20 min read
The healthcare content strategist’s toolkit
The equipment of a healthcare content marketer is seldom as obvious as that of, say, a construction worker.
A hard hat is certainly not required for a writer’s job. The only kind of safety goggles we typically need are reading glasses. And our days without injury count are incredibly high. How many marketers do you know who have suffered physical damage while writing a social media strategy?
However, there’s a less obvious—but incredibly useful—set of materials that can equip members of healthcare organizations to form data-driven, informed content strategies. We call it The Healthcare Content Strategist’s Toolkit. We’ve developed it throughout our years of experience servicing clients in the healthcare and institutions space.
In this blog post, we’ll illustrate some of the key differentiators of healthcare content strategists. Next, we’ll unpack the healthcare content strategist’s toolkit and talk about the various resources for success in this niche space. Finally, we’ll offer some real-world examples to illustrate how the toolkit materials can be used.
What makes the healthcare content strategist different?
Before we jump into the toolkit, let’s take a look at what makes healthcare content strategists stand out from marketers in other fields.
Healthcare marketing is centered on non-optional products and services; namely, the wellbeing of patients, caregivers, and communities. Healthcare isn’t an optional commodity for most consumers. Thus, it must be marketed differently than products and services that are. The tone of healthcare marketers differs from that of other fields, too. The voice of a healthcare marketer should be outward-facing, focused on the consumers and their experiences rather than the standing of the healthcare organization itself. Healthcare marketers also need to be subject matter experts in their respective spheres of the medical field, be it hospital administration, health insurance, or clinical care.
For healthcare marketers, the word “consumer” doesn’t necessarily mean patients. It can also encompass providers, donors, community members, caregivers, career-seekers, and other intermediaries in a consumer’s increasingly complex healthcare journey.
Unpacking the toolkit
Now comes the fun part. It’s time to unlock the toolkit and see what’s inside.
Subject matter expertise
Subject matter expertise is a vital element of any organization’s content team. This is especially true when it comes to healthcare marketing because a consumer’s well-being is at stake.
How can a consumer develop positive affinity and trust in an organization if its messaging sounds like it was written by someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about? In healthcare, subject matter expertise is more than just a marketing term: it’s the foundation of trustworthiness, which is crucial to building lasting relationships with consumers.
What does your healthcare organization offer? Is it a hospital system? A cancer awareness non-profit? A health insurance provider? You’ll need to not only be an expert in all things related to your organization, but also its industry. Steep yourself in information about the specific market and your brand’s place in it: you’ll need this knowledge throughout the content creation process.
If you’re leading a team of content writers, encourage exercises that will allow them to expand their knowledge on the brand’s unique position and its industry. Schedule your team to sit in on webinars. Task writers with researching one interesting fact about the market and have them report on their findings in team meetings. Explore healthcare thought leadership blogs to find nuggets of information that provide useful knowledge for later. By the time copywriting tasks roll around, at least one member of your team should be able to answer nearly every question about the industry.
Agency professionals should also rely on healthcare clients to help provide this expertise. They are in the trenches of marketing for their organizations every day and can serve as a resource to answer questions about what matters in their organizations, what drives their business decisions, and what trends are happening within healthcare facilities. Providers of the healthcare organization you’re serving have valuable technical information to share as well; and by immersing yourself in their expertise, you mitigate the risk of providing inaccurate information regarding what could be construed as real or implied medical advice. In addition to providing reliable context for your content, this engagement with your client also fosters good communication and a sense of trust.
Whether you perform healthcare marketing in-house or within an agency, it’s imperative that you adopt an organization’s unique brand proposition or mission/vision/values as your own. It may sound overdramatic, but when you’re writing content for a healthcare organization, you need to become that organization. Think of it as method acting for marketers.
How do you fully embrace your role? Start with the organization’s brand guide. Bookmark it in your browser or print a copy to keep on your desk for quick reference. Absorb these guidelines until you speak the brand’s language fluently. If a brand guide doesn’t currently exist, partner with internal stakeholders to strategize the creation of one. Let it serve as the playbook for future marketing efforts.
Check out the brand’s current marketing assets as well, such as websites, social media channels, blogs, brochures, annual reports, and media kits. Block time on your calendar to simply read through collateral and take notes as you go. What strikes you about this brand? What makes it stand out? How does it serve patients, caregivers, providers, and community members? What recurring themes do you notice?
A simple but helpful practice we’ve discovered is what we call the “Post-It method.” Find the sections of the brand guide that pertain to brand voice. Look for a list of words that are meant to steer the tone of the brand. For example, a brand guide might list the tenets of its voice as “Strength, Sympathy, Encouragement, and Hope.” Jot these descriptors—and any others that recur in the guide—down on Post-It notes and stick them around your writing space: beside your computer monitor, on your bulletin board, next to your mousepad. Then when writing for the brand, you’ll have these reminders “floating” around you to keep you on brand. These reminders can also help nudge that pesky writer’s block out of the way.
The last thing you want to do is adopt a flippant tone about something as serious as healthcare. If you were looking for hospice options for a loved one, would you appreciate it if someone was cracking jokes on a long-term care website? Not likely.
This is one of the tactical challenges that healthcare content marketers and copywriters face every day: performing a delicate balancing act of both genuineness and tact within every line of copy. Maintain a tone of expertise, but avoid stuffiness. Be compassionate, but not cheesy. Illustrate the brand as a helping hand on the road to wellness, but don’t be condescending to readers.
“We want to understand how someone at their most vulnerable will read and interpret content,” says Ntara Account Director Justin Alvis. Justin’s expertise in healthcare account strategy is largely due to his extensive work with our client Vidant Health, a not-for-profit healthcare system dedicated to improving the health and well-being of people in eastern North Carolina.
Content strategists and writers have to learn how to practice sensitivity in healthcare marketing. This education develops naturally when you cultivate subject matter expertise and authenticity. We also recommend having a clearly-defined editing process in place to help ensure sensitivity at every touchpoint. When you have multiple pairs of eyes on a piece of content, you lessen the chance of it not only being factually incorrect, but also offensive.
For large organizations, a volunteer patient advisory board is a great resource for getting perspective on addressing communication. This is another area in which providers themselves provide excellent guidance.
When in doubt, err on the side of caution. If you believe that a piece of content runs the risk of coming across as insensitive, scratch it. It’s not worth the risk.
Things move quickly in the healthcare industry. On a national, regional, and local level, there is nearly constant motion; between scientific breakthroughs and changes in policy and legislation, the landscape of healthcare seems to perpetually shift.
The same is often true of healthcare organizations themselves. Even at large healthcare corporations—where action can sometimes feel slow-moving—new projects, risks, and opportunities are always brewing beneath the surface. And as a content marketer, it’s important that you stay on top of them.
Why? Chances are, if you don’t, someone else will. In the age of rapid-fire news distribution and social media, it doesn’t take long for information to spread. If that information is compromising to your healthcare organization, you need to contain it as quickly as possible; and if that information is beneficial to your organization, you still need to monitor its flow.
Staying aware of developments at your organization, your client’s organization, and within the industry also gives you the opportunity to “get out in front of it.” Has a cardiovascular research breakthrough grabbed the attention of prominent medical journals? Consult with teams within your organization to understand its impact; and if it’s in alignment with your business objectives, share information about it on your social media channels. Have you received an internal company alert about a new rehab center be arriving within your health system next year? Get your team together and develop a communications plan so that you are prepared for media inquiries in the future. Has someone complained about your brand on social media? You need to formulate the appropriate response.
There are several ways that you can increase your brand awareness and monitor information about your organization. We recommend taking the following actions:
Maintain open communication with the organization's teams.
If you work on an agency level, it’s especially crucial to keep communication channels with client teams open. The organization’s internal teams are your best source of knowledge for new developments and company news. We love the frequent and transparent communication we share with our healthcare clients; it allows us to stay in the loop on organizational updates so that we produce relevant and timely content.
Use Google Alerts.
This is one of the simplest steps you can take toward greater brand awareness. Google Alerts are free, easy to set up, and will deliver brand mentions directly to your inbox. Think about brand mentions that are most valuable to you, and curate a list of 3-10 terms. For sheer volume purposes, we recommended using Google Alerts with branded terms; generic terms can be monitored through a social media management tool and proactive thought leadership searches (see below), and this will keep your inbox from being flooded with terms that have nothing to do with your brand.
Use a social media management tool.
See who is talking about your healthcare brand on social media, today’s most prompt means of public communication for patients, providers, and community members alike. We like using Hootsuite. The customizable streams on users’ dashboards allows our content writers to save searches, organize flows of information, and monitor social media brand mentions in real-time.
Proactively curate content from thought leadership resources.
You may find it valuable to block time on your calendar each week to explore healthcare content marketing opportunities on a national and international level. Find reliable blogs, journals, and thought leadership publications (check with internal teams if you’re uncertain of validity) and skim frequently to find pieces of content that are relevant to your brand. Here are some of our favorites resources:
Remember to take advantage of the thought leadership resources you have within your own organization. Building relationships with providers and professionals in the organization you represent can validate breakthrough discoveries and temper breaking news through their lens of expertise and reality.
It is crucial for today’s healthcare content marketers to have a solid grasp of digital best practices. Healthcare—like the rest of the world—is increasingly digitized. What’s more, it’s not enough to just “keep up” with digital innovations. If you want to truly make your organization stand out, you need to be creating change.
“Healthcare clients’ consumers have come to expect the same services from healthcare providers that they’re accustomed to from retailers,” Justin points out. Users anticipate that healthcare organizations’ digital ecosystems will include intuitive navigation, a clean design interface, quick load times, accessibility for all abilities, and mobile-friendliness.
Are you well-versed in content management systems? Do you know how to establish an SEO strategy and follow-through with implementing it? Have you ever crafted and used a social media editorial calendar? Can you harness the power of website analytics to see how your content is performing? Have you added a live chat feature to your website? Does your healthcare organization have a mobile app? Do you know how to responsibly utilize the wealth of data that can be collected from electronic health record (EHR) systems, while still maintaining HIPAA compliance? Are you able to work with user-experience and web design experts to ensure that your content is readable and pleasing to the eye? And can your team ensure that the content will be visible to users of all abilities?
Performing thorough audience research is key to bringing consumers’ vulnerability, consumers’ technological preferences, and the diverse types of consumers together. We use persona development, customer journey maps, and competitive research to fully comprehend the audiences we’ll be reaching for our clients.
We’ve listed digital acumen as the final piece of the healthcare marketer’s toolkit because all the other pieces are encompassed within it. Let’s face it: your expertise, authenticity, sensitivity, and awareness don’t mean much if you can’t actually implement them for your organization!
Here are a few examples of how Ntara’s teams collaborate across our organization to produce strategic content that is informed, efficient, and digitally-sound:
- Our back-end development team members build website logic so that content is organized in a meaningful and intuitive way.
- Our front-end development team members make sure that content loads quickly and correctly on a page.
- Our business analytics team members ensure that content is properly tagged to generate actionable insights in Google Analytics.
- Our creative team members advise writers on the length and format of content to ensure that it is in alignment with design comps.
- Our accounts team members ensure that the communication between content writers and development is smooth and fruitful.
- Our quality assurance team members work with content writers to proofread sites for correctness, understand brand requirements for grammar and usage, and make changes as needed.
It all comes down to this: to survive in today’s world, you can’t be a healthcare content strategist unless you’re also a healthcare digital strategist.
The toolkit in action
Throughout our history of serving clients in the healthcare/institutions space, we’ve learned quite a few things. We have an awesome client base of organizations who are each making a huge difference in their respective healthcare industries, and we’re thrilled to help them reach their goals. Here are a few ways that we’ve been able to use the healthcare content strategist’s toolkit.
Subject matter expertise
One of our more recent projects involves launching a phased website for Cardinal Innovations Healthcare, a managed care organization (MCO) that serves 21 counties in North Carolina. Cardinal Innovations coordinates Medicaid coverage for people who are living with intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health diagnoses, or substance use disorders (IDD/MH/SUD).
In order to write the content for this site, our strategists and writers became fully immersed in information related to North Carolina Medicaid coverage, behavioral health diagnoses, state-funded healthcare coverage regulations, and more. We also had to educate ourselves on the offerings that Cardinal Innovations provided. Each member of the project’s content team became engrossed in the organization’s coverage types, service offerings, provider network requirements, outreach and advocacy efforts, teams, councils, and resources.
We’ll be publishing the results from this recent website in our Cardinal Innovations Healthcare case study, coming soon.
Envision is a Wichita-based non-profit organization that serves people who are blind or visually-impaired. Envision’s mission is “to improve the quality of life and provide inspiration and opportunity for people who are blind or visually-impaired through employment, outreach, rehabilitation, education, and research.”
We provided a meaningful website presence for Envision, informed by personas and customer journeys for the brand. These enabled us to really get to know our audiences of blind and visually-impaired Envision employees, clients, and patients; caretakers; medical professionals; donors; community stakeholders; and customers.
Understanding these audience members allowed us to create content in such a way that was genuine and appropriate to the unique needs of the site’s users. In our ongoing content work for Envision, we strive to continually maintain an accurate and informed understanding of the people to whom we are speaking, as well as a tone that embodies Envision’s values.
We provide expertise that supports evidence-based care, an emerging healthcare model that integrates patients and families’ emotional experiences into clinical services. Evidence-based care is a foundation of patient experience-centered healthcare and is gaining an increased focus in modern practices. Read more about experience-based care in this article from the European Journal of Cancer Care.
Sensitivity is the heart of experienced-based care. It’s a matter of empathizing with patients’ and families’ unique circumstances and creating an environment that is conducive to healing. Here are three projects that allowed us that opportunity:
Digital art at Vidant Cancer Care
We developed digital art for the hallways of the newly-opened Vidant Cancer Care at the Eddie and Jo Allison Smith Tower in Greenville. Custom environmental shots of soothing North Carolina landscapes provide a healing atmosphere for cancer patients and their families. For the sake of sensitivity to cancer patients in the treatment process, we were careful to not include shots that denoted a feeling of coldness or finality, such as snowy landscapes.
Interactive wall at James & Connie Maynard Children's Hospital
James & Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital is a Children’s Miracle Network hospital located at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, NC. We contributed the design and creative direction for the interactive wall in one of the children’s hospital’s waiting rooms. This interactive wall—which matches the aquatic theme of the entire hospital—allows children to explore underwater scenes and keeps them occupied and calm while awaiting procedures.
Diversion room at James & Connie Maynard Children's Hospital
The diversion rooms at James & Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital are another example of the marriage of sensitivity in healthcare communication and experience-based care. We were involved in two phases of diversion room projects for the hospital, both of which were designed to help children relax during procedures. In the diversion rooms, projected scenes, animations, and videos distract children and calm anxiety.
Experienced-based care work comprises some of our favorite projects. We get a very special opportunity to be part of a movement that directly impacts the emotional experiences of patients and families. Sensitivity is imperative in the brainstorming, production work, and implementation of all such projects.
We launched the website for Vidant Health Careers, the talent acquisition and physician recruitment branch of Vidant Health, in 2014. Since then, we’ve served as a strategic partner for Vidant Health Careers and have helped them develop fresh copy for their digital channels.
In ongoing work with this team, we continually monitor the web and the greater Vidant Health organization to stay abreast of information that could provide relevant and engaging content. From moderating Facebook conversations, to activating Google alerts, to signing up for nursing newsletters, our content writers are aware of what is taking place at Vidant Health, within the recruitment area of the organization, and across the industry. This has allowed us to anticipate and engage in conversations that are relevant to the Vidant Health Careers brand.
This awareness contributes to our consistently positive engagement across social media channels. Our effective content and digital strategy also allowed us to save half of this team’s budget and provide much more effective recruiting and SEO benefits. View the Vidant Health Careers case study to learn more.
With every piece of content-related work we deliver, members of our Integrated & Marketing Insights team—the epicenter of content creation here at Ntara—work closely with our accounts, business analytics, creative, development, and quality assurance teams to ensure that content is checking all the boxes for excellence in digital experience.
Our services to healthcare organizations extend beyond website design and development. Our team members are experts in making healthcare organizations’ teams more efficient, helping teams navigate legal parameters such as HIPAA, building secure servers for electronic health records, and more.
“The reality is that everyone has been touched by the healthcare industry in one way or another,” Justin says. “We can have a positive impact on an entire region, whether it’s through building a website, a digital environment, or another tool.”
The impact of healthcare content strategists
As healthcare content marketers, we have a unique challenge—and opportunity—to affect the well-being of consumers. It’s our responsibility to craft a positive experience for patients, caregivers, providers, team members, and community stakeholders across a healthcare entity’s digital touchpoints. This cause is something we’re passionate about, and something that motivates us to continue uncovering new innovations to enhance the digital experience