By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
In the past few years, healthcare providers and marketing executives have been actively sharing ideas and information as an effective means of reaching and engaging patients online.
Doctors, hospitals and health systems are creating and maintaining meaningful relationships by presenting timely information today that prospective patients may need tomorrow. And content that they share is often shared again and again by their readers. It’s an involvement activity that inspires referrals and word-of-mouth recommendations through followers and patient advocates.
The core concept of “sharing” is not new, but a research project by the New York Times now uncovers The Psychology of Sharing. It’s an insightful, first-ever study that observes how in this digital age—with a flood of to-the-minute information—marketing communications has moved us from “broadcasting” to a more individualized and personalized “sharecasting.”
The label is new, but sharing relevant and timely content is well-established methodology in healthcare marketing. What, until now, has been less understood, are the primary motivations for sharing, sharing personas and the impact of sharing on information management.
It’s important to note that, in this context, the definition of sharing is multi-faceted and includes (a) content that you provide to your audience, and (b) content that the audience is likely to share with others. Providing material that is suitable for others to share grows your circle of influence.
Key factors that fuel sharing…
We can all wish for that unique tidbit or video that “goes viral,” with thousands of visitors, page views or downloads. But big-time “Twitter Trending” or “Facebook Famous” is the exception. The more practical plan comes from understanding several psychological factors behind greater “share-ability.”
Here’s what the Times study offers as guidelines for sharing content and getting content shared…and how they connect to healthcare and hospital Internet marketing.
“Appeal to customers’ motivation to connect with each other.” Health and medical concerns and questions attract individuals with a common interest in a path to better health. Providing explanations, answers to frequent questions, or particulars about treatment, medications and/or healthy living is eminently sharable.
“Trust is the cost of entry to getting shared.” Physicians have an inherent advantage over retail and other service businesses. Because they are widely respected as authoritative and trusted sources of medical and health information, professionally presented (and HIPAA compliant) information is likely to be shared.
“Keep it simple and it will get shared – it won’t get muddled.” Content that is easily understood is more easily shared. Express ideas in terms of patient benefits and void medical jargon and confusing technical expressions.
“Appeal to their sense of humor.” Healthcare may have a slight disadvantage with this survey finding. Medical topics are often serious concerns that don’t lend themselves to knee-slapping jokes. That said, it is often possible (and preferable) to maintain a positive, up-beat or encouraging tone of voice in presenting ideas and content.
“Embrace a sense of urgency.” There’s little interest in “last week’s news.” Individuals are looking for, and are likely to share, information that is timely or fresh. Content that is not commonly found elsewhere—a new development, the latest advances, and innovative technology—has greater appeal.
A fundamental “psychology of sharing” concept is the idea that people tend to trust—and accept the recommendations of—friends and family. Patient-to-patient referrals often have greater credibility than the direct marketing voice of the practitioner or hospital. Working with the principles that encourage “sharecasting” can magnify your healthcare marketing influence, enhance your professional reputation and increase patient referrals.
FOR MORE on this topic, healthcare marketers will want to read the entire New York Times study; a free download is available here. And see this related Healthcare Success post: Yes…It is Possible for Doctor Marketing to Ignite Word-of-Mouth Advertising.