Healthcare Marketing: Social Media Requires Defensive Tactics

It’s not all about being aggressive in the use of social media.  In a consumer-driven marketplace, we must also defend our brand and our brand’s reputation.

From every corner, we hear that hospitals must get in the action, embrace social media and be active using all of the social networking tools.  It’s being drilled into our brains.  I don’t necessarily disagree.  I have advocated the use social media by hospitals and healthcare organizations.

But there is another side to the issue.  You might call it the ugly side.  In a consumer-driven environment, every brand is vulnerable.  Any brand can come under attack and sometimes half the world will know it before the brand manager does.

Pete Blackshaw wrote a very sobering and highly relevant article recently in Ad Age.  He offered “The Pocket Guide to Defensive Branding”. He suggests, “Sandbag before you sell. Protect before you promote.  Defend before you dance.  Self critique before you self-destruct”.

We have all witnessed social media road kill.  Brands that have come under attack by one or thousands who use social media to attack and proliferate the scorn.  Sometimes the criticism has been warranted, other times perhaps not.  Twitter and Facebook “like” pages becomes a complaint desk.  And with the internet, a brand can never rid the populated highway of the messiness.  It’s there to be googled forever. The issue is how do you protect your brand against such an onslaught.

Blackshaw offers several suggestions for building a defense against an uncontrollable offensive attack.  Here are a few of his suggestions:

  • Listen first, answer next, engage last. Monitor and listen.  Don’t always be the one talking.  Listen carefully.
  • Give your brand the “torture test” before your consumers do it for you. Know your vulnerabilities.  Think like your worst critic.
  • Master the “Six Drivers of Brand Credibility” – Trust, transparency, authenticity, listening, responsiveness and affirmation.
  • Know the  ‘talk-drivers”…the thing(s) most likely to ruffle the feathers of consumers.  In hospitals it’s usually employees.  That is your vulnerability. Know what motivates them.
  • Know all the facts.  Get them into the right hands.  Even before an attack occurs.
  • Put yourself on the front lines. Open up the feedback channels, promote them and pay attention to them
  • Unify and engage brand stakeholders before a crisis occurs. It requires honesty, openness, responsiveness and organizational agility

Social networking can help establish brand awareness and build strong brand equity.  It can also bite you and cause great harm to the brand.  It is indeed a two-edged sword and both sides of the blade are sharp.  In addition to exploring how we can use social networking to enhance our brand we must also be building a strong defense readying ourselves for a possible attack.  And usually it’s a strong defense that wins brand championships.


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