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Hospital marketing departments expand with focus on data, social

Using social media, web technologies and data analytics, healthcare marketing professionals can engage in ways like never before.

David Weldon, Contributor

Screen shot from the <a href="">@PennMedicine</a> Twitter account.Screen shot from the @PennMedicine Twitter account.

The digital transformation in healthcare is having a big effect on hospital marketing departments.

Large or small, for-profit or nonprofit, hospital marketing staffs are reinventing themselves with 'precision marketing'. Using social media, web technologies and data analytics, healthcare marketing professionals can engage current patients, future patients, and the broader community in ways like never before.

"Just like healthcare has been changing so much, the discipline of marketing has changed significantly as well," said Suzanne Sawyer, chief marketing officer and associate vice president at the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia. "We have really focused in the last four years specifically on taking more of an approach around modern marketing methods – really focused on what I call 'precision marketing', and digital plays a big part of that."

[Also: 5 ways hospitals can use social media]

The marketing department at the University of Pennsylvania Health System has done two things in particular, Sawyer said. "One is we've assessed what are the kinds of skills and resources that we need, so we have retooled our organization. The other thing that we did -- and this was also very important -- is we invested in a customer relationship management marketing technology platform. So we are an extremely data-driven marketing organization."

Sawyer said that her group just completed its 100th digital campaign.

"We generated over 20,000 leads – and 37 percent of them converted to patients," Sawyer said. "We've also identified the revenue associated with them. It's proprietary, but it's a very big number."

"We've been able to share that information with our senior leadership -- finance, all the key leaders, our clinical leaders and our administrative leaders. Now they see the impact of marketing whereas before it was very difficult for me to substantiate the impact of our work," Sawyer said.

[Also: 9 ways social media is impacting the business of healthcare]

This ability to better track leads and new patient generation is critical for the marketing department today, Sawyer said.

"Marketing has to be more accountable than we've ever been before, and now that it has changed so much and become more of a technology business, we are able to be more efficient, more precise in reaching the right kind of individuals for the work that we are doing," Sawyer said.

Driving that need for improved efficiencies and innovation is competition.

"Philadelphia is a very expensive media market. There are six academic medical centers in this market. There are nearly 80 acute care hospitals. It's an extremely dense, competitive market," she said."So four years ago we changed our marketing strategy and decided to invest in the right skills and the right tools for us to be able to take a more discreet approach to reaching people who are actively searching for information online, or to communicate with referring physicians for the specific kind of information that they need," Sawyer said.

This doesn't mean that the hospital has abandoned traditional mass media.

"We still have a nice mix, but we really pulled dollars away from mass media and now we use digital marketing campaigns," Sawyer said.

"We buy pay-per-click ads online, we partner with a vendor to do those digital media buys, but we build everything internally," Sawyer said. "Our landing pages are integrated web forms, and we work ourselves on integrating datasets."

On the social media side, the department has dedicated staffers who have the responsibility for community management.

"So we are active with social listening on social media. We have our eyes and ears open in terms of who is saying something about our programs, our services, and our providers," Sawyer said. "We know who has come to our various websites, who has called out contact center, so we have a lot of data that gives us the opportunity to say, from the first call or click, have you subscribed to an e-newsletter, participated in a web chat, did you attend a web screening, did you become a patient?"

As Sawyer's department has embraced digital transformation, it has also "dialed up our technical skills," as she describes it.

"Data is a challenge for everybody," Sawyer said. "Marketing is a technology business now and we are very much in the data management and data analysis business. We need to be very good at it."

The good news is that as hospital marketing needs have evolved over the past few years, marketing professionals have done a good job at keeping up with changing skills needs, according to Jill McDonald Halsey, chief marketing officer at Lawrence General Hospital in Medford, Massachusetts. Unlike Sawyer's departments, McDonald Halsey has only three marketing professionals on staff.

"It's a small hospital and I would say the makeup is your traditional marketing kind of background," McDonald Halsey said. As far as duties, "it's the typical stuff - internal communications to 1,800 employees, hospital to patient communications, general program marketing, physician communication, media relations, the web, including social media, community outreach, and all that kind of stuff."

Social media is having a big impact on how McDonald Halsey and her reports do their jobs.

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"When we recruited the most recent hire, social media familiarity, content, email marketing, all those kinds of things were what we were looking for," McDonald Halsey said. "Although I am familiar with all of those things, my background is more traditional and my role is different – it's more of a strategic kind of role. We were looking for somebody who has some familiarity with the backend of the web. And we did find somebody and she's doing great. The backside of that is she can do the tactical work, but I do the writing. It's more around providing the tactical support for this digital work."

Looking ahead, McDonald Halsey said hospital marketing professionals have more changes in store.

"Because reimbursement models are shifting and reimbursements are actually dropping – at least they are for us – marketing is going to have to shift its focus more to stay relevant and to be beneficial to the hospital's success," McDonald Halsey said.

"Budgets are slimmer and we're going to have to get better at proving that we can stay focused on strategy and use the resources at our disposal to move the organization in a learner fashion toward its strategic goals," McDonald Halsey said. "I think digital media has an ability to do that for us because you can so carefully build your target populations."

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