Online Healthcare Communities: An Evolving Service Line Marketing Tactic

March 16, 2022
Posted by: Danny Flamberg, VP Strategy- HCP

The pandemic upended and suspended hospital service line marketing. Fear of the hospital, suspension of treatments and procedures and general floating anxiety among HCPs, patients, and caregivers neutralized standard marketing tactics, leaving marketers with a need for alternative ways to message, reach, and persuade constituent audiences.

One emerging tactic that combines a genuine level of service with measurable marketing impact is the creation of online healthcare communities. Online forums on social media are being used to address disease states or conditions, geographies, or the strengths of a hospital or hospital network. Many chronic and temporary conditions like cancer, diabetes, pain management, dementia, orthopedic joint replacements, or maternity provoke doubts, uncertainty, and questions, stoke anxiety, have evolving standards of care, are riddled with misinformation, or cry out for definitive answers and helpful, realistic, or practical coping tips.

Engaging patients and caregivers in a moderated online environment connect them to peers and professionals and offers validation, information and emotional support which can change the hospital-patient relationship. Providing an online forum shifts the texture of the relationship from random medical transactions to sustained interaction which produces a value exchange and a halo effect. Maintaining a patient pipeline, based on a valuable on-going relationship, is critical for rebuilding institutional reputations and managing revenue.

Creating an online community requires advance planning and laser-like focus on the target audience. Consider these six steps.


Determine where the patient needs intersect with the hospital’s clinical and staff strengths. Assess the size and needs of likely populations. Figure out the business and service delivery objectives. Check the competitive environment. Decide where to invest time and energy.


Find an executive champion and an operational project owner with social media skills. Enroll supportive medical staff for topline direction and for participating in the community conversation. Find a skilled and empathetic community manager.  Mobilize marketing to develop a multi-channel member recruitment campaign.


Decide on a platform and determine if the community will be public or private. Analyze the IT needs to support a robust active community and integrate with EHR, CRM, and other existing systems. Establish a timetable, flesh out governance, compliance, and management plans. Assemble a response library and an escalation protocol by anticipating likely questions, issues, or problems faced by community members. Establish membership criteria.


Recognize the dominant and trending issues in the therapeutic category you choose. Get guidance from your leading practitioners. Create a welcome video, initial posts to recruit members and prompt conversation. Design infographics, quizzes, live virtual events, or polls to engage early recruits and to gauge how the content resonates with the membership.


Welcome new members. Seed the conversation with universally applicable questions or factoids. Expose your medical staff in “Ask the Doctor” virtual events. Ask members for their content suggestions. Gently spotlight your hospital’s service offerings. Post relevant content and research from trusted third parties. Monitor the conversation daily. Remove vulgar or inappropriate user-generated posts.


At the outset, establish business, relationship, and productivity criteria for measurement.

Embed appropriate technology to count the total number and the active number of members, track attrition, count the number and quality of user-generated responses to posts. Keep an eye on the frequency and timing of posts. Read these tea leaves and apply the lessons learned to future cadence and creative elements. Some hospitals will track uplift in service inquiries. Others count the number of doctors’ appointments set or the conversion of community members, or their family members, into active patients.

Online healthcare communities are an elegant solution to help restore service line marketing. They provide a genuine practical benefit to consumers and patients. A community creates an arena for rebuilding an institution’s reputation and revenues.

As a next step, download our free Online Healthcare Community Planning Checklist.

Reach out to the author, Danny Flamberg, VP Strategy – HCP, LiveWorld, to learn more about developing a path service lines through online communities.