3 Ways Patient Advocates Can Boost Your Healthcare Content Marketing
Approximately 133 million Americans live with a chronic illness, and one of the most effective ways healthcare companies can reach that segment of the population is by working with patient advocates.
Patient advocates are a new wave of bloggers, vloggers, and influencers who spread the word about life with their health conditions. They cover everything from hospital trips, to symptoms to medication and products that make their lives easier. In a way, they’ve become experts in their field, providing a “face” to life with difficult conditions. Many of these advocates work tirelessly to raise awareness of their condition, with some even turning their passion into a career.
Sahara Fleetwood-Beresford is one such advocate. She’s the founder of IBD Superheroes, freelances as an IBD patient expert, and has raised tens of thousands of pounds for Cure Crohn’s Colitis, a charity that now counts her as a board member. Patient advocacy is a way to earn a living around her chronic illness. More importantly, it offers the chance to make a real difference in the future of healthcare.
Let’s look at the three biggest ways that patient advocacy can transform healthcare content.
1. Offering much-needed perspective
The lived experiences of patient advocates is their most valuable asset. It ensures that healthcare content is rooted in specifics that marketing teams may not be able to come up with on their own. For example, Fleetwood-Beresford also written for medical supply company Fittleworth about the connection between loneliness and Ulcerative Colitis.
Online advocates can also offer feedback on everything from products and services to marketing messaging. For Pippa Stacey, a blogger who has Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), her advocacy includes market research as well. Stacey recently conducted market research around young people and mobility aids for CareCo, highlighting a whole new target audience for the company.
This type of collaboration can work for budgets both large and small. Don’t underestimate the power of paying an advocate for just a few hours of their time to look over your content. Fleetwood-Beresford worked in this capacity for Roche, joining a few in-person brainstorming workshops. She discussed topics like what barriers people with IBD face and why, which ones are still affecting patients, and which ones have already been addressed by different patient groups and charities.
Clients typically offer extra support during these meetings to work around conditions or disabilities. This could be as simple as remote working or things like adapted meeting rooms or flexible working hours.
Even when I’ve done whole-day workshops, they were designed with me in mind,” Fleetwood-Beresford said. “So frequent rest breaks and even a quiet room with somewhere I could go and lay down if I needed to.”
2. Reaching a new community
Another appeal of patient advocacy is exposure. Many advocates have developed sizable followings on social media. Accessing this new audience (through things like product reviews and sponsored posts) can be highly effective and much more cost effective than trying to target new customers through other marketing channels.
To find relevant advocates, start with sites like Healthline, which compile the best blogs for specific health conditions, such as this roundup of the best blogs from diabetes patients. Health Union, an online health community of writers that also offers clinical trials services, is another good resource. Reading these blogs is the best way to get a feel for the kind of advocates who align with your brand.
Another way to do this is to hashtag searching over on Instagram, searching niche hashtags—such as #invisibleillness, #chronicpain and #spoonielife—then looking at the top performing posts can help you identify the most popular voices.
That’s how some healthcare brands connected with Stacey, who has a loyal following of 10,000 followers on Instagram. Much of her work centers around championing accessibility, and she’s recently published her second book, University and Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide. However, she also works with a select number of healthcare brands like AccessAble, Optrex, CareCo and Safe+Sound Health. She believes the biggest mistake healthcare brands make is focusing solely on an older audience, making younger people with long-term conditions feel insecure.
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Guys, if you have a couple of minutes to read this, I’d hugely appreciate it! Earlier this year I released my debut non-fiction book, University And Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide, and it remains one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. It’s essentially a book of all the things I wish I’d had somebody to tell me after I was diagnosed with ME/CFS during my first year of university, and I cannot tell you how happy the positive reception so far has made me. That said, 2020 wasn’t exactly the best year to publish a book… and definitely not a book about university. Because of the pandemic, the majority of promotional activity for my book had to be cancelled. And rightly so. There was no way any of it could have gone ahead safely, and I’ve been keeping a careful eye on the situation and assessing what would be the most sensible yet sensitive move to make next at a time when nobody knows how the next few months will unfold. A-Level results day this Thursday marks the beginning of preparations for a new academic term; one that’ll be unconventional even for non-disabled students. But in my eyes, it seems even more important that chronically ill students have access to this advice that could help them. And it’s here where I‘m asking for your help. Basically, I’ve drafted a template email introducing and gently promoting my book, and I wanted to ask if anybody would be willing to send it on to any relevant contacts. The whole thing is written, links and images included, with just two sections that could be tweaked to further personalise it. I’ve already tackled all university disability services and most of the UK chronic illness charities, but what I’m really struggling with is getting the word out within schools, colleges, sixth forms, and other relevant organisations. If you have a contact at any of these who might benefit from a book like this, and you’d be comfortable reaching out to them, please do drop me a comment or DM with *your* email address and I’ll forward on the email template. I’m about to reach the character limit so I’ll leave other ways you can help in the comments, but thank you so, so much in advance for any support! 📚✨
“Healthcare brands offer brilliant services and products, but one thing I often notice is that they’re heavily focused on only their elderly audience,” she said. “Disability doesn’t discriminate, and there’s a huge population of disabled and chronically ill young people that the industry just doesn’t seem to have tapped into yet.”
Establishing trust through relatable content is crucial, but what’s the best way to do so?
Focus on working with a select group of influencers on a long-term basis rather than trying to target hundreds at once. A long-term relationship (such as influencers working with you on an affiliate basis, where they receive a commission for referrals) helps establish more trust than just a one-off advertisement. It’s always best to approach influencers who ideally already use your product to build this partnership, which will ensure that they’re passionate about spreading the word.
In terms of brand voice and content strategy, always take input from the influencer who will know their audience best. “The most successful collaborations happen when brands are open to the influencer’s own ideas,” Stacey said. “I usually have the freedom to pitch what I like.”
Collaborations that feel natural will be more successful than when a brand strictly controls the content since part of what you’re paying for is the advocate’s insight. Trust they know what’s best.
3. Providing real reviews
Whether they’re ordering takeout from a new restaurant or buying a new laptop, consumers value online reviews. In fact, 93 percent of people said that online reviews impacted buying decisions, per Podium.
“One of the most impactful ways for us to work with patients is review building on our own sites and Facebook,” said Alex Deckard, SEO manager at Aeroflow Healthcare, a medical equipment company.
A few years ago, this strategy paid when Aeroflow attempted to promote its breast pump service. At the time, some new moms didn’t know that the Affordable Care Act covered the cost of the pump. So when they saw what Aeroflow was offering, they assumed it was too good to be true—until a few patient advocates got involved.
“Moms with their own audience helped educate who we are. Their real patient stories offered a level of authority and trustworthiness that you cannot get through traditional marketing and advertising channels” Deckard said.
It’s a good reminder to encourage existing customers to leave reviews wherever possible. Companies can offer additional incentives (such as discounts on future purchases) to those who do. You might want to approach advocates directly and send out products for them to review on their channels, or use a service like Chronic Illness Bloggers, which does so on your behalf. These reviews work best when they’re honest, so be prepared to receive some negative feedback mixed in with positive testimonials.
That’s okay, though, because it will give your company an opportunity to make thoughtful improvements—which could then become fodder for even more content.
“I love that healthcare companies are beginning to realize that patient voice matters,” Fleetwood-Beresford said. “They seem to be taking notice of people with these conditions, and this will ultimately add more value to the services they receive.”Image by Feodora Chiosea