I love beer! Let me guess, you did not expect the conversation to start this way, did you? You were simply thinking about the benefits of online patient communities and why community building is the future of healthcare marketing. Stay with me for just a moment, we will get there.
I’m going to begin with a stark admission; I am a true purveyor and absolute aficionado of the magical marvel of fermentation. Let me be clear, I’m not talking about those mass produced products that are more known for their packaging and advertising than the presence on the palette. I am talking about small batch, and the most expressive and creative deployments of the true brewers art. For our purposes here today, let’s agree to call this a very strong area of interest for myself. A true specialty topic and one for which I crave social interaction from like-minded individuals, advice from experts that can further my understanding, and assistance in obtaining the objects of my desire.
Now that we have expounded at length on the joy I find in beer, it begs the question “What does this have to do with healthcare marketing”? Surprisingly so, it does! When it comes to my hobby, I don’t really have an interest in being bombarded with imagery, information, and advertising. What I am looking for is a way to interact, share, and engage. What I am looking for is an environment that understands my very specific needs. What I want is my own, niche-based community. Guess what? So do healthcare consumers!
There is quite a bit a healthcare marketer can take away from niche-based consumer groups. Think about this; for those of us who frequent these communities, its not advertising that drives us, but rather, feeling that sense of community. These are warm and safe places to explore topics that are important to us. Better yet, we can do so without fear of embarrassment or judgment. In these places, we are able to build bonds with those who are in very like situations. We develop friendships, we absorb guidance and information coming from respected experts, and most importantly, we are very much engaged with the content.
Those with whom we interact in these spaces are able to earn our trust over time. When they make recommendations or give endorsements, we adopt these at a rate only just slightly below that of our own family and friends. Our peers and the experts that dwell within these communities earn our trust through actions and have a significant impact on driving our preferences. Why? Because their recommendations don’t come from an ad campaign, they come from genuine caring and a desire to help. That is a powerful driver!
Consider the success of online patients communities such as inspire.com and patientslikeme.com. It becomes clear that the same drivers and motivators that exist for my hobbyist community also translate when it comes to healthcare.
Think about all the concerns and fears healthcare consumers have. It makes perfect sense that the best place to work through these is with a group that is going through or has already gone through exactly the same things. Better yet, what does it do for their confidence when within this specialty community you also find the advice of experts that can help answer your questions and bring real solutions to the table? Think the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Now imagine that this resource is tied directly to your facility or health system and you get an idea of just how powerful of a marketing tool this can become.
When we look at the idea of building these niche communities, think about some of your own existing service lines and where this could apply. Bariatrics? Cancer? Orthopedics? I am sure there are several within your own facility that would make perfect sense to explore. The more specific the content can be, the greater the chance of it being embraced and that it will thrive. Start small, engage experts, build internal support, and develop great content.
By looking at the very specific needs of a niche-based, connected group, you can begin to understand why I say community building is the future of healthcare marketing. That which draws us together, can also be the catalyst to impact and drive preference for your own service lines. While your website and social media channels are great for information and broadcasting to the masses, building individual niche communities within these digital platforms is the future key to consumer engagement and driving preference.