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About a year ago, my husband and I bought our first home and moved from busy and bustling Costa Mesa to the quiet, family-friendly suburb of Ladera Ranch. While we loved the idea of owning in a great neighborhood, we ultimately made the 20-mile jump because we were expecting our first child, and this meant making some major shifts in lifestyle. One of those key changes? How we manage our health, including where we work out, buy our food and most importantly for the purposes of this article— our physicians.

Back in Costa Mesa, we had our list of go-to physicians, including primary care physicians, my OBGYN, dentists, specialists and even my initial pick for my son’s pediatrician. I loved my doctors, but I wasn’t going to drive 20 miles for every appointment, especially not as a full-time working mom when every minute of time is precious and accounted for.

I needed new doctors and I had no idea where to look. My insurance website was and continues to be terrifying — lists of hundreds of doctors that all appear to be the same on paper. I didn’t have local friends to ask and online directories weren’t always helpful. Luckily, I was introduced to a resource that, unknowingly at the time, would guide my decisions for all things local — a private Facebook group for local moms.

Filled with thousands of local residents, thoroughly vetted and verified as living in Ladera before being accepted through its iron-clad online doors, this Facebook mommy group produced comments, questions and conversations every single day from real women seeking community, belonging and information. So, I joined in.

Searching this group and posting questions of my own, I found my new primary care physician, my son’s pediatrician, an orthopedic specialist for my husband and our family’s dentist. My choices were 110% based on recommendations from my new neighbors and I’ve been happy with every provider we’ve selected.

Why does this matter to you as a healthcare provider or marketer? These groups don’t just exist in my bubble. They exist in every bubble and the impact on your brand and bottom line is significant. In my case, this Facebook mommy group generated $25,000 in insurance claims paid out by my insurance to my new doctors. So, the sooner you tap into them, the better. Here’s how:

First and foremost, provide a great patient experience. Live up to your vision and strive for the best possible reputation. Care about your patients because word of mouth is vital in one-on-one conversations and is AMPLIFIED in online communities of thousands. If you don’t have a pulse on your patient satisfaction, consider two key resources:

  1. Ongoing surveys seeking feedback. Listen to your patient base and respond appropriately.
  2. Review your census and patient volume. In healthcare, there are always factors that complicate the “buying cycle,” like insurance, referrals and timing. But, if you really are the best option, patients will find a way to come to you. If volume is down, make sure experience is part of the conversation.

Next, embrace social media as the way the world communicates. So often, I see healthcare brands shy away from social media because of the inherent negativity it produces. Yes, people do turn to social and other online forums to complain, but pretending it doesn’t exist does nothing to further your mission. Be present. Accept that your employees and patients are active on social media all day every day. The more social media is part of your culture, the more likely your inner circles will be kind to your brand online.

Third, find the local groups that have influence. They may be city-based, neighborhood- specific, county-based or focused to specific topics. Then, infiltrate, but follow the rules. I’m a member of several mommy groups and administrators do not take these rules lightly. Request to join without filling out the survey or providing documentation? Ignored. Post a business post on the wrong day? Deleted. Bring up a topic that’s forbidden? Blocked. These groups are meant for real people and admins monitor day-in and day-out to ensure their online communities stay true to their intent.

If you aren’t familiar with Facebook groups generally, then be aware of these groups are meant for people and not for pages. That means your XYZ Hospital page can’t join a local mommy group and talk about how great the doctors are. This is a job reserved for walking, talking people who can engage online in an authentic way. If a member of your marketing team happens to meet a relevant group’s requirements, consider adding participation in this group a part of their core social media accountabilities. This individual may be a unicorn though, as requirements can be stringent. If this is the case, enroll a physician, nurse, member of HR, a volunteer, etc… who DOES fit to be your brand’s voice within the group’s virtual walls. You may not be able to make their participation a function of their job, but you can absolutely support, encourage and thank them for engaging this core group of local influencers.

As a healthcare marketer, letting team members know that mommy groups exist can be that extra nudge they need to start posting.  I’ve brought up my mommy groups more time than my fellow team members care, but it’s where I find my information, so they get to hear about it!

Last but certainly not least, reward! When my dentist asked, “How’d you hear about us?” during my first appointment, I mentioned the local Facebook mommy group and he laughed. Apparently, this online group was his primary source of referrals. To demonstrate his appreciation, he hosts a night at a local winery, specifically for members of my mommy group. And while I didn’t actually go to the event, it made a lasting impression about the type of people who work for the practice.

It’s not news that women play a huge role as healthcare decision makers. Mommy groups aren’t new for that matter either. And yet, this digital fortress of powerful influencers remains relatively untapped. Even trying to do preliminary research for the purposes of this article, I couldn’t find any information online. That means there’s opportunity and leadership available for those willingness to obtain it.

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