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Engaging Patients Online: 18 Fundamentals for Medical Marketing

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

WIN HOMERUNWe don't always agree with Arianna Huffington, but as a digital media observer, publisher and thought leader, she is spot-on in recognizing how online media has changed from mainly "presentational" to truly "conversational."

In her words, "This is the golden age of engagement." The president and editor in chief of the Huffington Post Media Group described digital life and real life as coming together. Internet users (i.e. virtually everyone), she told the Adobe Digital Marketing Summit, are "searching for meaning and not just information."

The takeaway idea for business leaders—and for healthcare marketing professionals and providers—is that "engagement" is a new must-have standard and critical success factor for online marketing success. In this context, engagement means being drawn to your online presence and finding sufficient reason to begin an ongoing, two-way dialog and committed relationship.

At one time, simply having a medical practice or hospital website was adequate. Presenting superficial information via online "brochure-ware" was as probably as good as the next guy and sometimes better than the competition.

Readers, viewers, patients, customers or clients are now more serious and sophisticated in their expectations of what digital media delivers. They are looking online for reasons to make a commitment to a facility, a medical practice, a procedure or a healthcare provider.

Site visitors demand meaningful content and context, fresh ideas and interaction. In short, when online visitors (such as patients and prospective patients) are not engaged by what they find, they will quickly move on.

Fundamentals and Essentials

As part of our continuing series of articles on this topic, here are some of the tips and techniques that make your digital presence more engaging and interactive. There's more to this list, but here's where to begin:


  • Carefully (and critically) review your content and technology. A medical practice or healthcare website that is more than a year old may be out of date in content, message, branding and behind in technology. An annual inspection-preferably by an unbiased third party-can spot deficiencies and shortcomings.
  • Grab attention, innovate and refresh regularly. A static website-one without regular changes or updates-can slip lower in search engine visibility. Without fresh and engaging content, a website appears neglected and out of date. And visitors who do find the site have no reason to stay long.


  • Ask questions. Even questions as elementary as "How can we improve our service?" or "What else would you like to see from us?" can be insightful and guide improvements.
  • Avoid "War and Peace." Posts that are 250 characters result in 60 percent more likes, comments and shares than longer posts, says Facebook. Avoid the long form and present ideas quickly and concisely.
  • Ask fans for feedback. Fans are usually willing to become involved and offer their ideas and sometimes-critical opinions. Ask, and ask often. And then listen carefully.
  • Ask them to "Like" you. Regularly solicit people you know to visit and "Like" your Facebook page. Simply asking is a step toward greater awareness and engagement.
  • Add a "Like" box to your blog and/or website. As a means to cross-promote your online presence, add a connecting point for Facebook on your other digital real estate.
  • Tell the world where you'll be. Whether you're attending a medical conference, speaking at an event, or whatever, let your Facebook readers know what you're doing and when.
  • Present "exclusives." Use Facebook to announce news, a special offer, events, and similar information for Facebook visitors that like your page. "Insider" or "advance notice" is a tool for building the relationship.


  • Post often... but not too often. Blog posts can vary in frequency from several times a day to as little as once a month. Schedule and post new material faithfully and regularly. For medical marketing blogs, once a day is the maximum, while once a week is the minimum.
  • Keep it short and sweet. A typical blog post is about 300-400 well-chosen words. If you need more words to express an idea, consider simplifying the central idea or do multiple posts. Avoid jargon, buzz words and technical talk.
  • Think visually; post photos and videos. Virtually every blog has an easy-to-use Content Management System (CMS) that lets you upload images, videos, audio files, PDFs, other media, even surveys. Visual and graphic elements add variety and inspire visitor interest.
  • Post testimonials. Online testimonials are influential. Text is good, but a video testimonial can generate up to 180 percent more engagement than an average post.
  • Pose a survey. Questionnaires and short surveys (ala SurveyMonkey) are low-cost, engaging, and provide insight to how your target audience thinks and feels. Topics should be timely and related to your practice or core subject.
  • "Fill in the blank" technique. Write a blog post to establish a topic and context, and leave a blank space for the reader to complete the last sentence using the Comments form. Posts like this can be thought provoking and garner more engagement than a text-only post.


  • Tweet often enough to be seen.The "Twitter Stream" flows past quickly, so consider sending your brief message frequently enough to be seen (and at the right times of the day). There's no absolute formula, but three or four Tweets per day might be appropriate when you have something interesting and worthwhile. And one to none might be right when you don't.
  • Tweet exclusive offers or info. As with your blog and Facebook page, let your Twitter audience know about special information or offers that are exclusive (or advance notice) for your followers.


  • Connect the dots. Leverage your online presence by referring visitors from one platform to another. In addition to listing your social media on your website, a Twitter message might connect to a YouTube video, or a Facebook note might link to a new blog post.
  • Keep it interesting. Online, the polar opposite of "engaging" is boring. Present your message in a writing style that is timely and meaningful to the audience. A casual tone is more reader-friendly, and when appropriate, a little humor can be enjoyable and educational.
  • Deliver more than expected. (Our headline promised 18 tips.) Simply meeting expectations is adequate, but...well, expected. But exceeding expectations is usually memorable...and engaging.
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