Chowning Johnson and Maria Recupero co-authored this article.
A healthcare organization’s reputation is essential to its success — and survival. Although reputation is considered an intangible asset, it does drive tangible benefits for the organization through consumer and investor confidence and support. And there’s good reason: A hospital’s reputation and perception is associated with better care quality and outcomes. In the fiercely competitive healthcare market and dynamic social environment, where perception can change in an instant, reputation is not only foundational to success but something to be constantly managed.
Recently, the importance of reputation has been prominent in global news and social media across various industries. Companies such as United, Chipotle, Uber, Wells Fargo, Volkswagen and many others have had to navigate crisis strategies and responses to maintain their reputation and standing in their respective markets, as well as in minds of consumers.
Too often, however, people intrinsically connect reputation management with such crises. A shift needs to occur. With the 24/7 news cycle and millions of engaged consumers online, it’s no longer sufficient to view reputation management as crisis control. Rather, reputation management is proactive and ongoing communications that happens before a crisis is even on the horizon.
Much more is at stake than rapid crisis recovery. Maintaining a strong corporate reputation in the healthcare industry is a competitive advantage that drives brand recognition, patient acquisition, revenue and standing in the market. The same way an organization must continuously develop, improve and strengthen its service lines and business strategy, it must do likewise to its reputation.
Similar to businesses in other industries, healthcare organizations should con-sider the following reputation management -strategies:
Know your organization, inside and out
So what does proactive and effective reputation management look like? The foundation is trust, which comes from authentic and relevant communications that foster engagement and build meaningful -relationships.
Such a strategy begins by a careful internal and external examination. Organizations must first understand their brand’s goals, mission and vision. Then, compare how the internal perception of your brand aligns with the external one target audiences have. If there’s a disconnect or any uncertainty surrounding these key elements of your brand’s ethos, then customers will have doubts as well. The next phase is to assess the brand’s environment through research. What are the key challenges and opportunities in your industry as it relates to reputation? Where do competitors stand? Most importantly, who is your audience, both on- and offline?
Meal-kit service Blue Apron can answer that last question. The company surveys customers at each step of the way, especially if they suspend or close their account. The survey begins at a high-level, asking about customers’ demographics and cooking habits, but then becomes granular to learn about customers’ perceptions of food and service quality, environmental concerns and Blue Apron’s competitors. Through these surveys, Blue Apron learns much more than why this customer was dissatisfied. Rather, they gather meaningful insight into the company’s reputation — data that will pay dividends later on.
Engage audiences in meaningful ways
Informed by research, healthcare organizations should develop a proactive reputation and communication strategy. This strategy must include a way to continuously reach your audience by providing relevant information at every stage of the patient journey, whether that may include sending service line updates, relevant content and surveys about their experience. The relationship before and after a visit should continue to be nurtured, leading to increased brand awareness, a better understanding of your audience and a better overall customer experience.
JetBlue is a company that understands this dynamic. The air carrier researched its audience to determine that they are interested in affordable travel, but also crave comfort and convenience. They also learned that its younger audience is comfortable communicating through social media channels and demonstrated that understanding by emphasizing their Twitter account, @JetBlueCheeps, where they interact with users, resolve concerns and share promotions.
This reflects one of the core tenets of engaging with an audience: accessibility. JetBlue is resting its reputation on their availability to their audience, opening dialogues and continually learning about their needs and expectations.
Another core tenet of a reputation-building communication strategy is to share progress. Consumers need to be reminded that a healthcare organization’s services continue to improve and are addressing their current needs while anticipating potential challenges, instead of reacting to market changes.
Lastly, and perhaps the most important element of communication, is openness and transparency. JetBlue has had its share of incidents that could reflect poorly on its industry-leading reputation, but has responded in an honest, humble and straightforward way that helped it weather the repercussions.
Share good stories
Through consumer engagement and interactions, healthcare organizations need to take the opportunity to tell success stories and build a positive perception of the brand. These substantive stories, however, should build on what has already been accomplished and translate to consumers in way that is relevant, distinctive, and above all, true and verifiable.
Besides these positive, action-oriented stories, forging meaningful relationships with key stakeholders can be leveraged to the organization’s benefit. Developing and maintaining key relationships with satisfied patients or influencers is critical to help build, or rebuild, ongoing trust and credibility.
This is accomplished by asking patients to share their experience — and amplifying their voices. Activated third-party champions for the organization are effectively transformed into a stable of relevant and credible third-party ambassadors to amplify and reinforce the organization’s messaging and success stories.
Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital’s “I wouldn’t be here without Grady” campaign is a good example of this strategy. The video and print campaign featured patients sharing their experiences of how the hospital saved their lives. One of these print profiles featured an actor from the hit TV show, “The Walking Dead,” which included an episode that featured the actor’s character in the hospital after the zombie apocalypse. The result was a viral piece of marketing that drew positive association and attention to the healthcare organization’s reputation and mission.
Reputation: an asset unlike any other
Proactive reputation management is a win-win. Not only does a proactive approach create an effective shield against crises, it breeds positive associations among audiences and fosters meaningful relationships, as long as the organization consistently maintains its honesty, transparency and humility.
This is why we need to rethink proactive reputation management. It’s not just planning for a crisis, but rather an integral part of any communications strategy from the outset.
Chowning Johnson is Executive Vice President, Account Management at Dodge Communications. Maria Recupero is Vice President, Account Director at Partners & Simons.