Return on Community

Do Not Forget ROI: The ROI of Community Building in Healthcare

I recently wrote a blog post about my notion of Return on Community. My premise is that healthcare marketers should transition from being pushers of content to being online community builders and managers  (niche communities of shared interest). My belief is that our time is better spent building communities and facilitating online conversations focused on specific health conditions, including wellness. I’m also trying to get healthcare marketers to recognize that social platforms are niche engagement platforms, not mass media vehicles. Social networks are ideal for creating niche communities of shared interest.

The Return on Community blog post got a lot of attention and caught the eye of my friend Chris Bevolo, a very sharp healthcare marketing consultant. What got Chris fired up was a headline that Ragan Communications put on the piece to make it more interesting: “Forget ROI, Think Return on Community.” Unfortunately, the headline implied that ROI is not important – despite the fact that within my blog post I clearly state that ROI is important. Here’s a quote from the actual post:

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.

As we move from a transactional model of care to a new shared risk model where hospitals and physicians are compensated to keep people well and out of the hospital, our focus as marketers needs to change. That means we need to move beyond traditional service line marketing, which I believe is losing relevance in this new healthcare reform era, and embrace a new paradigm that involves community building and a focus on wellness and prevention. It is clear to me that simply talking about ROI won’t get us to the new reality. Without a doubt, focusing on ROI will help us to improve upon our current marketing practices (creating preference and driving patient volume to high margin services). No argument from me there.

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 6.26.51 PMChris Bevolo and his colleagues discussed my blog post in the most recent edition of his Arrogant Healthcare Marketing Bastards Podcast. He has a concern that my ROC concept will distract people and keep them from pursing ROI. That’s valid. As it is, most hospitals are not tracking ROI (most don’t have CRMs or call centers, for that matter); and now I’m confusing things by talking about Return on Community. In the podcast, Chris graciously explains that ROI and ROC should work together. He didn’t have time to go into detail, so I thought I would address it here. Anyone who has seen Chris Bevolo and Chris Boyer talk about ROI and Inova’s Fit for 50 wellness program should already know that online communities are ideal platforms for tracking ROI. If you haven’t heard their presentation (it is a good one), I’ll connect Return on Community with ROI in the following very simple example:

  • Your hospital starts a Weight & Wellness online community for people interested in weight loss and, potentially, weight loss surgery. Within the community, members can interact with each other, share experiences and access information related to weight loss, nutrition, exercise and healthy eating. The site would contain video testimonials of patients who have gone through your weight loss program and videos of your physicians speaking to the holistic nature of the program (surgery, nutrition, counseling, exercise, etc.). The site would also promote regular weight loss surgery information sessions and offer options for online registration.
  • People with an interest in weight loss would visit the community and register to join.
  • When they register, you capture their information and add them to your CRM records (some may have existing records).
  • Through your CRM you have a tool that can tell you if these people eventually attend one of your weight loss surgery information sessions and if they opt for surgery at your institution. You will also have a record of those that register online directly from the weight and wellness community.
  • Ultimately, you will have hard data on how many people from your online community had weight loss surgery.
  • You’ll know how many of them were existing patients and how many are new to your hospital.
  • You can calculate the ROI by taking the contribution margin for the procedure and multiplying it by the number of community members who had weigh loss surgery – and then factor in the cost of building and managing the community. You will also be able to differentiate between continuing patients and new patients whose introduction to your services came through the community.
  • You can then track the “life-to-date” utilization for a given patients. Of course, the lifetime value of the patient is likely far more significant than the result of a single encounter. And try placing a value on a patient who has had surgery and then returns to your weight and wellness community and shares his or her story with others considering weight loss surgery.
  • Members of the community will opt to use other hospital services in addition to weight loss surgery. That data will also be captured in your CRM. At any moment, you will be able to look at your investment in your online community and calculate your return on that investment – in dollars (not clicks, not views, not impressions). Real ROI. That is the potential ROI of a marketing program focused on Community!
  • Now, imagine that your hospital also has these online communities of shared interest focusing on diabetes, joint pain, hypertension, pelvic health, fertility, etc. And imagine that you are adding the new members to your CRM and calculating the ROI for each of those communities. Of course you would share that ROI information with leadership. That would completely change the way administrators look at your marketing department and the investment your organization makes in marketing.

What happens to traditional advertising? It will still be there, but a large percentage will eventually shift to digital media (if it hasn’t already) and much of it will be used to promote your online communities. Traditional advertising efforts will be far more targeted, speaking to niche audiences.

If you’re interest, check out Chris Bevolo’s Arrogant Healthcare Marketing Bastards podcast. I guarantee that you will be entertained.

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