The Practice Growth Podcast is an educational resource for doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers about how to market and manage a thriving healthcare practice.
In Episode 13, host Jessica Neyer speaks with Zain Haidar, PatientPop social media content management team lead, about content marketing. Content marketing is an effective way for healthcare practices to stimulate interest in their services and products, but many don’t know what it is or how to implement an effective strategy. In this episode, you’ll get need-to-know information about content marketing and how you can get started with content today. Click below to listen.
Jessica Neyer: The average small business spends about 6 percent of gross revenues on marketing, yet 46 percent of business owners don’t know if their marketing is working. One in six of them report that their efforts are failing.
You likely know that traditional marketing tactics like direct mail, billboards, and Yellow Page ads aren’t effective at attracting new patients. Nor are they useful in cultivating relationships with existing patients. What you might not know is where you should invest your marketing dollars to drive practice growth.
In this episode, we discuss a marketing strategy known as content marketing that’s proven to be far more effective at helping healthcare practices stimulate interest in their services — and offer tips on how you can get started with this strategy today. Stay tuned.
Hello and welcome to The Practice Growth Podcast, the doctor’s source for marketing and managing a thriving healthcare practice. I’m Jessica Neyer, and with me today to discuss content marketing is Zain Haidar, who has five years of experience creating content for social media and online publications. Thanks so much for joining me.
To get us started, can you define for everyone out there what content marketing actually means?
Haidar: Absolutely. You know, a lot of times we could just get bogged down in buzzwords and what not, but basically what content marketing is, as opposed to traditional marketing, is trying to take a cohesive approach with generating online materials that keeps your audience informed and engaged, rather than just directly advertising to them.
So let’s say, for example, you’re an automobile manufacturer. You might create a series of blog posts about trails that people could explore across the country that they might want to use your off-road vehicle to get to. So it’s more of a roundabout way of approaching marketing that allows you to take a holistic approach. Instead of directly selling to your customers, you’re giving them information that’s useful to them, that makes them loyal to you as more than just a company selling a product.
Neyer: Why is content marketing, then, the recommended strategy for independent healthcare providers?
Haidar: The reason I would say that independent healthcare providers should get into content marketing as soon as possible is because there’s so much competition in healthcare. I know we don’t think about healthcare as a competitive market because we have classical visions of a doctor. He or she might make house calls and is always available, but that’s really not the way it is anymore.
Something I recently learned is that healthcare is actually the largest employer in the U.S. Now it’s surpassed manufacturing and retail. So this is an increasingly competitive field. It’s harder and harder for doctors to stick out, especially from a regional perspective. You could Google a primary care physician and get hundreds of results, if not thousands, in your radius. So it’s pretty crucial to stand out somehow, and content marketing is a very effective way to do that, especially online.
Neyer: That makes perfect sense. You think about it, and doctors were used to attracting new patients through word of mouth just a few years ago. They need to do something now to help them stand out from the crowd. So content marketing is perfect.
Explain to me a little bit how blogs are related to content marketing… or social media for that matter.
Haidar: One thing that we run into every now and then is people will want to know why would I do a blog rather than social, or should I be doing both? The real answer there, I think, is you should be investing in both of those things, because they serve a very different purpose, from a technical perspective.
I think also, from a philosophical perspective, the way that I like to talk about it with customers is that, if you’re catching up with your friends, he might have one phone call every month that’s two hours long, and you really just go for a deep dive. But you’re going to have text messages with them, or let’s say you talked to them on social media every few days or every week. Those messages are going to be a lot shorter, a lot quicker, and you get quick updates about their life.
That’s the difference between blogging and social. Blogging is your opportunity to really show off your expertise and show patients why they should choose you over somebody else who also serves that specialty, whereas social has a chance to give quick updates. Maybe you have a promo or an open house that’s happening at your practice and you want to bring patients in the door. That’s your opportunity to do that.
Neyer: Interesting. I want to really drill that at home for everybody listening. It’s not an either-or situation. Doctors really should blog as much as they should be on social media.
Haidar: Yeah, the frequency is going to be a little different. You might blog once a week or once a month, but the important thing with blogging and with social is to have a consistent frequency. Regardless of what that frequency you choose, you’re going to blog once a month, and do that once a month consistently so that people know what to expect. It’s really to hammer that home, like you said it. It is essential.
Remember, doing both is going to give you optimal results. You don’t want to just pick one or the other, and frankly there’s no reason to only do one or the other. You can have your cake and eat it, too, in this situation.
Neyer: What are the optimal times that a doctor should post?
Haidar: Doctors are busy, frankly, so they’re not going to be sitting down every day and doing it… unless it’s their passion, and they have a huge interest in blogging or posting on social. It’s something they’re going to be doing outside of their day-to-day jobs, and it can be difficult to get to that.
I would recommend — and this is what we do at PatientPop for blogging — we send out posts a once a month. Maintain a regular flow of topics that don’t get stale. If we were blogging once a day or once a week, it might get to the point of being excessive.
You know, we’re actually experimenting with different frequencies for posting, and there’s a lot of debate about what’s the most effective. But I think what we found is generally (for social media) three to five times a week. So once every business day or once every other business days, generally is a standard approach.
Neyer: We talked about how often a doctor should post, what sites they should use, what topics should be covered by doctors. I know that’s a bit of a touchy subject, because HIPAA gets involved and doctors are concerned… what are safe topics to really write about?
Haidar: What I would say for doctors, if they’re trying to come up with topics and they’re racking their brains to come up with a list of things to write about, is to start with simple questions that your patients have all the time. You’re going to have a “frequently asked” page on your website, more likely than not, but this is your chance to really dive into those questions and provide a consultative approach.
So if you have a question that comes up from almost every patient, you could take the time to write a blog post about it. Let’s say you’re a podiatrist and you have a question about hammertoe. You should write a blog post about that because you could then not only answer that in the office, but also refer your patients to this article to give them a deeper level of understanding that you may not be able to give across during a 30-minute visit.
Neyer: It could save the doctor a lot of time if the patient has already read the blog post; they have the information.
Haidar: I like to take that approach because starting with a question leads to other questions. If I start with a list of topics that’s based around questions my patients might have, inevitably, somebody who’s an expert in their field is going to think of other questions that arise from that initial conversation, and it’s going to really help them generate those topics.
Neyer: I know one buzzword that comes up quite a bit is the idea of keywords, but I really don’t know what that means. What are keywords, and how should doctors be using them?
Haidar: Keywords are crucial in a lot of ways, because the reason why we’re blogging is not just to be a thought leader, but we were taking a technical approach. So we want to rank higher in search results. We want to boost our SEO (search engine optimization).
I want a doctor to go from, let’s say position 10 on Google to one or two. And the way that we do that through blogging is by inserting keywords that are relevant to the practice and that people are searching for. So if we’re talking about, again, let’s say a podiatrist, I want to put in keywords that people who are looking for a podiatrist are likely to search within my blog posts, because then Google will pick up on those keywords and rank me higher in their search results.
You still want your content to be thoughtful and engaging, but keywords almost act as a barometer or a compass to guide me in creating the content. So to go back to your other question, that’s also a great way to think about what topics you should write… is to consult a list of keywords that are relevant to practices that maybe compete with you or are in your area, and use that as a list of creating content topics.
Neyer: And how does a doctor find that list, if they want to do it on their own?
Haidar: There are several options there. If you Google [keyword planner], there are a ton of free services that will allow you to type in a topic, and then it will generate a list of keywords that are related to that topic.
Another option for healthcare providers is if they wanted to sign up with advertising through PatientPop, that’s also something that we can help out with. We generate keywords for them and help out with that process.
Neyer: Got it. I know you mentioned earlier on in the podcast what the ideal time frame that a doctor should post is, and I know that relates to editorial calendars, and those are something that the doctor should have. But what is an editorial calendar, for everyone out there, and how should it be used by a healthcare professional?
Haidar: An editorial calendar to put it simply is just as it sounds, a calendar. What it contains are the topics that you’re going to be writing about for a given period of time. So if I have an editorial calendar that covers all of 2018 or all of 2019, what’s going to be in there is every piece of content that I plan on creating and distributing over that year.
You may have separate calendars for social and blogging. That’s what we do. So we’ll have, for example, an editorial calendar for the month of September for a doctor, and we have all of the posts outlined for this month, including Twitter, Facebook, and Google. And what that allows us to do is make sure that the doctor and our team are on the same page about what we want going out on their social channels.
Really, it’s an organizational tool and because it’s a pretty broad general organizational tool, there’s a ton of different ways you can use it, and there’s also a ton of different tools you can use to create one. We use Google spreadsheets because we’ve just found those to be the most customizable and the most easily shareable. You can also export those as Excel files or CSVs.
Neyer: When you’re talking about social media posts and blog posts, is there a certain length of posts that’s recommended? Do you include that in your editorial calendar?
Haidar: That’s a topic of a fierce debate in the online community. Generally what’s accepted as being an optimum length for a blog post is anywhere from 500 to 800 words.
Nowadays, as we’re becoming more mobile-focused and Google tends to rank mobile preferences higher when it’s creating SEO rankings, shorter blog posts are becoming more common. You wouldn’t want to get to the point of being around 100 or 200 words; that could be to clippy. Generally in that 500 to 800 range, this is what an optimum a blog post is going to run.
And of course there are exceptions to the rule. It depends on what you’re talking about. And if you’re discussing a topic, let’s say going back to the idea of keywords, if you have a list of 20 keywords that are relevant to that topic, you should create a piece of content that’s long enough to contain all of its words. It is relative, but there are sort of standards for that.
And the same thing goes for social. I’m just speaking anecdotally, and I’m sure you can agree with this: You’re probably not going to read a Facebook post that’s three paragraphs. You want to keep those messages in line with the way consumers use some mediums, because you’re checking this really quickly. You just want a short update.
So what we do is we create posts that are about a paragraph long for Facebook for our practices. Twitter, we keep it about a sentence. And for Google+, we have the same length as our Facebook posts.
I’m guilty of just reading headlines and moving on. That’s something that is not going to change. And if anything, we’re just going to, when it comes to processing information, consumers are going to become more efficient. We want to do things more quickly.
As marketers, we have to adapt to that, rather than the other way around. We can’t expect people to suddenly be interested in long-form content all the time. So I advise people just to get with the program when it comes to that.
Neyer: That makes sense. So is there any reason why a doctor wouldn’t blog or post to social media?
Haidar: Two big reasons. We talked about this before, but doctors are just plain busy in a lot of cases. That doctor is running in and saving lives or doing surgery. But a lot of times, you know, your run-of-the-mill healthcare professional, they may not be using a defibrillator on somebody every hour, but they’re still, they’re still busy, so they have a full calendar. A lot of times they’re running their own clinic. A lot of these are small businesses, so their day is full with not just medical care, but administrative consultants, as well. So they just don’t have the time to do it.
And another case, this is less often nowadays because I think people are starting to understand more and more often, but a lot of the times people don’t see the value of social or blogging, and that’s going to be another instance where it just doesn’t happen.
Neyer: I think you find that a lot with the differences in generations. Older generations tend to devalue social media and blogging. If you’re trying to attract a younger generation or any generation for that matter, it’s becoming more and more critical that you include blogs and social media.
Haidar: Yeah, absolutely.
Neyer: I should say there are people of an older generation than me that post to social media much more frequently than I do.
Haidar: And I’ve seen my parents text and drive. I’ve also watched them change over the years. So for instance, my dad ran his business 10 years ago. He had no interest in social and things that were online. But nowadays, he has three different questions for me everyday about how he can optimize his social profiles, because he understands that that’s the way to connect with people these days.
Neyer: I know we’re all impatient. We want to see results right away. And that’s one of the biggest complaints we get from customers if it’s Day 1, why isn’t your solution working? I know it takes time to see results from any of these things, but how often, or I should ask how long, does it take to see results after implementing a content marketing strategy for your practice?
Haidar: That’s a question we get all the time. And you know, again, that can vary based on a lot of factors.
Of course, customers don’t want to hear that. That’s a normal thing to expect. You purchase a product or service and you want to have concrete numbers around that.
What I would say is generally for onsite rankings, for things that are on your actual website, you can typically expect some form of result around the 6-month mark. That’s generally when that happens, and it tends to happen a little bit quicker for offsite rankings or offsite marketing efforts. That takes a little bit longer.
So let’s say I’m trying to go viral on Twitter and another medium, that type of campaign could take anywhere up to a year to actually see that.
Neyer: Oh, interesting. I would have never known. Zain, thank you so much for being here today. I really appreciate it.
Haidar: Thank you so much. I was really happy to join.