Part 1: Hive Marketing In Healthcare: Creating and Maintaining Communities of Shared Interest
Hive marketing involves bringing individuals into a community of shared interest (the hive), so they can share experiences, extend the depth of their knowledge, access valuable resources and feed off one another’s passion for the subject.
Some ideas come like a bolt of lightening out of the sky while others evolve more slowly, over time. The latter is true of my notion of hive marketing. The first time I tried articulating my views on the subject in writing was in a blog post in November 2009. Then early in 2010, Mark Shelley and I co-authored an article on hive marketing in Healthcare Marketing Advisor. What has been striking to me is that as time has passed, my initial concept appears to have grown in relevance. Two developments have impacted my perspective: 1. The continued development of the “connected consumer” and the ePatient; and 2. the move toward a health system that puts emphasis on population health management over random episodes of care.
So why the hive analogy? Imagine a hive with bees buzzing all around it. Although it might not be apparent at first, the bees are all involved in a common effort: sustaining life by gathering pollen from flowers and making honey. They have a shared interest in reproduction and the survival of the community. In the hive, there is organization and purpose in what first may appear to be chaos. For me, that has proven to be a useful, and much needed, metaphor for social networks and online communities. Even today, a decade into the digital revolution, it is not unusual to run into professionals who feel that social media is just a “big waste of time.” These are typically people who don’t understand the social web and how it is connected to the power of community – the power of the hive.
Within the social web, people with shared interests come together in groups, in what may appear to an outsider as an unorganized mess, to exchange information and ideas. They feed off one another’s passion for the brand or subject matter; their point of view is often confirmed or reconfirmed by their experience with others in the community, and their passion is ignited. When they end up leaving the hive (or social network), they are ready to spread the word with authentic and credible voices. These individuals have the potential to become your most effective marketers, generating buzz through word-of-mouth on the Internet and in your local community. That organic communication has a power that your institutionally generated marketing will never have.
An understanding of hive marketing begins by redefining the role of the healthcare marketer. For years I’ve been speaking at healthcare conferences telling anyone who would listen that we need to fundamentally change the way we approach marketing within this industry. In short, I believe our primary role should be to create and maintain spaces or environments where consumers can come together, meet others facing similar health challenges or in a similar phase of life, share their experiences, exchange information, give emotional support, access valuable health resources and interact with our brands. These communities would live online, but certainly could extend to the real world, although I believe that is a false distinction. A quick sidebar: We never considered telephone communication as less than real world, so why would we demean online interaction with that label? The online world is simply another aspect of the real world, and marketing programs need to address both.
By creating these online environments, something health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and patient advocacy groups have already pioneered, the provider organization changes its relationship with its constituents. The act of creating and hosting the community is an expression of shared values – a form of echo branding where the organization genuinely reflects back the consumer’s values. (To read an earlier post about echo branding click here.) Through its actions the hospital is acknowledging that the patient and family’s need for information, support and community are a priority. The healthcare organization is creating a platform of significant value to these audiences and can infuse the community with high quality health information that establish the provider organization as a subject matter authority and resource. By providing access to top physicians via online video, blog posts, podcasts and live chats, the platform can become a pipeline for future patients for various service lines. Obviously this is not traditional service line marketing; it is better. The communication is targeted and relevant to the individuals who have decided to participate in the community. The hospital is providing value to the consumer in a way that traditional advertising never has.
Ideally, the consumers’ experience within the hive deepens their connection with the sponsor organization’s brand (hospital, health system, pharmaceutical firm, etc). This can serve to confirm their decision to embrace or affiliate with the brand, and make them more effective brand evangelists, given they are now equipped with a greater depth of information. In essence, they become more effective storytellers and brand ambassadors because of their experience in the hive. The expectation is that they will leave the group and share their experience and passion for the brand with the rest of the world, and back it up with all that they have learned within the hive. That is powerful marketing!
(Tomorrow I will be publishing Part 2 of this discussion: Community Building & Brand Equity: Activating the Community)