The world is in uncharted territory. No one knows what’s coming next, and certainly no marketer has experience with how to maneuver during a pandemic. But as healthcare marketers and communicators, you’re being asked to figure it out on the fly: inform, quell fears, give advice, answer questions, predict what’s next. It’s not an easy job. And the choices you make don’t just affect how you are perceived now, but will follow you after this crisis is over. Because if you’re there for people when they need help and are frightened, they will stick with you later.
But they will only pay attention to you, both now and later, if they trust you. And that, my healthcare marketing friends, is where you have your work cut out for you.
Unfortunately, even prior to the coronavirus crisis, Americans’ mistrust of healthcare leaders and organizations was significant, and has been increasing over the past few decades. Consider the following:
- A 2018 New York Times article reported that just over a third of Americans had confidence in medical leaders, compared to more than 75% in 1966.
- And a Harris poll showed that only 16% of U.S. consumers believe that health insurance companies put patients over profits. The stats are almost as grim for hospitals (23%) and healthcare providers (36%).
- That same poll finds that in order to be part of the solution in addressing U.S. healthcare needs, consumers believe it is most important for organizations to demonstrate things like ethics (62% say very important), quality (57%), and transparency (47%).
In the current state of chaos and the proliferation of misinformation, your battle for trust is far more difficult. But if you and your organization are truly committed to delivering the best health outcomes possible, then throwing your hands up on the trust issue is not an option.
If you’re a leader in the healthcare space and people are already turning to you for answers during this crisis, then you obviously have been working on building trust (keep it up). If you’re not, or you think you are too small for it to matter (you’re not, and it does), you cannot wait to until this crisis has passed to attack the issue. Your patients, members, employees, and other constituents are looking for leadership.
Building trust has to be an ongoing effort. And although you might be focused on daily fires right now, trust still needs to be top of mind. Creating and distributing content is merely a small piece of the trust equation. Let’s explore what you can do to put deposits in the trust account NOW, so that you’re communicating effectively today, and when the next crisis appears, your trust bank affords you the opportunity to begin communications from a more solid position.
Put your employees first, your patients/members/customers a close second
Healthcare leaders: Your top content priority right now, and always, is your employees.
If you’re a hospital administrator, your employees take care of your patients. They will take better care of your patients if you are keeping them informed and show you care.
If you’re a medical device manufacturer, today’s patients need what your employees help build, market, and sell. Employees will feel more secure continuing to do their jobs if you are keeping them informed.
Those are just a couple of examples. Name any segment of healthcare and the same formula applies.
There are myriad ways to make a connection with employees. Write a daily email. Record a video every week and send it to employees. Call a video conference staff meeting.
Just don’t go silent for the people who are actually trying to make things better.
Be thoughtful first, informative second, and nothing else third
This is not business as usual. I’ve been watching some ridiculously insensitive messages go out via email and LinkedIn. People are sick. People are dying. People are losing jobs. And the people who aren’t sick, dying, or losing jobs are worried those exact things are about to happen to them.
Your content should only follow two rules right now. It should be thoughtful, and it should be informative. Nothing else. SEO-friendly takes a back seat. Metrics take a back seat. Calls to action, unless truly helpful, take a back seat. Sales, offers, and gimmicks are out. We can come back to all that stuff later.
Show vulnerability, because you ARE vulnerable
Remember the days of the all-knowing doctor? Coronavirus turned that on its head. No one – not Dr. Jerome Adams, not Dr. Anthony Fauci, not your local primary care doc — knows exactly what this thing is, where it’s going, or what’s going to happen.
As a medical leader or an organization, it’s ok to admit you don’t have all the answers, in this situation. People are looking for solid information, but the discerning ones realize that information from almost any source or any expert will have its flaws. Unless you ARE Dr. Fauci or the World Health Organization, this is also not the time for you to make predictions.
If you’re creating and publishing content, don’t be afraid to reiterate what the most trusted sources are saying but add your perspective (especially if you care for a particular segment of the population or have a narrow focus of expertise.) Share your own story.
And don’t hide any useful resources related to coronavirus behind a form. Give it all away. You are here to help right now, not to build your database or generate leads.
In a sea of information overload and misinformation, speak to YOUR audience
At Right Source, the question we’ve answered most frequently over the last weeks is the following: With the CDC, WHO, and the federal government providing “standard” guidelines on a daily basis, what can we also say that is unique and doesn’t just regurgitate that information?
That depends on the size and type of your organization.
If you’re a large organization serving hundreds of thousands of citizens across all demographics, yes, your general guidelines probably need to reinforce those of reputable national healthcare bodies. That said, your members STILL require information on how they can interact with YOU — facilities they can visit, hours, and advice. And you can offer tips that aren’t just about washing your hands, like how to stay happy and mentally stimulated while trapped at home.
If you’re a smaller organization and/or serving a narrower demographic, then you have an opportunity to speak to your audience about what they are uniquely dealing with. If you’re serving seniors, talk to them about social isolation or exercise in the home. If you’re a cardiologist, talk to them about heart health tips during this time period. If you’re an OBGYN, talk to patients about their fears and ways to keep their pregnancy healthy.
Don’t go quiet simply because you think all there is to say has been said. Your unique relationships with your patients, and their trust, requires you to speak.
Humanize as much as possible
The humanization of content — doing things to prove healthcare leaders are living, breathing, feeling beings — will go a long way to bridge the trust gap.
How do you do that?
Tell stories. Facts, while important, are dry, readily available, and are easily forgotten. Good stories stick, and therefore create and reinforce healthy behaviors.
Focus on people. Show examples of your employees demonstrating their commitment. Publish patient stories. While this virus doesn’t have a face, every patient it impacts does.
Show some emotion. No one is looking for monotonous bullets. Everyone is feeling something. Show us.
Consider your delivery mechanism. The format in which you deliver your content absolutely matters. For instance, I just visited the websites of five family medical practices in my area. Here’s what I found:
- Only 3 of the 5 include any type of coronavirus messaging.
- The 3 that do include coronavirus messaging simply refer their patients to the CDC for information or to their phone number if they want to book an appointment.
- None include a video from the practice leader or individual physicians providing simple information or reassurance.
I get it. Physicians are busy. Their jobs may be more important than anyone’s right now. But it takes 10 minutes to shoot a basic video. Another 10 for someone knowledgeable to publish it on your website. Perhaps a little bit longer to send an email to all your patients with the video included. But this personal touch goes a long way toward building trust. Your audience realizes that you understand that they are worried and that you are accessible if they need you. That’s money in the trust bank.
Never stop working on building trust
It’s been shown that when people trust their healthcare provider, they are healthier. People are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, they are more willing to try new procedures or medical technology, more likely to take their medications. That all leads to better outcomes, happier patients, and better healthcare for everyone. And ultimately, that trust will help us respond to the next crisis, whether it be a pandemic or otherwise.
As they say, trust takes years to earn and seconds to lose.
The time is now to start (or continue) laying your foundation.