Smart Doctors Think Community, not Audience

online community realselfIf you’ve been having some difficulty building an online audience for your practice, we’d like to offer a simple, one-word suggestion.

Stop. The fact is that the people you want to reach aren’t an audience at all. They’re a community and while the terms are often used interchangeably, understanding the difference is key to getting and keeping their attention.

As author and public speaker Becky McCray puts it,

If you are thinking of it in terms of getting more people to listen to you, rounding up more followers, getting more “likes,” you’re thinking “audience.” If you are thinking about connecting them, learning about them, hearing from them individually, and you’re thinking of people, then you are getting a lot closer to community building.

Or, to put it another way, if you’re an entertainer, a good audience — quiet, attentive, focused on your message — is a good thing. If you’re a doctor hoping to connect with consumers, you’re better off developing or joining a community because it’s the best place to hear what people are saying when they talk about aesthetic procedures.

Furthermore, an audience is, by definition, short-lived. It comes for the “show” and is gone just as quickly. Communities — RealSelf users represent a classic example — are living entities that evolve, gain and lose members and promote the free exchange of comments, questions and ideas.

When you think of it that way, it becomes obvious that approaching a community as an audience has it exactly backwards. Aesthetic consumers are intensely interested in what you have to say — but only if it addresses what they’re hoping to hear.

Building community means upending the audience metaphor and listening to the community, says Matthew Grant, managing editor at MarketingProfs.  Putting it another way, you need to become the audience of your community.

Or, as we’ve noted before: It’s not about you, it’s about them.

Potential questions for doctors to ask themselves:

1.  Do you treat potential patients as an audience or a community?

One way to answer that is to determine the online outlets where you talk to them versus those where you talk with them. Similarly, audience-oriented communication treats the recipients as anonymous members of an aggregated group; community-focused efforts approach them as individuals and foster one-to-one interactions.

2. How do you measure the value of your community efforts?

If you gauge the success of your outreach efforts in terms of the number of “likes,” followers, etc., you have, you’re thinking in terms of audience, not community. Instead of tallying such vanity metrics, forward-thinking doctors listen to the community at large, monitor who the most engaged members are and strive to provide the information they’re seeking.

3.  What is one new way you can listen to your community so you can better relate to them?

Posting Facebook updates about new offerings and special deals is all well and good but it’s ultimately talking about what you want to talk about. Answering patient questions, on the other hand, means you’re listening to their concerns.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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