Return on Community in Healthcare
“The notion is simple yet revolutionary: Make an investment in community and you will realize a return on your investment. One of the most obvious returns comes in the form of improved health outcomes for patients and in the overall health of the community.”
At a time when many healthcare marketing pundits are emphasizing the importance of measuring and reporting Return on Investment (ROI), I believe it is time for us to embrace the concept of “Return on Community.” Not that ROI isn’t important, it is. But ROI does not help communications professionals and hospital administrator understand the significant changes that need to take place in healthcare marketing for us to establish relevance with the connected consumer. The world has changed and healthcare marketing has not kept pace. We are currently facing a crisis of relevance.
We need to acknowledge that this is a new day both in healthcare and in marketing. Today consumers make the rules. They decide what information they engage, on what platform, at what time, and on what type of screen. To capture their attention, our communication needs to have real value and meet their need for entertainment, information and community. When I say community, I refer specifically to the desire to commune with others who share their interests and/or experiences. If you’re not familiar with this desire, I recommend you visit patientslikeme.com, inspire.com, rareconnect.org, healthetreatment.com or any of the other online patient community sites.
Most everyone is aware that healthcare is facing significant changes, and those changes should impact how we market our organizations. Both the clinical and communications sides of healthcare have been built on transactional models. On the clinical side, we have dealt with “episodes of care” rather than long-term engagement of the patient. On the marketing side, we’ve put most of our emphasis on the promotion of service lines and procedures rather than working to involve the consumer in ongoing conversations about health, wellness, prevention and lifestyle modifications. What we need going forward is an engagement model where the relationship between the consumer/patient and the provider is more involved and constant – and delivers value to the patient. Traditional service line marketing cannot meet that challenge. Based on consumer behavior and the prevalence of online patient communities, we should look to online community development as a foundational element of any engagement strategy. We need to build online communities of shared interest that our patients can join and where they can interact with others facing similar health challenges. Moving forward, community building needs to be a significant focus for healthcare marketers, understanding that an investment in community should lead to a significant return for the organization.
Understanding Return on Community
On June 18, 2013 I was listening to an interview on NPR when I heard Jeff Rosenthan, co-founder of an organization called Summit, use the term “Return on Community.” The concept immediately struck me as being relevant to healthcare. When I returned to my office I Googled the phrase and found very little written about the subject, and nothing specific to healthcare.
The notion is simple yet revolutionary: Make an investment in community and you will realize a return on your investment. One of the most obvious returns comes in the form of improved health outcomes for patients and in the overall health of the community. Healthier communities will mean less of a financial burden due to a decrease in the prevalence of chronic disease and improvements in disease management. Secondarily, investment in community should lead consumers to have a deeper relationship with the healthcare organization, leading to brand preference and advocacy. Both of which should have a positive financial impact on the organization. Finally, involvement in a hospital-sponsored online community that addresses a specific chronic condition or health topic will provide the provider with an opportunity to introduce the consumer to its physicians, programs and health resources.
The ROC concept is revolutionary because it flies directly in the face of traditional service line marketing model. Instead of spewing ads at consumers about a given service line or procedure, you create communities related to those services and the associated conditions, and use those as platforms for deepening your relationship with the niche audience while sharing your expertise and resources. By creating communities of shared interest, the hospital can provide value to the consumer in a way that traditional advertising never has. In this manner, community building, along with the care and feeding of existing online communities, are activities that can pay large dividends for healthcare organizations.
Why is this important? It is vital that healthcare administrators and marketers come to see community building activities as essential ingredients in their overall marketing program. If the focus of healthcare in America is going to shift from dealing with acute episodes of care to proactively managing the health of specific populations (emphasizing ongoing care coordination, wellness and prevention), then we need to develop a new model of healthcare marketing that helps our organizations accomplish those goals.
At the same time, hospital administrators and marketers need to understand that community building is not just a feel good activity; it has the potential to pay dividends for the organization. Some of those dividends are immediate and direct while others are subtle and will take longer to realize. This book contains examples of each.
An immediate benefit of community building is found in the daily opportunities for service recovery that are presented within the hospital’s online communities. When you create a Facebook community, it should be more than simply a platform for pushing your content out to the world. You are also inviting people, perhaps unwittingly, to share their experiences with you and your followers. In the past, before Facebook entered our lives, a dissatisfied patient or family member would share the story of his or her bad experience with your organization with friends, neighbors and co-workers. The hospital marketer was not a part of those conversations and had no way to intervene.
However, with negative comments on Facebook, you have an immediate opportunity to respond and address the problem. In so doing, you may well win a friend, and you may not. Not everyone can be satisfied. But more importantly, by responding in a timely and caring manner, you have the opportunity to show your many followers and brand advocates on Facebook that feedback from your community is valued and taken seriously. This should serve to reinforce their decision to align with your brand, strengthening the community bond.
(To be continued…)