Start your online patient community on the right foot

There’s little incentive for your patients to join a ghost-town community. That’s why it’s critical to develop a vibrant community before you promote it. 

Your first goal at the launch of an online patient community is to achieve a critical mass of activity. You’ll know you’ve reached critical mass when the community becomes self-sustaining.

We define self-sustaining as the point at which more than 50% of activity within the community is generated by the community, as opposed to being generated by the community manager. This high level of activity is reached by attracting members who become very active within the group.

But how do you develop this initial group of very active members?

A challenge with new communities is that there is less incentive to participate. There are few conversations, no archived information, and usually a limited amount of educational materials. The benefits a community provides are much smaller when the community is in its early stages. 

That’s why it’s so important to develop a strong group who are interested in being founders or mentors to start the community.

Depending on the type of community you are starting, a list of potential members could come from different sources. For instance, if you are starting a bariatric community, you could find enough patients preparing for or recovering from surgery to interview. The same could apply for a cancer patient community.

How to create your list of potential founding members

If you’re organizing a community for parents of children with serious illnesses, look for those who are already attending support groups, or who are involved in special events or projects.

If you’re organizing a community for caregivers for family members with dementia, put invitations to participate in internal medicine clinics, or ask doctors to refer, or put the word out on an open Facebook group.

Once you’ve identified 20-30 potential community members, take the time to interview them. This blogpost gives you a list of questions to start with. You’ll want to develop more of your own. 

Give your founding members something to do

Your goal is to identify a core group to start the community, but for this approach to work, you can’t just provide lip service. The founders must have genuine opportunities to shape and influence the community. They need to participate in activities that benefit both the community and themselves and allow them to feel a sense of influence and ownership.

Some of the things your community founders can do include:

  • Promoting the site with peers.
  • Developing content for the community.
  • Helping to develop community rules and guidelines.
  • Participating in special events such as live chats, interviews, and offline events.
  • Starting and contributing to conversations on the platform.
  • Welcoming newcomers.

When you invite potential members to be founders in the community, tell them the specific ways you expect them to contribute. Emphasize how critical their role will be to the success of the community. Thank them for their contributions.

Here are some tactical steps to start your community.

  • A doctor or program manager invites potential community members to be interviewed.
  • The interviewer asks enough questions to identify if the patient is willing to be a founding member of the community.
  • When contacts agree to be founders, the community manager provides a specific list of responsibilities for the founder to perform in the community.
  • New members sign up for the community and complete the online personal profile that includes a photograph, biography, and other important information.
  • Community manager initiates conversations and encourages founders to participate.
  • Community manager works with founders to develop a content calendar for the community.
  • Community manager encourages founders to develop content.

It is essential that all of this happen BEFORE you announce the community to the public or do any kind of promotion for the community. The worst possible scenario is for people to visit a community that’s a ghost town. They’ll likely never come back.

What is the benchmark for moving forward?

When you have 50 or more members who are participating in community conversations 1-5 days a week, it’s time to move to the next step — promoting your community.

20 essential questions to ask potential members of your online patient community

Too many online patient communities are created without the right preliminary research. The result? A ghost town. 

You can avoid that disaster by interviewing 20-30 potential members of the community first. In the interviews you have three important objectives:

  • Identify competition.
  • Find out what patients’ online interests and habits are.
  • Determine who could be founding members of your community.

Who, then, should you interview? Those patients who fit squarely within the patient profile you’re targeting for your online community.

Perhaps you have a support group already meeting around your community concept. Or you have patients who are actively commenting on your hospital Facebook page. Or simply make a list of 20-30 current or former patients. 

You can conduct the interviews on the phone or face to face. Another option is to conduct a patient focus group, but this should be in addition to the individual interviews, not instead. 

The introduction to the interview

Suppose you’re considering a bariatric surgery community. Here’s how you might introduce the concept in the interview. 

Example opening: We are considering starting an online community for weight loss surgery patients. It would be a private site that you could log into. There you could have conversations with other people preparing for their weight loss surgery, or who have had the surgery. Share advice. Give support. Ask questions. Just say how you’re feeling. Or what you’re struggling with. You could also get current, accurate information about procedures, diet, exercise, change, side effects.

Here are 20 questions to ask

Are you aware of online communities like this?

Do you belong to any? (Ask follow-up questions. It’s important to find out if there are existing online communities that already meet your patients’ needs. )

Does this sound like a community you would want to be a part of? Why? Or why not? (If no, dig deeper to discovery why. This is valuable information!)

What other options would you like to see in this community?

What would your dream community look like?

What would an outstanding community have?

What would you hope to gain from this community?

What are your biggest problems/challenges you face today?

What do you think are the biggest concerns/worries that other patients like you have?

Why would you go online to the community? Help others? Receive support? Get information? Connect with people like you? Ask questions? See what other people are talking about? Make new friends?

Do you know anyone else who would want to belong to this community? 

What would keep you coming back to the community?

How many times a week do you think you would visit this community?

How much time would you spend in a community like this?

When in your daily routine would you make time for it?

Who do you think would make the perfect members of this community?

What kind of patients should not belong to this community?

If you were to ask a question to this community today, what would it be?

Would you find this community helpful in your life?

Would you consider being a founding member of this community? 

How to create a thriving HIPAA-compliant online patient community

If you’re thinking about launching an online patient community, here is what you must know first – and how Hive Strategies can help.

Most online communities fail

Without proper preparation and active management, Gartner says “be ready for the community to fail.”

Successful online communities can provide remarkable benefits to hospitals and health systems

Evidence-based market research has shown that successful online patient communities can:

  • Increase loyalty, elicit strong emotional connections, and significantly reduce switching to other health systems.
  • Promote recommended behavior.
  • Fill important gaps in supportive care.
  • Increase patient engagement, empowerment and well-being.

As we move from fee-for-service to population management, online communities can play a significant role in helping your patients achieve better health at lower costs while developing greater loyalty to your physicians and hospitals.

There is a proven pathway to online community success

Hive Strategies helps clients create successful online patient communities through a Discovery process that includes extensive interviews and research and answers 5 essential questions:

  • What business or marketing challenge will my online community help me solve?
  • What is the unique position of my community?
  • What are the objectives for my community, including clear, measurable outcomes and timelines?
  • Are key stakeholders on board?
  • What resources are necessary for my community to succeed?

A Roadmap to Online Community Success

After completing the Discovery process, we provide:

  • A detailed community profile of who should join the community, how they would join, why they would join, and what will keep them coming back.
  • Specific marketing strategies to drive awareness of and enrollment in the community.
  • A resource plan, including specific people and budgets that will be committed to the community.
  • Specific benefits to your hospital or health system, patients, caregivers or family members.
  • A list of specific, measurable community outcomes.

Contact Dan Hinmon at 503-435-8346 for specific ways we can help you create a thriving online patient community. 

Develop a community-building mindset for effective healthcare marketing

If you’re a healthcare marketer who is still spewing one-way communication with radio, TV, newspaper and direct mail advertising, it’s time to shift gears and develop a community-building mindset. 

That’s the main message from Jennings CEO Dan Dunlop. 

“Healthcare marketing is facing a crisis of relevance,” says Dunlop. “The world of marketing is being transformed by the adoption of new digital platforms and technologies. Yet, most healthcare organizations continue to market as they always have.”

Much healthcare marketing holds little relevance for patients today

He goes on to say that “the traditional model of healthcare marketing, where we primarily push content in the direction of the consumer, is not sustainable. It’s short on value and holds little relevance for patients and consumers.”

Instead, says Dunlop, “we should look to online community development as a foundational element of any engagement strategy. We need to build niche online communities of shared interest, organized around specific topics, conditions or diseases, that our patients can join and where they can interact with others facing similar health challenges.”

 

Great advice for any health systems looking to strengthen relationships with patients and their families. 

 

Mayo Clinic Health Care Social Media Summit takes a new direction

I’m in Rochester Minnesota in June this year — rather than the annual October pilgrimage I’ve been making the past few years. 

The Mayo Clinic Health Care Social Media Summit is an all-new format built around sharing expertise, solving problems, and building community. Instead of the typical day-and-a-half conference in the past that showcased hour-long presenters in different tracks, Mayo Clinic has created a day-long Summit with case studies in the morning and afternoon small-group exchanges, interaction with social media experts, and a strategic planning approach that will help health care marketers walk away with a practical, problem-solving solutions. 

Special Needs and Challenges of Developing for Community Management

The Summit will be preceded by a one-day Social Media Residency. I’m fortunate enough to serve as a Chief Resident for the residency once again and also to be part of a case study panel at the Summit. Lee Aase, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, Colleen Young, and I will tackle Special Needs and Challenges of Developing for Community Management. Meredith Gould will moderate. 

I have contracted with Mayo Clinic to act as community director for the Social Media Health Network, Mayo’s professional community for health care marketing professionals with an interest in social and digital networking.  

We are completely reworking the SMHN website

First big task: Completely rework the website to support vibrant community activity. Colleen, Meredith and I have been working on the project for a few months now, and in spite of a number of hurdles, we’re making strong progress. Our panel will discuss some of those challenges and how we’ve worked as a team to overcome them. 

Can’t wait to meet new members of our community!