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Why Healthcare Marketers Should Be Un-Pinterested

UPDATED 9/18/12:  IF YOU READ THE POST ALREADY, SKIP TO THE UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM.

Many healthcare marketers like to throw things at the consumer wall to see what sticks. It’s not a bad practice, especially when you really analyze what sticks in order to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your marketing. In fact, we do the same thing.


Let's see: Recipes. Hair styles. Inspiring quotes. And hospitals?

One marketing idea we threw at the wall was a video about the day in the life of a therapy dog. The question at the time, and this was a few years ago when Flip Cameras were just starting to gain in popularity, was whether videos drew people to our clients’ websites, and whether this subject matter had any traction. Well, this video stuck better than we expected, quickly turning into one of the more popular videos we produced at the time thanks to our posts in social media and our eblasts linking to the video, and drawing not only the local market to our client’s site, but people from around the country.

What we threw at the wall those many years ago took some time to coordinate, produce and market. It wasn’t easy, which made it important for us to know whether this activity drew a strong enough response to warrant future attention. But from the results, it was clear that videos needed to be a big part of our social media future. And to this day, they are.

And now we have Pinterest which is, like videos years ago, still in its infancy and still being analyzed to see if and where it fits into a marketer’s toolbox–regardless of what industry is being marketed. Some businesses seem to fit perfectly with Pinterest (like our client Seigles, who sells kitchen cabinets and has beautiful photos that are desirable to anyone looking to create a new kitchen), so it makes perfect sense to continue to throw their images on the Boards at Pinterest (even though it is very hard to tell if there’s any real success). But Pinterest for hospitals–who in the world thought this was a good tool for hospitals to use to promote their services?

Well, based on all the information I’m seeing, just about everyone thinks Pinterest is great. The site is so sexy, so trendy, so attractive, and so easy to work with, that it doesn’t matter to most if those Boards that healthcare marketers are throwing at the wall are actually sticking. Healthcare marketers are creating Pinterest accounts in droves, joining webinars to learn how to capitalize on it, and pinning whatever seems to fit both the site and the hospital’s purpose. Clearly, nobody fears their jobs will be in jeopardy if they have a board on Pinterest.

While posting to Pinterest will almost certainly not harm a hospital’s brand, there’s no proof that anything hospital marketers pin is adhering to the wall strong enough and long enough to warrant the effort. My own professional opinion is that until they develop a geographic angle on the Pinterest site, or a way to track and work with users, it’s simply not worth the effort for healthcare marketers — even though their female, 25 years and up, demographic is highly desirable.

Right now, a Board on Pinterest is the equivalent of placing an ad in a national publication, but without the media cost. So although a hospital’s Pinterest board might be seen by thousands of (mostly) women and gain followers, the great majority of those followers likely are well outside the hospital’s service area. Quite simply, these pins are appealing to many people who almost certainly cannot be patients at the hospital. Hospital marketers are giving helpful recipes and exercise ideas to people who cannot impact their bottom line!

Oh sure, it doesn’t take a lot of time for healthcare marketers to pin anything they want, so it might not be seen as a total waste. In fact, that’s the defense presented in this article from American Medical News.

“Holly Hosler, marketing coordinator for LifeBridge Health, a hospital system in Baltimore, said that when several people in the hospital’s marketing department found they were spending a lot of time on Pinterest, they decided to start some on-the-job experimentation. They launched a board in March.

Their activity has mostly consisted of re-pinning content from other places. The content that has done well — and in Pinterest-speak “well” means that several people re-pinned the content — has been educational information about breastfeeding, especially posts that feature a picture of a cute baby to lure users. Hosler said she hopes to add more original content if interest in the site continues.”

But pinning does take a mindset. It requires marketers to have this website in the front of their minds in order to find and pin interesting and relevant subject matter. The Pinterest mindset comes at the expense of other, likely more time-consuming strategies and tactics, that are much more worthy of a healthcare marketers attention. To Ms. Hosler’s credit, her hospital seems to have a very active social media program, including a well fed blog, so this minor effort might be worth the test because it doesn’t come at the expense of other, more important, activities. But most hospital marketing staffs are taxed for time, barely getting to the tasks that really deserve attention. For those professionals, Pinterest should be low on their lists.

Video interviews with specialists, pay per click campaigns, mobile websites, service-line oriented discussion groups, segmented and targeted eblasts, and even basic blogs have already shown that they are permanently stuck to the wall, as they provide excellent returns on the hospital’s investment. But these activities require more thought to conceptualize, more cooperation among staff to coordinate, and more diligence to produce. Sadly, we see very few healthcare marketers tackling these trickier activities with a level of energy and enthusiasm that is worthy of the return they produce. It’s easier to pin, or to look at the pins from others. And few people in the C-Suite have enough knowledge of the marketing value of the Pinterest website to overrule the time that the marketing staff is devoting to it.

Further into the same article, you’ll find this nice summary from Jessica Seilheimer, senior vice president of digital strategy and planning for Euro RSCG Life Metamax, a health care marketing firm:

“Because of this narrow focus, Pinterest isn’t to a point where people are using it to seek out physician practices, Seilheimer said. But others say potential patients could stumble upon a practice’s website because of something that caught their eye on Pinterest.”

“Potential patients could stumble upon a practice’s website”?  I don’t think any client of ours would like to read that statement as the goal in a Creative Brief.  Not while other marketing efforts exist that are proven to actually lead people directly to the site.

So healthcare marketers, skip the hype and skip Pinterest for now.  Instead, take a clear look at the marketing wall and focus your efforts on the things that are clearly glued to it–especially the things that you are currently not doing.

UPDATE:

Okay, I’ve heard from quite a few people who agree with the point of this post, but I also heard from a few who fully subscribe to the whole “we’re just trying it out” idea.  When I ask how many hours a week they devote, they say it’s very little, like 1-2.  When I ask about the results, they say it’s hard to measure. Soooo, I measured for them.  On average, the great majority of hospitals I know who have a Pinterest page have 5 boards with one to five pins in each with maybe 1 or 2 repins of a few pins in each board (and usually those repins are things the hospital has repinned).  Even worse, they average less than 15 followers.

Then along comes this gushing review of the potential of Pinterest when you simply add a human touch.

“Rex Healthcare has been on Pinterest since the first of the year. He said it’s something that everyone in his marketing department is paying attention to. Papagan pins a few times a week. .  .  .  The organization’s goal is to increase its followers, likes and repins. Its Pinterest page has been cross-promoted on Twitter and Facebook. The hospital’s website and blog have navigation buttons for Pinterest. In addition, a Pinterest button will be added to the company’s email signature, along with its other social media platforms.”

Phooey.

So nine months, 18 boards and 358 pins later, Rex Healthcare’s Pinterest page has netted 91 followers.  But a video they posted on YouTube just one month ago already has 1,026 views, and they have a nice active blog and social media program (although I would push to get email addresses much harder on both the main site and the blog, and I wouldn’t allow someone to get an RSS feed of their blog since I cannot track readers through it).

I just don’t get the interest in Pinterest in the healthcare world.  And I’m not the only one.  Marissa Chachra, a a senior advisor with Jarrard Inc., has come to the same conclusion in this recent post, though she still holds out hope that there will be some value.  I do too, but I think it will be more in the area of consumer research rather than marketing to consumers.

Oh, and for the record, I truly enjoy Pinterest — personally.  Pinterest can be used to sell me watches, gardening tools, sports stuff, kitchen cabinets (which we do for Seigles), etc. easily.  But not healthcare.

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