Problem Solvers

Leveraging Social Media

HME is starting to see the importance of engaging customers using social media tools.

Social media is a continuously growing and changing set of tools that has marketing departments scrambling to turn classic, one-way communications, such as brochures, press releases and direct mail, into an interactive dialogue that engages customers and involves them in decisions. Think Facebook, Google +, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Wikipedia. Think blogging and photo-sharing websites. They all allow interaction between providers and their customers, and it gives the audience some controlover what they want to say.

In healthcare, perhaps the most important aspects of social media are that patients are looking for information about products and services, and having real-time dialogues with companies and patients of like experiences. Social media provides the tools and platforms to make this easier than it’s ever been. The question is, how can HME providers begin to explore social media and begin leveraging it to attract new patients and partners to theirbusiness? It starts with a little planning.

“Social media is a great stepping stone for providers to enter the digital world,” says Bethany Nock, marketing manager at Invacare Corp. “It has nearly zero barriers of entry;anyone can participate. It is cost effective and is easily measureable.”

Nock offers some considerations before diving in:

  • Do you want to engage your audience or use this as a “bulletin board” of information?
  • Who will have access to administer the social media sites?
  • Who will be the voice of your company and will they have an approval process to determine what is posted on your behalf?
  • What media does your target audience use? YouTube? Twitter? Facebook?
  • What can you realistically manage?

An Ongoing Process

It is important to play a role in social media — it’s not going away. However, providersshould be smart and prepared regarding their approach and engagement.

TenderCare Beds, a manufacturer of headboards, footboards and other bedroom furniture that give hospital beds an in-home look, has a Facebook page with almost 400 followers (or “likes”). Facebook allows TenderCare to quickly and easily connect with these customers, discuss new products, talk about trade shows the company is attending, post informationallinks for their customers, and receive comments about their products.

“Social media is an ongoing process and it is time consuming,” says Greg Verlander, CEO of TenderCare Beds. “It takes time to build a fan base and can be a challenge to provide information that the fans would like to know. It is a delicate balancing act to determine how often to post to keep fans interested and what content to keep fans interested. It is also crucial to get your fans to recommend your page to their friends. Building a fan base is a slow process, especially for an unexciting business. The most successful users of social media from the HME market I have seen are the ones that keep fans informed of eventsgoing on in town, dates that are coming up or store sales.”

One aspect of Facebook that Verlander touts is the way you can target specific potentialcustomers.

“What many people don’t know is that Facebook allows you to target ads on a pay per click bases to a very specific market,” he says. “For example, you can target all females, ages35-40, who like hiking, live within 20 miles, that have a birthday within one week so you can promote a specific item. That can be very powerful and an inexpensive way to targetcustomers that can use your service or products.”

When talking about social media, Paul DiMarco, Vice President, Marketing, VGM Group, Inc., prefers to call it “social media marketing.”

“Without the differentiator of marketing, social media has no specific direction,” he says. “Social media is a tool, the same way radio, TV, print, mail, face-to-face are tools. If used properly, it can be effective. Social media marketing requires a unique mindset to understand that it’s not about what you want to say, but rather what your audience needs to hear.

“While that can be said about any mode of marketing communication, it is imperative with social media because of the immediacy and intimacy of the communication platform,” he continues. “Your audience has ‘reach’ with social media — they don’t with the other forms. They can take your message and spread it just as fast, if not faster, than you can. It has turned the branding definition around. Your brand is not what you say it is, but rather what your audience says it is. With social media, the audience has a direct say in your messaging. You cannot hide from it, nor can you control it. You must be in the mix and be a regular and forceful contributor.”

The Importance of Being Seen

DiMarco says a successful use of social media entails a good integration of website, blog(s), Facebook and YouTube. With links on each of these to the others, you will create a wealth of online presence. This online collateral is important for patients and caregivers who are searching online for solutions. The more online real estate you occupy, the better your chances of being found for someone to do business with you.

Additionally, you need patients and partners to find you. social media is becoming more and more important to how you are ranked in search engine results. By using a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy called backlinking, where a link from a web page other than your own connects to one of your website pages, a search engine may see this as your site being popular. The result is possible higher placement in search results, allowing more people to find you and more traffic to your site. Here’s what you can do:

  • Make sure your web page address is in your LinkedIn profile
  • Ask referral partners and vendors to list your link on their site
  • Make sure your blog entries link to content on your website
  • Create Facebook and Google + entries that highlight content on your website and link to that particular page. Do the same with Twitter.
  • Register your various business locations with social media tools Google Maps, Bing Maps and Yahoo Maps.

Remember, leveraging social media is not only a constant process, but it also a constantly evolving process. Ensuring that your business remains on top of social networking trends so that you can leverage new opportunities to interface with partners and patients.

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Joseph Duffy is a freelance writer and marketing consultant, and a regular contributor to HME Business and DME Pharmacy. He can be reached via e-mail at joe@prooferati.com.

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