Digital communities (DCs) are becoming more and more popular as a way for all businesses to reach consumers and build brand advocates. But first, DCs are different from a basic online platform or entity such as Facebook or Twitter (although many DCs can be found within Facebook). DCs are contained online communities where people with common causes, goals, issues or concerns gather—publicly or privately—to offer solutions, suggestions and maybe even peer support. Simply put, a DC is an online group of people who share experiences, thoughts, ideas and solutions among each other. Some of these communities can reach into the hundreds of thousands, and others might serve just dozens.
people need people
The word “community” is what drives the value of these groups… because essentially each person within the community is personally invested to have an equal voice (or ear). Some of these groups have become so vital to an industry’s business that they have been purchased, sold and acquired.
The healthcare industry is no stranger to DCs. In fact, this is one of the largest growing community sectors as people are becoming both informed and proactive about managing their own health and healthcare. A simple search on Facebook can unearth closed and open DCs ranging from cancer survivor, support and treatment groups, to mental health focused depression and anxiety groups. There are other platforms where DCs exist including Twitter Groups and blog forums. Still other groups may have a dedicated webpage, non-profit organization or public and private foundations where people come together to discuss various causes. Apps like Nextdoor make DCs within actual physical communities.
There are generally two options for a healthcare business regarding DCs. Either create one… or join one. But before you join a group of 100k people and start posting advertisements, there are some things to be mindful of. If done correctly, DCs can be another powerful platform for further branding and marketing opportunities.
creating digital communities
A common misconception regarding DCs is the idea that large numbers automatically create a community. A DC should be a place where people can talk freely and feel part of something meaningful. Creating a DC requires sufficient research, data and strategic and critical thinking up front. Done correctly, you will have an opportunity to create brand ambassadors who will essentially sell your product and services for you. Done incorrectly, you may leave a bad taste in a population you wish to convert. For example, a mistake would be to create a DC involving treatment of sports injuries and try to start selling piano lessons.
A recent Forbes article lays out some of the important first steps in creating a DC:
- Define your community. You can have more than one community. Remember, the goal is to identify and connect with people who will have a personal interest in your cause.
- Set the policies for the group. Private vs. public… advertising, branding or marketing?
- Select group ambassadors. These individuals could be local or national leaders within a category. A local surgeon may be a great candidate to discuss what happens after surgery.
- Be Proactive. Once the group is created, the ambassadors and/or creators must be active in order to reach people on an emotional level. This is not like the days of old where consumers come to you… You have to reach out to them. Keep the DC motivated and interested.
joining digital communities
The most important aspect of joining a DC is understanding the focus of the community. DCs sometimes have very specific target groups. Maybe they are focused on treatments, peer support or prevention. This initial awareness can go a long way in ensuring you understand the community’s tone and don’t get kicked out of the group.
- Don’t jump in and start obviously branding or advertising. Many people in a DC may not be receptive to brands or advertising. Some may prohibit these activities in their entirety. Introducing yourself to the DC’s ambassadors and leadership can go a long way in making a good first impression. You want to become an integral part of the DC and not be seen as someone who just wants an opportunity for marketing. Offer something to the group—your expertise, articles and other informative materials. These activities alone serve branding and marketing purposes.
- Be honest. If you are joining a DC, let them know exactly who you are and how you would like to support the community. Maybe even ask them outright what you can contribute. Remember, many of these groups are very personal, and your behaviors when joining will go a long way toward establishing trust.
- Don’t just talk about your brand and your services. Depending on the group, the internal communications can be very direct and emotional. Join in the discussions and offer something valuable to the community. Don’t just try to sell, sell, sell. That’s a formula for disaster and frustration.
Remember, creating or joining a DC is not a standalone project within a marketing department. It requires ongoing effort. As a healthcare provider, you have a certain amount of expertise, and people will listen to your advice. They in turn may transmit your advice or comments to family members and friends alike. Many brands and marketing battles are taking place on the front lines… Today that means on digital platforms that reach many more people than traditional radio and television ads. The possibilities are endless. And a long-term strategy of DC participation is a necessary part of any healthcare business’s branding and marketing strategy in today’s digital age.
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