A woman engages in online community discussion.

Social Media Engagement: Proof that quality leads to quantity

For people living with chronic health conditions, Health Union’s online health communities help people live better by providing the information, connection and validation they want. But, how do we know what people want and how does Health Union deliver it in a scalable, yet personal way that benefits the patients we serve and our partners?

To kick off the year, our marketing team sat down with some of the leaders from Health Union’s Community Development group. We wanted to hear first-hand from the people who are immersed in our communities about why Health Union’s approach works. In this series, we will focus on three critical components of Health Union’s model.

This interview, with Rebecca Braglio, Senior Director of Community Development, is the second in a three-part series. Check out part one on moderation by clicking here.

Rebecca Braglio

Rebecca Braglio, Senior Director of Community Development

Rebecca, you and your colleagues on the Community Development team lead “engagement” across our online communities. What does that term mean at Health Union?

At Health Union, we view engagement as the actions we (as community managers) take to connect members with one another, to get people to participate in our communities in whatever way is most meaningful to them. While we track “reach metrics” (i.e. posts, likes, shares, etc.) we ultimately strive towards the quality of engagement. We know that quality leads to quantity–qualified quantity some might call it. We want people to find what they want here, whether it’s to connect to someone with a shared interest, provide support, give advice or just ask a question. To us, engagement is more meaningful than a single action. It’s a series of behaviors that build a relationship.

How does Health Union’s engagement differ from the standard understanding of engagement from a social media perspective?

Health Union’s definition of engagement doesn’t just include people taking actual action, it’s about addressing anyone who wants to engage on their terms. If someone just wants to read or like a post and they’re not comfortable putting themselves out there by commenting or sharing, that’s okay. If they spend hours on our communities and read a lot of articles, they’re going to go and talk to their family about what they read that day. We can’t measure that, but we know it’s happening and it’s just as valuable to them, and to us.

We see many examples of sites that get 100 new posts in a forum or 1,000 comments on a Facebook post every day, but the quality of those comments might be superficial like, “Great read!” or “Loved it!” That’s an audience looking for information that may or may not come back. We have communities where people connect to one another and say that for the first time ever, they don’t feel so alone. You can’t underestimate the value of finally getting validation when you have a condition others just don’t understand. It’s that value that keeps them coming back.

What has been the evolution of engagement principles in Health Union’s history?

Early on, our expectation of engagement was similar to the norms that already existed because that’s what we knew. Give people information and encourage them to like, share and comment. But because of our focus on the specific conditions, and immersion into each one, we’ve been able to learn what people respond to, which is different for each condition. We know what brings people to our communities and what makes them want to come back. This knowledge has helped evolve how we engage because the focus has shifted–it’s about them. Any person who comes to any of our communities can engage in the way that best suits their needs, and it is this focus on “meeting people where they are” that attracts large numbers of real people at all points in the journey to our communities. And as we grow more mature communities, we put increasing effort into getting people to engage with each other (not just us) because that’s ultimately what is most meaningful.

How does engagement fit within the rest of the community model?

Engagement is an important piece of the puzzle and is a hallmark of our brand. Obviously, content is the foundation because it allows us to provide tangible value while offering visitors a topic to connect over. Then moderation gets people to stay and engagement keeps people coming back. If there is no engagement, then the experience is no different than reading a magazine or going to any Facebook page and interacting. Engagement is ultimately what gets people to create and post their own content, to add one another as friends, to come back and tell others about the site. Without engagement, we are just another publisher.

It seems like both art and science are necessary to engage the right community, along with being comfortable with trying new things (and sometimes failing).

It is. Not every tactic is perfect for every community. Giveaways are a great example of how to generate leads but they don’t always drive retention. We have learned that giveaways on their own are not effective, but giveaways wrapped in context are extremely valuable. Because we know what the community wants, and will respond to, we are able to engage the people who are most relevant for the giveaway, not just people who are chasing a prize. Then as time goes on, we can understand if the people who have entered the giveaway have become active members—did they come back to engage again? Did we lose them only after a few months? We have to take all of the nuances of these tactics into consideration and tailor them to each community.

Another example is deciding which social platforms are appropriate to engage with our community. Twitter works really well for some communities, but not for many others. For some communities, Instagram has been a fantastic way to connect—but it’s not perfect for others. We have to deploy these tactics for the sake that it’s the right thing to do in order to reach our community—not because we’re focused on racking up followers or likes—and to not be afraid to try and fail. At the heart of all of it, though, is being fluent in the mores and language of each community. Taking special consideration of these sensitivities is all focused on ultimately trying to improve the patient experience.

What are the results? How can Health Union partners benefit from our unique approach?

The authenticity that’s created in the relationships we form is unparalleled to anything else that’s out there. In a day and age where we have so many social media influencers and bloggers, everyone is skeptical. For us, we always remain transparent, and our communities trust our authenticity. They’re open to hearing partner messages in our community because they know it’s coming from an authentic place. We’re very transparent when something is sponsored or is an advertisement, but we’re still presenting it to people in a way that’s more relevant to them than something else might be.

The authenticity and transparency make people feel like they can be their own advocate with their doctors and ask about treatments, be more proactive about how to manage their condition. And it takes time… they may see TV advertisements for a certain treatment, but after hearing and reading about real people’s experiences, they come to a decision on their own.