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Hospital marketing isn't working

August 31st, 2011

by Chris Boyer

Heads up, hospital marketers; we've been doing it all wrong. For years, we've tried promoting "5-star" rated services and persuading patients to lead healthier lifestyles--without being able to show these tactics work. That's because we've been measuring the wrong things.

That is, until now. These days, access to highly effective marketing and communications tools are at our fingertips.

I'm referring to using social media, websites, and search engines to create dynamic, measurable ways to engage your community and drive bottom-line results.


Are we measuring the right things?
Traditional marketing communications have been notoriously difficult to measure. Sure, we're able to measure response rates to direct mail or TV/print ads. We're also able to count how many people sign up for health events or lectures. By using a customer relationship management (CRM) database, we can measure downstream revenue.

Over the years, we've taken credit for influencing outcome by tying together these loosely connected measurements. But sometimes these results took months, if not years, to calculate. And were we really measuring success?

Health care reform, which is forcing us to radically re-think what hospitals provide, also puts pressure on hospital marketers to measure patient engagement and bottom-line revenue. Daunting? Yes, but you're in luck because everything online is measurable.

Social media is about engagement
With the growing popularity of online social networks, hospitals realize that social media can help build an engaged audience. To do this, hospital marketers must change how we use these tools to communicate. This requires shifting from promotion ("us" marketing) to sharing health information on topics and conditions relevant to customers ("we" marketing).

After making this fundamental shift in social media communications strategy, my hospital (Inova Health System) increased social media followers by more than 400 percent in under a year. More importantly, we were able to measure engagement by using Facebook Insights and Klout.

Engagement leads to action
Increased engagement with your hospital brand, via social media means you can begin offering ways for customers to learn from and engage more directly:

  • Ask them to sign up for an eNewsletter where you communicate regularly on topics of their interest. Then, measure their engagement through open-rates and click-through rates.
  • Create links to your website so customers can download health information or other content. Services such as allow you to track how many times people click on your links and when they get to your website, as well as how long they stay there.
  • Promote a health event or seminar and use online registration forms. Collecting names and other relevant information makes it possible to compare that data with your CRM database and cross-promote other ways to sustain engagement.

Putting it all together
Connecting social media efforts with your website and eNewsletter metrics provides a comprehensive way to measure online marketing efforts. Remember to compare your online marketing activities to records in your CRM database.

Tying efforts back to bottom-line results helps quantify efforts. Used and measured correctly, social media, your website, and other online tools will give you all the information you need to continue building engagement and results.

Now, we can finally start measuring the right things.

Chris Boyer is the Director of Digital Communications and Marketing for Inova Health System, a six- hospital nonprofit health system serving the Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. metro area. He is a nationally recognized thought-leader in healthcare online marketing, and enjoys helping organizations see the value of social media. He's opinionated, passionate and can do the Charleston.


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