Today’s healthcare consumerism is fueled by the ready availability of negative reviews, widely covered medical errors, the inadvertent (or intentional) sharing of misinformation, political or religious bias and unfavorable survey results. Any one of these can impact your healthcare organization’s reputation. Therefore, reputation management is no longer something hospitals, systems or group practices can afford to overlook.
Reputation management is the practice of attempting to shape public perception about an entity or person by influencing information available in the public domain. Long a component of most organization’s public relations activity, reputation management has become a critical Marketing Department responsibility. The growth of the Internet, social media, the immediacy of search engine results and the ease of sharing opinions via posts, emails and blogs represents a significant challenge to those who defend and enhance a healthcare organization’s image.
Reputation management now exists under two areas of responsibility: online and offline reputation management. These are not stand-alone growth strategies. In fact, reputation management is most effective when coupled with coordinated online and offline marketing efforts. Savvy marketers know that both become more successful when an already established favorable reputation exists in one domain can influence perceptions in the other.
Online reputation management focuses on search results for products and services within the digital space. Marketers carefully craft frequent social media messages and encourage discussion, feedback and affirmations of exceptional services, care or technology. These promotions are helpful in generating brand awareness.
Social media strategies are a double-edged sword, however, when negative comments impact your reputation, brand and finances. Monitoring these inputs is essential.
The article 5 Best Practices for Online Reputation Management offers these suggestions for marketers.
- Continuously monitor all platforms and respond quickly. Timeliness is everything and it also shows authenticity that your business cares and has concern for its customers.
- Have a dedicated employee as your responder. This person is responsible for monitoring and engaging with your audiences – both with positive comments and especially negative posts or reviews.
- Always keep responses positive, authentic and concise. Thank your customers for positive comments and bring negative conversations offline by having them contact your dedicated responder directly.
- Listen and engage. By truly hearing your customer out and showing genuine interest in their opinions and experience, you may often resolve the issue without further action.
- Never delete negative comments or postings. Business transparency is demanded in today’s digital world and showing the timeliness of your response goes a long way in offsetting any negative comments or reviews.
Offline reputation management utilizes more traditional forms of public relations to best represent how stakeholders are intended to think and feel about the company. Here, marketers promote social responsibility, improve media visibility, place favorable copy in print material (in press releases and feature articles) and offer community sponsorships. The net effect is search engine reputation management that counters negative search results and elevates favorable content.
In addition to the traditional PR activities mentioned above, the article 5 Ways to Manage Your Brand Reputation Offline offers more ideas. They are:
- Deliver consistent customer service. Do this by offering reliability in delivering products or services; providing support before, during and after; and meeting expectations. Focus on consistency and on wowing your patients. Make sure they find something to brag about in each of their interactions.
- Connect with your customers offline to enhance word-of-mouth promotions. Find small, meaningful ways to build impressions. Hand-written or telephone thank you notes can help. Make calls to customers for real time feedback. Provide email contact addresses and encourage interaction to show you value their feedback.
- Show customer appreciation by providing physical reminders of your care and brand. Send them inexpensive widgets, freebies and discounts that show you value them as brand ambassadors.
- Ask for reviews of your service before it occurs. Knowing upfront that you value their service impressions demonstrates your commitment to providing the best care possible and sets an expectation among customers that you intend to provide great service. They are then more likely to reach out to you in an open and honest way when service falls short or, better yet, exceeds expectations.
- The final tip for managing your offline reputation is to pay attention to your online reputation. Each has tremendous influence on the other.
Competition among healthcare organizations is increasingly intense and because of social media and the Internet, the margin of error for inadequate reputation management is shrinking. Your organization’s reputation can be advanced or diminished with the immeasurable power of a single review, online comment, bit of grocery store gossip or news article. Therefore, the best healthcare marketers are proactive in managing both online and offline reputations, enabling them to attract new patients while building loyalty among existing patients.
James Shulkin is a WHPRMS fellow and has been a member since 1999. He is the principal at Windflower Consulting.