybody’s crunched for time,” she said. “If you deliver something relevant, and continue to do that over time, they’ll come to you automatically.”
Some specific online marketing tips for health and human service organizations from Mr. Snyder and Ms. Drees included:
1. Don’t Go Overboard With Social Networking
There are dozens of social networks that could potentially provide benefits to your business, but it would be a colossal waste of time and resources to attempt to master them all. Instead, focus initially on building up your presence on one or two of the larger ones that are popular for your audience, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Once your organization is established there, you can add another social media account or two.
2. Develop An Online Reputation Management Plan
To make sure day-to-day operations run smoothly, you should have roles clearly delineated for who makes social media updates, who writes in-depth pieces, who tracks analytics, and so forth. Also, if and when a PR crisis emerges, you need to make sure everyone understands what to do (and what not to do). The last thing you want is for one of your senior-level executives to get into a heated back-and-forth with a peanut gallery of online commenters about a touchy subject without your knowledge. If that happens, you might have to spend a lot of time on damage control.
3. Know Your Audiences
Who are you trying to reach? What’s their demographic profile? What are their core desires and concerns? Answering these and other fundamental questions about various audiences will help health and human service leaders determine the tone and style of messaging, as well as the platforms used to communicate.
When it’s done well, marketing and branding can do more than promote your services and raise your profile, as Ms. Drees has discovered. It can improve corporate communications, human resource and other business functions.
“Running a business is about finding and keeping customers,” said John Sheehan, Harbor’s president and CEO, who sat in on the sessions and offered additional insights into how the organization has benefited from the marketing team’s work. “[Social media] creates feedback loops, and that feedback is a gift for us. And that can also improve internal culture.”
Or, as Ms. Drees put it, “Marketing does more than drive revenue.”