Archive for February, 2012
Whether you were for it or against it, the “Affordable Care Act” – the expansive new federal law that will dramatically change the face of health care in the United States – is likely to affect every part of your business. But smart marketing can help you and your company stay ahead of the game.
By: Paula Yakubik – @pyakubik
Because the law requires Americans to have health coverage, as many as 32 million more Americans will be added to the country’s insurance rolls when the law is essentially entirely implemented in 2014. Although most major provisions will not take effect for more than two years, health care providers need to begin thinking about how this sweeping new law will affect their bottom line.
The biggest short-term challenge will be increased competition. A number of provisions in the new law are designed to improve access, giving consumers more information about what coverage is available, and at what price. What does this mean for health care providers? The smart ones will step up their marketing to distinguish themselves from their competition and demonstrate the value and service they provide.
I see three critical areas for expanded marketing efforts:
- Retaining existing patients. If private practices want to successfully compete against larger or less expensive groups, they need to market to retain and grow their patient base. Providing quality care will no longer be enough; paying attention to the overall patient experience will be more important than ever before. Get to know your patients – what they value in your practice and what they’d like to see changed – and use this information to a marketing advantage.
- Attracting newly insured patients. With the Affordable Care Act adding millions to the health insurance rolls, marketing yourself to stand out among your competition is imperative, especially for smaller private practices that want to thrive in this new world. As with the first group, your marketing should no longer be just about patient care, but also about the customer experience and service you provide.
- Luring patients from other providers. In addition to the newly insured patient pool, tens of millions of consumers will now have the opportunity to change providers. It will be important for your practice to stand out so that it can attract patients who are shopping. In addition to delivering and marketing an exceptional patient experience, distinguish yourself by being a reliable resource and expert. Use innovative tools and mediums you may not have previously tapped – including social media – to be a trusted source consumers can rely on.
Navigating through this landmark change in U.S. health care will not be easy, but it will be imperative for survival and success. Putting a little more time, effort and money into marketing now will pay big dividends when health care reform is fully underway.
(Originally published in MM&M – June 2011.)
By: Ryan Tarkowski — @ryantarkowski
As Media Relations Specialist, Ryan Tarkowski works with account executives to oversee the media interactions of health care clients, HealthCare Partners of Nevada, Nevada Head Start State Collaboration and Early Childhood Systems and Women’s Cancer Center.
He brings nearly a decade of news experience to MassMedia. Working in radio and television as a producer, reporter, assignment editor and talk show host, he learned how to tell a compelling story in a limited amount of time. MassMedia Health sat down with Ryan to talk about how health professionals can get the most out of opportunities.
What makes for a strong health care news story?
In general, news is anything that is timely, unique or novel. Stories that do the best job of holding the attention of the audience will be covered by the media, so conflict, failure and scandal often generate the most interest.
Beyond these generalities, what constitutes news varies depending on the medium, the outlet and the individual reporter or editor.
Why should a doctor or medical professional care about media relations?
Being called upon as an expert source by the media allows you to reach patients and potential patients in a way not offered by traditional advertising. Media provides you with a third-party endorsement in the eyes of the audience. People generally believe that if the reporter trusts you they should, too.
When crisis situations arise, a strong relationship with the media helps ensure that your story is presented in a fair manner. That is why it’s important to always return a reporter’s phone calls – every interaction is an opportunity to build goodwill. Even if you do not agree to the interview, offer to help with the story in another way.
What do I need to know about reporters?
The most important thing to remember is that reporters are just doing their jobs. They are usually working on tight deadlines so they appreciate someone who is available, prompt, and concise. Reporters are often not experts on the stories they cover so it is your job to answer their questions with understandable, accurate information delivered in an interesting way.
What can I do to become more “media friendly”?
- Be available. Reporters don’t always interview the best source; they interview the first source that returns their phone call.
- Avoid sales pitches. Pitching your business can discredit you.
- Be honest. Nothing can ruin your relationship with a reporter faster than giving false information.
- Do your research. Ask what the story is about before your interview and try to anticipate the reporter’s questions.
Strengthening your company’s brand can empower you to entice candidates. Among business executives, LinkedIn has been used to help companies stay closely connected to members of their existing professional networks, extend their current networks and promote brand identity.
With the launch of LinkedIn’s new recruitment tool and customizable plug-ins, LinkedIn now delivers additional professional value to companies looking to attract top talent.
This past summer, LinkedIn rolled out their “Apply with LinkedIn” plug-in for use as a new online recruiting tool for its members. The company touts the plug-in as a way to remove friction from the job application process by enabling people to use their LinkedIn profiles as resumes. It’s a way for companies to “attract more high-quality, passive candidates who may not have resumes ready, easily access referrals and recommendations and enhance a company’s talent brand and stand out,” states LinkedIn.
In fact, the process is an easy one – companies only need to include the plug-in by having their web developers enter a few lines of code on their company’s website job posting page. Customization is also available to reflect the brand’s look with use of the member company’s logo and colors. Additionally, applicant submissions can be managed by routing them to emails or by linking with an applicant tracking system.
Web based companies like Netflix, Tripit and Photobucket were among the first to use the “Apply with LinkedIn” tool on their own online employment web pages. After impressive results and “exploding traffic” on its network, LinkedIn and forecasters predict that this tool will become widely used by other industries and companies.
Also, LinkedIn has developed additional plug-ins, similar to those of Facebook and Twitter, which permit companies to include LinkedIn member content on their company’s webpages such as profile information, company information and share buttons.
For information on how to develop a profile on LinkedIn or for ways on how to post job openings to look for new talent, visit www.LinkedIn.com.
You might not like the idea of one more network to hassle with, but if your patients are using it, you had better be monitoring it, and you should be represented on it as well. In fact, it is recommended that brands delve into and participate on this network with full force, as Google+ goes beyond what we’re used to with Facebook and Twitter, including features that present many opportunities for health care providers.
In the past, two online marketing techniques have reigned supreme: search engine optimization (SEO) and social media marketing. Google’s initial claim to fame was as the search engine giant, thus it only makes sense that a social network run by Google would incorporate both aspects of virtual marketing.
Much of Google’s success can be attributed to the carefully guarded algorithm that organizes the Internet’s infinite pages into practical listings based on user searches. Many pieces of a web page are taken into consideration, such as the type of keywords used on the page and links to that page on other websites. Google guards this ranking process so closely that the results stay relevant because webmasters are less able to corrupt the system to get their pages listed higher in searches.
In contrast, social networks such as Facebook host content promoted by individuals. YouTube videos often go viral because Facebook users are sharing them with their friends, who in turn share them with more friends, and so on. Content is found outside Facebook (often through Google) and shared internally on a person’s network. Google+ offers the advantage of combining these two actions into one.
Last year, Google added a new piece to the puzzle of its search categorization: social search. This has tailored the results you see to the networks you are on. A page will rank higher if someone from one of your social networks has already viewed it. You may have noticed the +1 button that has made an appearance on several websites and in Google listings. That +1 is a recommendation to Google that the associated page should be given a good position in search results. This feature is reminiscent of social bookmarking sites, such as Digg and Reddit, which promote pages based on votes from its users.
This means that if someone in your network +1’s a webpage, it is more likely to come up in your search results, opening the door for “viral” content past entertaining videos and Internet fads; if done right, your organization’s website can go viral.
To make that process more effective, Google is designing its own network that intertwines that personalized SEO with social networking. Not only are you able to “vote” for websites, you can share them with other Google users by posting them to your feed the way you would on Facebook. However, when done on Google, the post creates a Spark, which can then be searched within the Google+ network. Basically the two websites used for finding and sharing content (in this example Google and Facebook) become one website: Google+. Therefore individuals (such as your professional staff) have a great opportunity to impact the attention their organizations receive.
While the primary focus of the massive search engine is to provide listings based on appropriate content, paid spots are also a key piece of Google. While you can’t pay to have your page appear as the first site listed in the search results, you can pay to make it show up in the “Sponsored Links” section, which is generally operated through Google AdWords. Google representatives have promised that this tool will be integrated into Google+. Analytics will become more in-depth as user profiles will be attached to search behavior information. This means that you can see who is clicking your advertisements and follow them back to their profiles to see who they are connected to and what other interests they have.
Facebook ads are less specific. An organization can target Facebook users based on simple demographics and identified “likes.” It’s hard to derive pertinent information from those likes because there are many reasons a person might join an organization’s Facebook page, such as to receive insider deals or because the organization is that person’s employer.
Targeting users based on web browsing history is much more effective, because you can track a user’s search behavior to gain a more accurate concept of that person’s interests, and then follow them back to their Google+ profile for more leads on interested users.
Medical professionals specifically can find many features unique to Google+ that can benefit them. For example, if you want to position your doctors as the authority on a certain type of health issue, you might consider setting up a panel of experts to discuss the topic and broadcast it across the Internet using the Hangouts feature, which allows for video conferencing of up to 10 people at once.
Many organizations are already using Picasa to catalogue the pictures and videos of their organization, another feature of Google+. Some speculate that other features, such as blogging platforms and Google Offers (similar to Groupon) will soon be incorporated into the mix as well, making Google+ the “one stop shop” for Internet users everywhere.
Typically, health care organizations are slow to adapt to social media. Most of these organizations will let that opportunity pass and jump on later when success is shown by others. Thus, Google+ provides a fierce competitive advantage for those willing to make the leap.
By: Jessica Schulz – @MassMediaJess
According to the National Rural Health Association (NRHA), 25 percent of the US population resides in small towns and agricultural areas. Compared to a more urban group, this demographic still relies on traditional media for news and information, trusts local media outlets and is persuaded by grassroots and community integration efforts. To be successful, you must understand the community, get involved and deliver the right key messages.
Throughout the course of our 15 year history, MassMedia Healthcare Marketing has had the opportunity to work with clients in rural areas across Nevada. Many of our health care clients have turned to us to create messaging and plan outreach in areas such as Boulder City, Pahrump, Ely and Mesquite. More recently, we were asked by HealthCare Partners, a large doctor group we represent, to help them reach the residents of these rural areas as well as develop a sustainable and effective communications strategy. Throughout the course of this campaign, our team learned about the needs of rural Southern Nevadans as well as the best ways to engage them in our causes.
With smaller populations and even smaller resource pools, rural residents are largely underserved. Due to the recent economic downturn, rural sectors have experienced high unemployment rates, which in turn increase the amount of uninsured and underinsured residents. Many patients are simply unaware of their options regarding insurance and treatment. A need exists for improvement in rural health care, and where there is a need there must be change.
HealthCare Partners is at the forefront of this change in Nevada, particularly in the rural areas where it is merging with or acquiring small, independent practices. This type of change can be intimidating to rural residents who are not early adapters to change. When HealthCare Partners entered the community, we knew that to be successful we needed to educate residents about the medical group and quickly integrate it into the community.
The first step before planning any communication campaign is to research your audiences. This is even more important in rural areas. Combining rural residents with metropolitan audiences can be detrimental to your efforts. Another mistake is thinking that rural communities all fall into the same category. Every community is different and you must understand each town’s unique culture and style. To be effective, marketing strategies must embrace the town’s nuances. For HealthCare Partners, the tactics we used in Las Vegas were not the same that we used in Pahrump or Boulder City.
Next, we assessed how news and information are shared in the area. One channel that seems to remain consistent in every rural market is the community’s support of local media outlets. Although the print media industry may be declining in urban regions, the local paper is still a trusted source of information that rural residents read on a regular basis. They still listen and watch local broadcast programming and purchase products and services from those who support the community. One could make the argument that the media is even more important in rural areas, as news tends to spread like wildfire because of rapid word-of-mouth diffusion. We can overcome rumors and misinformation with news articles placed in key outlets viewed and trusted by residents.
With the HealthCare Partners campaign in Pahrump, we worked hard to establish good relationships with the editors and reporters at these outlets to ensure our news was communicated to the community. In addition, we were looked at as a valuable resource for their stories. HealthCare Partners’ doctors served as expert sources for public health and safety articles, and we also submitted guest columns which ran in the local papers.
Another way to ensure success is to build relationships within the community. Being perceived as a “local” is the single most important thing a practice can do to be successful in rural communities. Whether it’s providing a free service to residents, supporting a local cause, attending town meetings or identifying key influencers to engage with, you need to build trust and support to be considered a source in the community.
Throughout the campaign we worked closely with James Oscarson, director of marketing for Desert View Hospital in Pahrump, who says one-on-one communication works well when raising awareness about new services, equipment or physicians.
“Relationship marketing is the most effective tool for health care professionals,” says Oscarson.
He explains that offering health screenings, immunization and flu shot clinics are very successful in Pahrump. “They must be at no cost to the patient. That doesn’t mean free, of course, this service should be subsidized by new groups entering the market.”
As with any relationship, rural community members will accept you as long as you remain true to the things you say and the commitments you make.
“The service has to be demonstrated and available before the advertising begins,” states Oscarson. “Always under-promise and over-deliver; the community will respect you and will be more likely to keep using you.”