Consumer trends have changed drastically in the age of the internet. Customers have more access to information than ever before; they conduct their own research before they buy now, reading product reviews and garnering recommendations to make a smart, savvy decision before pulling the trigger on a product or service. This is where developing an online community for your telehealth practice is beneficial.
Businesses are learning to adapt to these trends, studying their consumers’ behaviors at a rapid pace. In fact, 45% of business buyers spent more time and resources researching purchases than they had the previous year. In this climate, the more platforms a business uses to launch one of their products, the more likely they are to see sales increase and the quicker their business will expand over the course of a year. B2B communities exist on services such as G2 Crowd and GetApp, but what’s the process to start using apps like these to grow your online business?
The preliminary question
The first step you should take before trying to grow your telehealth business online is figuring out if you should pay for a membership in an online community for your telehealth practice or utilize a free social media platform to garner attention and customers. It’s tempting to see social media as the correct choice simply because it’s free to use and participate in but there are many other factors to consider.
Firstly, those who use social media generally have very little in common besides their loyalty to the platform. An online community for your telehealth practice, however, revolves around one specific topic and all your company has to do is focus the community’s members around the issue and drive conversation. Utilizing an online community for your telehealth practice will allow you to build your brand identity, speaking more quickly and easily to those who are already interested in your telehealth company and are currently seeking answers to commonly asked questions.
However, free social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter also come with their audiences built in. Once you find the correct audience for your business on these sites, the platforms themselves have already done substantial legwork to ensure you can set up engaging communication avenues and interact with them in a meaningful, fulfilling way. One downside to free platforms though is that your community is not entirely “yours.” That is, the audience is more beholden to the search algorithms of the platforms and less to your specific content, meaning right when you’ve achieved a captive audience, you could lose them in an instant.
Having an online community for your telehealth practice offers their own set of pros and cons. “Community forums” are online platforms, much like Facebook and Twitter, which are owned directly by your telehealth brand and can be controlled with ease. These offer flexibility and greater communication but also requires more upkeep and content generation. Blogs and forums within your website are great examples of “community forums.” The downside to these communities is their resource and time commitment. Unlike an established free platform, you’ll be starting from scratch when building your user base. You must both attract customers and get them to engage with your brand and each other for an extended period of time and in the same place more or less.
However, with these hassles comes a greater degree of control on the platform. Your company is the master of the site and has almost no direct competition, commanding their users’ attention and assured in the fact that every user on the site is there for the brand and deep conversation. Brand-owned community forms also allow for greater analytics and have other features which tell you exactly what users are looking for and why they’ve chosen your business over a competitor’s.
Here’s a typical process for developing your online community for your telehealth practice:
Choose a forum for the online community for your telehealth practice
Once you’ve chosen the platform that fits best with your business and your customers, you’ll need to choose the type of forum you’ll be using to interact with your userbase. There are two different types of forums, one which revolves around shared interests and another which is more informational in nature.
Shared interest forums are self-explanatory; your forum will unite many different types of people from different backgrounds who all share an interest in your chosen telehealth business. These people can collaborate and share their own stories with each other. Informational forums are available for members to share stories and content related to your product. Choosing which type of forum you want for your users will set the tone for you community and can determine engagement and satisfaction.
Develop a launch framework
The “launch framework” of an online community for your telehealth practice is like a mission statement. You should know why you want to launch this community – specifically – so you can create a more focused, engaged userbase from the start.
There are a number of questions you need to ask yourself before the official launch of your community, questions such as: is there a certain problem you wish to solve with this community? Do you want to increase demand for you product? Decrease costs related to customer support? Increase collaboration? Identify and mobilize influencers and advocates? Knowing the answer to these questions will help you establish a more complete list of goals you want to achieve from the very first minute of the launch day.
Identify key internal stakeholders
Once you’ve formulated a need and strategy for launching the online community for your telehealth practice, it’s important to identify and understand who your company’s stakeholders are. These stakeholders should be placed into one of three separate categories:
1. Those who will be managing the online community for your telehealth practice.
2. Those who will be impacted by and engaging with the community.
3. Upper management.
Identifying and categorizing your stakeholders is a good way to delegate responsibilities and maintain a stable hold on the community without too many diverse opinions by those in charge. Online forums can sometimes become chaotic and it’s important to know who in your company will do what to either extinguish the flames or get the community refocused in times of turbulence. Taking care of this before the community launch can save tons of time and headaches down the road.
Set up the online community for your telehealth practice
You’re nearly at the stage where you can launch your community, but there are some minor, preliminary factors which must be accounted for first. The primary goal in this step is to ensure your team is comfortable with the software you’ll be using and can navigate the site cleanly and efficiently. Once this is taken care of, you can move on to other decisions such as:
- Keeping your community pre-launch private.
- Setting up a view of recent discussions in the “homepage.”
- Creating your initial categories.
- Reviewing your sign-up process for new members.
- Assigning all permissions for staff members to ensure administrative ease.
- Enabling and disable features you feel comfortable with and not.
- Setting up gamification.
- Implementing your theme.
- Ensuring spam filters are in place.
- Setting up outgoing e-mail.
- Testing your site ahead of the official soft launch.
These may seem many steps to complete, but they’re simple and mostly user-friendly. Many companies can knock out this list in well under a week and once they’re finished, it’s time for the fun to begin.
Enhance the community for a soft launch
The purpose of any “soft launch” is to give your business and team a chance to work out any kinks in the system before the official launch of your website. Don’t be afraid to experiment and completely embrace the community’s users who are signing up for your community before the official launch. The soft launch phase is crucial for communicating with your community, gathering all of the feedback you can and responding to users’ questions and concerns with maximum efficiency.
The smoother your site before the official launch, the more users you’ll attract, as no one likes a platform that seems amateurish or constructed as if their time and effort is not respected. For an even smoother transition into your external soft launch, consider hosting an internal soft launch first. Allow your employees to use the website and begin the feedback process; this is a great time to fix any large errors or bugs within the system in anticipation of pickier, more detail-oriented users from the general population.
Once your soft launch is over, it’s time to launch your community forum for real. Sit back and watch those interested in the telehealth process flood in, swapping stories and experiences they’ve had within the community and building excitement for the future of this technologically driven field.