Despite the rise in digital marketing, word of mouth is still one of the best tools for reaching people, especially for healthcare practices.

According to Nielsen, 64% of marketing experts believe that word of mouth marketing (WOMM) is the most effective marketing strategy, and 92% of consumers trust recommendations that come from people they know personally.

Online reviews, which are also a form of WOMM, are shown to improve trust by up to 70% if the review is positive. This makes WOMM for healthcare practices (especially smaller clinics) a must-have.

But how do you encourage patients to speak up about their experiences with your practice? How do you ensure that those reviews are positive, both online and off? Here are a few things you can do to encourage people to speak up.

Don’t miss: 7 More Ways to Encourage WOMM

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How Patients Find Healthcare Providers

When potential patients do not have a recommendation from family or friends on what healthcare professional to use, they typically turn to conducting their own research online.

One report found that 62% of survey respondents did online research before choosing a physician. Some deciding factors in whether or not they chose a certain clinic included things like:

  • Office hours and appointment times
  • Website functionality and design
  • Short wait times (based on reviews)
  • Accepted insurance providers
  • Doctor or physician credentials
  • Doctor or physician specializations
  • Language and handicap accessibility
  • Parking and building access

While much of this information can be found online, some can come only from personal experience, like those found in reviews or testimonials.

In cases where potential patients did not have close friends or relatives who could give them reviews or testimonials, they most often turned to other forms of online referrals, like social media, to gain a better perspective.

Social Media is the New Word of Mouth

Social media has changed the WOMM landscape. While traditional WOMM relies on physical proximity and relationships, social media gives access to referrals from strangers all over the world.

According to one patient survey:

  • 46% of patients trust health-related social media content shared by patients they know; 25% said they also trust the content shared by patients they don’t know
  • 42% of patients said they’d share online a positive experience with their doctor, 35% said they’d share their negative experiences
  • 41% of surveyed patients said that social media content influences their decisions regarding doctors, hospitals, or other medical facilities

In another study, 60% of social media users said they were more likely to trust the social media posts coming from doctors, more than any other group. The Mayo Clinic, for example, increased its podcast audience by 76,000 listeners once it started using social media, which in turn improved their overall patient numbers.

Social media also works well as a WOMM strategy because it doesn’t require the prospective patient to ask the question. In some cases, they may see your name or practice name discussed by others, or throughout their social media feeds, without having to actually search for you by name.

The ability to bookmark, follow, save and share posts allows potential patients to remember your clinic, should they need your services in the future.

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Encouraging Patients to Talk Online and Off

But how do you get patients talking about you on social media? How do you get them talking about your clinic in general? In order to boost your WOMM, you will need a solid strategy both online and offline.

Here are a few tips for encouraging patients to talk, share and ask questions about your clinic to boost your reputation.

Get on social media. If you’re not already online, create accounts on the major channels – and then use them. Create a social media marketing plan that answers questions, addresses concerns, and prompts users to leave reviews or talk about their personal experiences with your clinic. The more active you are, the more active your patients will be.

Put research and reviews on your website. If patients can find direct referrals, they will look for stranger’s opinions online in the form of reviews. Having them already accessible on your site will make their job a lot easier. Remember they also look for general information, too, so make sure your “About Us” page is up to date.

Create email campaigns. According to TeleVox, 51% of people say they’d feel more valued as a patient through digital health communications. This means that it is time to strengthen your relationships with potential patients online to ensure that awareness of your practice is reaching the most people.

Use third-party review sites. According to Pew Research, 72% of people use Google and other search engines to look for doctors, read reviews about their practice and services, and find health information, while another 13% use specialized health websites to search for health related information.

Offer patient surveys. After patient visits, send an email survey (or offer surveys on your website for them to fill out later) to assess their experiences. This will not only help you develop a better patient experience, but you can also use (with permission) patient testimonials in ad campaigns on social media.

Ask for reviews from specific patients. One of the best ways to encourage reviews is simply to ask for them. Chances are good that you have a wide range of patients in your clinic with specific conditions that could speak to those in similar circumstances who are not yet patients of yours.

Respond to negative feedback. Negative feedback can happen on social media or review sites, if patients who were not satisfied with your services have posted negative feedback for them. Improving your services on the basis of their feedback and resolving their complaints will help you turn them into your brand loyalists and will go a long way in boosting your online reputation.

Remember HIPAA. Remember that you never want to reveal patient information without their permission, so if you do get reviews from your patients, make sure posting those reviews or testimonials online doesn’t violate HIPAA. Patient privacy is still the most important thing.

Here are 7 simple ways you can promote your clinic with WOMM

Final Thoughts

WOMM marketing has the benefit of being a lot less complicated than other forms of marketing, which not only makes it a great tool, but one that any clinic can take advantage of.

The key to effective WOMM is to be involved in the process as much as possible. This means engaging on social media, asking for reviews, sending out surveys and emails, and being equally proactive about providing information about your clinic.

Keep in mind that (thanks to technology) patients don’t necessarily need to know someone at your clinic to be referred to you. Social media and online reviews are also forms of WOMM, and should be utilized to their full potential.