Hospital Blogs Mommy Blogs Trends Uncategorized

Do Hospital Blogs Lose Credibility by Accepting Paid Advertising?

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.

7 comments on “Do Hospital Blogs Lose Credibility by Accepting Paid Advertising?

  1. Dan, first, thanks for the shout-out. I wanted to clarify the perspective.

    I believe everything has to start with strategy. Perhaps your strategy is to monetize your blog directly. Then by all means you should create an enviornment that leads to the enormous traffic that gets you there.

    However, that clearly is NOT the mission of the Mayo Clinic and most institutions in the healing business.Mayo lost focus, cheapened their brilliant brand, and offended customers just to pick up a few opportunistic dollars.That is just inexcusable from a marketing perspective.

    I would also challenge the perspective that this is “profitable.” It is certainly takes and elite blog (like Dooce) with millions of page views to generate enough traffic to make serious money from ads.

    Best wishes with your decision, but I already think you know the right path : )

    • dandunlop

      Thanks Mark. I appreciate you sharing your perspective in this forum. I enjoy following your work.

  2. Thanks for the commentary.

    A couple of points:

    1) The left-sided content column will always be ad-free.
    2) The email subscription pop-up only shows once every 90 days, unless you delete your browser’s cookies.

    There is always a balance between content and advertising, and I understand that these decisions cannot satisfy everyone.

    Kevin Pho, MD

    • dandunlop

      Thanks Kevin. I appreciate your input and clarification. Unfortunately, I get that pop-up window nearly every time I go to the blog. I am typically clicking through from a tweet discussing a recent post. The pop-up is unfortunate because I already subscribe.

      I appreciate what you do, and what you have done, in the healthcare social media space. And I recognize that striking a balance between content and advertising is challenging, and you’ll never please everyone. That challenge is what prompted me to write the post. I’m approached weekly by groups and companies wanting to advertise on my blog, and to this point in time I have turned them away without giving it a second thought. Now I’m weighing the pros and cons of accepting advertising, and asking what others think.


  3. Dear Mr. Dan,
    I have read your blog and I find it very interesting and convincing. It is true that today, many advertising companies are turning to new media that is the Internet in order to reach an audience or a target group of consumers. However, day by day companies are putting more adverts online and this is confusing users.

    Now coming to your question, Do Hospital Blogs Lose Credibility by Accepting Paid Advertising? Well, I think that by accepting paid advertising, hospitals blogs are losing their credibility since they are supposed to care for people and giving true advice instead of allowing for paid advertising.

    Advertising, as we all know, is very persuasive and manipulative and consumers turn out to be losers compared to businesses. As mentioned in an online newspaper, Hearst Newspaper, the aims of advertising are to increase sales and maximize profits.

    It is true that the pace of life is moving so fast because of all these technological advancement nowadays but if hospitals blogs start accepting paid advertising instead of showing factual content, then they will certainly lose their credibility.

    Well, I find your perception about advertising very interesting. It could be nice if you could check out my posts concerning Advertising and how consumers are influenced in today’s media driven world;

    • Thanks for your comment. I will gladly visit your blog and review you posts. I appreciate you drawing it my attention.

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