Declare Independence from the Mainstream Media

Owned Media Lets Health Organizations Talk Directly to Consumers, Brand Loyalists

As we celebrate Independence Day, it’s worth looking at a great way for healthcare organizations to declare their independence from earned media: owned media and citizen journalism.

While that “third-party endorsement” can be valuable, so too can controlling your own messages, and speaking directly to those who are already interested or invested in your organization, such as current and former patients and community partners. Social media is the most visible and most recent tool to reach these audiences, but others have existed for some time and are just as useful for engaging and strenghtening the relationship with those who’ve benefitted from your services or have expressed interest in them.

Owned media simply refers to forms of mass communication you produce, or can control. Beyond Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and their ilk, owned media includes other forms of content marketing such as your very website, electronic newsletters, blogs, podcasts and online or print magazines.

Content is the Key

These tools, produced weekly, monthly or, more likely in the case of a magazine, quarterly or semi-annually, can help your practice or health system tell your best stories, share lifestyle tips and get out word of health screenings, blood drives, fundraisers and other events without going through media “gatekeepers.”

But just because you can control the content and the messages doesn’t mean you can put out just anything. Self-promotion, in small doses, is expected, but to get readers coming back and to create true fans, your owned media needs mostly to deliver content that is useful or educational, entertaining, compelling, or inspirational. Generally, the same techniques for gaining earned media apply to owned media: tell great stories, or provide something readers can’t get anywhere else. This applies to both print and online publications.

The stories you share, whether they are profiles of physicians and other staff, expert advice from your physicians, healthy recipes or the launch of new equipment or a new service (and how a patient has benefitted), can humanize your organization, send the message that it’s on the cutting-edge, or validate it as a source of valuable information, three key components of building loyalty.

Once you’ve established your format and have a consistent flow of content to feed it, you can repurpose those stories for other platforms, primarily your social media channels. Each post should link back to the mother publication or website to gain more eyeballs and more subscribers.

Citizen Journalism

Then there’s citizen journalism, a happy development that has only become more prevalent in recent years. Effectively complementing earned media, citizen journalism provides an opportunity to place your news, event, or other story online at third-party websites, with little or no filtering by editors.

These can include hyper-local websites like Patch.com, which has several thousand editions sprinkled in towns and DMAs across the country, and Tapinto.net, which is developing franchises at a rapid pace in the Northeast. Once you’ve registered, both sites allow you to submit content in the form of news releases, articles and event listings. Typically anything that’s not obviously objectionable and doesn’t violate site rules will see sunshine. Some online news sources will even let you post in multiple neighboring editions, or do it automatically for you.

Online calendars, either stand-alone like Eventful.com, or on traditional media websites (e.g. “6ABC Community Calendar”) are also a valuable way to promote the healthcare events, fundraisers and expos your organization might host or sponsor. Most, of course, give you the option to promote your event for a fee.

Personnel announcements, a frequent occurrence for health systems and practices, may also be submitted via online form to some publications like city business magazines, but more of them are now charging for placement, including your write-up and submitted photograph. However these can also be submitted as articles at the above mentioned hyperlocal sites.

The concept of media has expanded significantly over the past decade or so, and consumers have come to trust news they find online or in their mailbox from a growing variety of sources. By taking advantage of these new avenues, we can truly declare independence from media gatekeepers. Happy Independence Day!

Your Content Marketing Should Advertise For You

Emotional Appeals, Useful Information Will Help Build Loyalty

There are many avenues to turning consumers into patients, but one of the best is to connect with them through your digital content marketing program. Reaching them on the platforms they frequent, and providing both useful information and content that resonates emotionally can support your organization’s business strategy while building loyalty. Simply put, creating content that does your advertising for you is smart brand strategy.

A recent NESHCO (New England Society for Healthcare Communications) webinar, presented by digital strategists with S/P/M Marketing & Communications, peeled back the layers of a successful content marketing campaign. Like everything else when it comes to crafting a marketing campaign, research, planning and honing your strategy are vital first steps.

Content Strategy vs. Content Marketing

Before launching your content marketing activities, devise your strategy. It was noted that content strategy is based on your research-driven internal communications foundation, and represents your vision and mission. Content marketing, on the other hand, is focused on external communications, should drive consumer engagement, and puts a premium on measurement and analytics. Out of your strategy will come a long-term plan that aligns with your business goals, and  better understanding of what kinds of content will work best for the organization.

Important questions to answer include:

  • What are our goals?
  • Who makes up our target audience?
  • Where to they like to get their content?

Don’t worry about being on all or even most of the the big social media channels; identify those where your audiences are and which will work the best for achieving your goals, and focus on them.

 Content “Buckets” and Mapping the Consumer Journey

It’s helpful during planning to create three or more “buckets” in which to put content. Typically, these would include:

  • Utility – Useful/actionable information that makes life better or easier, presented in an easily digestible way, including factoids and infographics.
  • Emotion – Content that triggers an emotional response.
  • Entertainment – Content that entertains in a clever, humorous or attention-grabbing way.

Under each bucket you’ll ultimately come up with content topics, and, under them, what the presenters called “content franchises.” A content franchise is a series of like-themed posts that prove successful, like patient stories, testimonials, or “expert tips.”

The strategic use of your content franchises will help you shepherd your audience from passive consumers to brand advocates. This consumer journey comprises Awareness, Consideration, Decision, Loyalty, and finally Advocacy.

Public relations, paid advertising, SEO, owned media (including your website), boosted content and word of mouth all play a role in this evolution, but valuable content is the throughline cutting across all of the phases. Compelling testimonials, for example, can move someone from consideration to decision. Powerful patient success stories can build loyalty, as people want content that validates their decision.

Here are some other tips to keep in mind for a successful content marketing campaign:

  • Repurposing a single piece of content for various digital assets can extend its shelf life, but planning for that upfront is key, so you don’t have to retrofit.
  • Use editorial calendars to plan content well in advance.
  • Determine your “voice” (conversational, authoritative, friendly, etc.) and stick with it. Consistency in voice, tone, and style across all your content is very important.
  • Make sure your website is optimized for mobile. Mobile users surpassed desktop users two years ago.
  • Incorporate SEO in your content strategy. Content will impact your SEO, and vice versa.
  • Authentic imagery works better for building connections than stock art.
  • When using video, keep it short (under 90 seconds), and showcase emotion or a service that differentiates your organization.

Creating a content marketing campaign requires legwork up front, and ongoing diligence to ensure your messages support your business goals and are being received. But the payoff both in patient converts and your organization’s reputation is well worth it.