Earlier this year, Mayo Clinic received some fairly harsh criticism for accepting paid advertising on its blog. You can read one example of that criticism in an article from Mark Schaefer titled “Lessons from a horrible social media strategy.” Here’s a quote from Mark’s article, but read the whole thing to understand the context:
“Here is a word I rarely use on my my blog: Stupid. But I think it is an unavoidable description when an organization sells the soul of their brand for a few advertising dollars with a mindless strategy of advertising children’s clothes to women who have just lost their child.”
As Mark points out, one of the challenges with accepting advertising and having it appear on the same page as health content, is that at times it will make you appear to be stupid and you run the risk of offending readers when the ads clash with the theme of the editorial. Chris Seper of MedCity News responded to Mark’s article, providing an alternative point of view. His article, “Mayo Clinic is not ‘stupid’ for accepting advertising. It’s profitable” does a nice job of supporting Mayo’s decision to accept advertising. Chris provides a valuable counterpoint and provides a well reasoned perspective.
I want to know your opinion on this topic: What do you think about hospital blogs accepting advertising? I get approached weekly with offers to place advertising on my healthcare marketing blog. I’ve always declined, believing that the advertising would somehow compromise the content. (After all, perception is reality.) But lately I’ve wondered if I’m right about that. Would it be so bad if I had a few ads on my blog?
In the past I’ve always advised my hospital clients to avoid accepting advertising on their blogs. Of course advertisers love the idea of promoting their goods and services on blogs that target female consumers – particularly moms. Some blogs, including mommy blogs, get so cluttered with ads that it becomes difficult to differentiate the editorial content from the paid advertising. See the screen shot below from Heather Armstong’s Dooce blog. At one time Heather was one of my favorite bloggers, but her blog has become so commercial. Frankly, I feel the same way about Kevin Pho, M.D.’s blog – Kevin MD. Not only is the editorial content engulfed by ads, but after a few seconds of reading a post, the visitor is subjected to pop-ups with an invitation to subscribe to the blog’s newsletter. It feels like a commercial experience. In truth, it is a commercial experience.
I have to remind myself that we live in an age where Disney is striking deals with hospitals to peddle baby clothes in maternity units. Should we be surprised when hospital blogs begin accepting paid advertising? I doubt it’s a shock to consumers; they are used to seeing advertising and ignoring it. Many online patient communities take paid advertising. Whether you call them “partners” or “sponsors,” it’s still advertising. And WebMD is an advertising machine. Consumers can handle ads – but does the presence of the ads put your content in jeopardy? At what point does advertising revenue start to influence our editorial decision-making? Those are my concerns.
I’m not clear as to whether hospital blogs are destined be the last bastion of advertising-free digital space. What I do know is that ad revenue could offset a ton of healthcare costs. And we’re all in favor of lowering healthcare costs. It is an interesting thought. Where do you stand on the issue? I welcome your opinions and insights.