By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
Live events can be a core part of the marketing strategy for healthcare systems, hospitals and multilocation practices. But, as we all know, the last few years have challenged how we market and serve our clients — especially when it comes to live events.
I was recently invited to co-lead a webinar about events with Shahab Kaviani, Head of Community at Localist, a community event marketing automation platform. In this timely discussion, we talked about how events are still just as powerful for building brands and growing community engagement. Today’s blog post summarizes our main discussion on virtual and hybrid shows as an alternative to in-person-only events. It also includes must-have elements for a successful event and how to grow attendance.
Benefits of Live and Virtual Community Events
Before we get into building your audience and brand, let’s first outline the benefits of community events.
When we talk about events as part of your marketing strategy, the keyword that comes to mind is engagement. Marketing today is often referred to in the context of how you can engage your audience. Whether it be advertising or other promotions, you are still reaching them from afar. However, real engagement happens by reaching people where they are, whether virtual or in-person.
For any healthcare system, it is essential to have a presence in the community. Even with telehealth, most healthcare is local. To build a relationship with your brand, you need to be out there and seen as a pillar in the community. When you’re engaged locally, you’re building your brand as a thought leader and creating loyalty. That’s a compelling way to do business and to establish relationships.
Lower Long-Term Healthcare Costs
Avoidable diseases like asthma or hypertension, or diabetes can shorten or lessen the quality of life. As reimbursement models slowly evolve away from fee-for-service to models, new models are emerging which incent hospitals and other providers to keep their communities and populations healthy. Using events to teach the community how to take better care of themselves and mitigate preventable diseases not only reflects your brand’s mission and purpose, it can also improve the bottom line. Healthy living events can ultimately lower healthcare costs by reaching and motivating healthcare consumers and move them towards a better, healthier lifestyle.
Types of Live Healthcare Marketing Events
Now that we’ve established the benefits of events, here are a variety of possible live events:
- Health fairs
- Hospital department tours
- Classes (e.g., maternity, wellness, child safety)
- Seminars (e.g., joint pain, bariatric surgery)
- Support groups (e.g., grief, cancer)
- Screenings (e.g., skin cancer, varicose veins)
- Cancer survivor events
- Charity walks
- Brand launches
- Medicare Advantage plans
- Grand openings
Live events are popular with hospitals and healthcare systems that want to promote various service lines and build brand awareness from a community wellness standpoint. In other words, their community thinks of their hospital first in a time of need as they’ve engaged their community.
We’re in a period of disruption. Hospitals and health systems had to pivot rapidly, going from virtually no telehealth to thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of visits a day during the height of the pandemic. With the easing of both HIPAA restrictions and reimbursement restrictions, telehealth exploded overnight. Similarly, virtual and hybrid event platform capabilities have also improved to substitute or complement in-person events and expand to audiences who otherwise are not willing or able to attend.
Elements of a Successful Virtual Event
Make them interesting.
Fundamental to attracting an audience is to select topics and presenters that are important and relevant to your audience.
Make them accessible.
You can better ensure optimal registration numbers by letting your audience know the different options or “modalities” available for participating. This is especially beneficial to those in the community, such as the elderly or infirm, who might not have the ability or means to attend an in-person event.
Make them free.
Open and complimentary events are by far the most popular in recruiting community attendees.
Make them interactive.
Design events to drive interaction. Make them interactive. Encourage people to join the conversation by facilitating those meaningful connections.
How to Build Attendance
Consider your audience:
Sounds obvious, but you must first think about your patients and your healthcare influencers or caregivers to build an audience. You also want to consider your physicians and staff, as well as referring doctors. Expand your audience by reaching out to the organization’s friends and asking essential groups in the community to promote your event to their members.
Choose your marketing channels:
Email marketing is one of the most common and cost-effective ways to promote an event. Direct mail can also be very effective as a one-to-one approach. Traditional advertising such as live remotes with radio stations can be effective for gaining local coverage. Free and earned social media can be great for promoting events to an audience already invested or familiar with your brand. However, online advertising is particularly effective if your goal is to reach beyond your existing audience. Online advertising such as paid search and paid social can work well if it’s topical. For example, you could target moms searching for a maternity department nearby. Within the ad, you can offer a free birthing class or tours.
Consider the entire life cycle of the event:
This starts with promotion leading up to the event, during the event, and event replay. Virtual events can provide content well beyond the date of the live session. For example, one way to extend its value is to repurpose the content in the hospital newsletter. Recorded replays allow you to share to different audiences and repurpose them into other forms of content such as blogs and whitepapers.
You may also consider working with your PR team to engage the press when promoting more significant events. The press usually won’t promote it, but they may cover it post-event, which gives your organization more credibility.
Healthcare organizations today can take advantage of the many platform options and capabilities for community engagement. Your event strategy can include one or multiple event modalities for reaching your desired audiences by defining what success means upfront. And by starting with your larger mission and marketing objectives and considering the audience(s) you are trying to reach, you can incorporate community events as part of your overall marketing strategy to build a brand and grow community engagement.
For more details, you can view the webinar in its entirety here.