How to Use Healthcare Marketing to Build Communities (and Why You Should)

Communities are all around us.

They go far beyond traditional groups like friends, family, companies, and social clubs. Today, the internet has empowered us to find like-minded people no matter how obscure our interests.

The same goes for the very people you’re marketing to in healthcare. Patients and physicians, administrators and insurers are organizing themselves into communities where they can share, engage, and interact.

If you can create one of these communities with your marketing, you can attract the right people and earn their trust. It might take a change in strategy. But keep reading to find out why it’s worth it–and what you can do to get started today.

The Woes of the Narcissistic Marketer

A lot of healthcare marketers struggle to connect with customers because their message is too focused on themselves. By sticking to their expertise and accolades, they overlook the most important part: the people they are trying to attract.

It’s only natural for medical device manufacturers to want to “talk up” their innovations. And if you’ve developed a revolutionary new drug or medical device after a decade of painstaking research, the first thing you want to do is shout it from the mountaintops.

Resist that temptation! This type of marketing repels would-be customers because it doesn’t meet their needs. They’re looking to bond, interact, and share, but that’s impossible with messages that are too self-involved.

Laying the Foundation for a Strong Community

You’ll have more success if you: 1) understand what attracts healthcare customers to communities in the first place, and 2) start building one on your own.

This is a long-term strategy, but one that positions you to become a thought leader and grow steadily. Here’s how to get started.

Stop Broadcasting, Start Conversing


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Ever met someone who doesn’t really listen, but is just waiting for their turn to talk? One of our biggest communication problems is when someone doesn’t listen to understand they are only listening to respond. It’s frustrating, right? And it’s even worse when they skip the waiting altogether and just cut you off.

A lot of traditional marketing tactics, like paid advertisements, billboards and direct mail, were that proverbial constant interrupter. The idea was to get the message out to as many people as possible. It was a one-way broadcast, not a two-way conversation.

But people don’t join communities to be constantly assaulted by marketing and self-promotion materials. They join because they want to participate in the community-building process, interacting and building bonds that last.

With that in mind, take a look at your current marketing. How inviting is it? Is it just a closed loop of promotional material, or are you encouraging whomever encounters your message to get involved?

Here are just a few small changes you could make that add up to a big impact:

  • Add a live chat option to your website to communicate with visitors and answer questions in real-time
  • Answer questions and provide support via social media platforms
  • Open up blog articles to comments (and always respond)
  • Publish a blog and/or feature content created directly by former customers
  • Start an online forum where people facing similar health situations can make friends and get emotional support
  • Use surveys to gather visitor feedback that guides marketing decisions

Understand What Draws People to Communities in the First Place


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People join communities because they’re looking to rally around a common interest. But it takes a healthy dose of relevant, useful content and interactions to keep them around.

Providing this value through your marketing forces you to consider what your ideal customers are really looking for. They are looking for a solution which your product or service can solve, of course, but they’re also looking for so much more.

The typical patient, physician, or overwhelmed administrator is looking to:

  • Educate themselves with top-quality information about the situation at hand
  • Feel truly understood
  • Find resources to answer their questions and explore further
  • Know they aren’t alone
  • Share and/or hear relatable experiences from others who have been in similar situations

See how many different angles there are to create value? The scope is larger than you might think.

Model Other Successful Communities


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One of the coolest things about community building: you don’t have to start from scratch. The internet is fragmenting audiences into tiny groups down to the most obscure interests. Chances are extremely high that there’s already a community of people with whom you’d like to share your message.

Communities like PatientsLikeMe (400,000 members) and Inspire (hundreds of different health conditions) are just a few examples. Because people have already established communities aligned with your target audience, you can join those communities to better understand what makes them tick.

If you’re marketing a diabetes-related product, for instance, you could check out the Diabetes Daily forum (125,000 members). Spend some time interacting there, and you’ll discover what drives the community. These websites aren’t just an intimate look into the minds of your target customers; they’re a treasure trove of potential blog posts, videos, emails, and other content.

Once you get a pulse on what really holds a relevant community together, you can start working to recreate those elements with your own website, social media platforms, and marketing initiatives.

Earn Trust Before Recommending a Solution


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The best communities are full of members eager to help one other. It’s there where members go for resources, a shoulder to lean on, or guidance from someone who has been in your shoes.

As part of those communities, we usually take that advice too because other members have earned our trust. If we joined and they bombarded us with things to buy on day one, we wouldn’t have stayed around.

In healthcare, you can build that trust through a long-term commitment to educate and communicate with your audience.

This doesn’t happen overnight. But all the small interactions, along with the wealth of credible information you provide, gradually builds the trust someone needs to buy your product or service when the time is right. They’re more likely to respond because you’ve shown them you have their best interest in mind–not just a quick buck.

Implications for Every Marketing Decision

Changing from an old-school self promotion approach to building a community sounds like a broad philosophical shift. And it is. But it also has sweeping implications on your day-to-day marketing decisions.

Once you understand what your target customers are looking for in a community and how they expect to engage, you can tweak your website, social media platforms, emails, and every other touch point to better meet their needs.


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