by Robin Craig
Social Media is both a natural and necessary component of senior living community marketing strategy. Our work as senior marketers is focused on making connections, building relationships and staying engaged with our network of prospects, friends and family, professional referral sources, local community groups and the general public. Social Media is a tool to promote and expand that process. “The internet is reinforcing and expanding a pattern that already existed. It has taken our pre-web relationships both far and near and multiplied them,” says social media researcher Barry Wellman, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto.
Social Media does not take the place of face to face meetings, presentations and/or tours; however, it adds to those experiences and fills in the gaps. In today’s world, if you are not filling in the gaps, someone else or some other resource will.
According to the August 2011 Pew Internet & American Life Project1, 65% of online adults use social networking sites. Of primary relevance to senior living marketing is the fact that 51% of 50-64 year old internet users or the adult children, and 33% of 65+ year old internet users or future prospects, now frequent social networking sites. More importantly, the findings indicate a dramatic increase in use of social networking sites by mature consumers in the past two years with 65+ users growing by 150% and 50-64 year old users doubling during this same period. The 50-64 year old users also showed the greatest improvement in frequency of use with daily social networking site use increasing by 60% from just a year ago.
We all know that adult children are much more involved in the senior living decision making process than ever before. In addition, we are increasingly vying for what seems like a shrinking available pool of referrals from a variety of professional sources including and beyond the traditional healthcare sources. In order to become visible, build trust and maintain an ongoing relationship with both consumers and referral sources, it is important for senior living marketers to recognize that they need to connect on today’s terms by continually “engaging with consumers when they want, where they want and how they want – particularly through social media”2 .
So more than ever before, we recognize the need to make social media part of our marketing strategy, but we aren’t sure how to get started and fit it in with what we are currently doing. Well we are not alone, a recent study by Forrester Consulting revealed that while CMOs and marketing VPs in a variety of industries recognize the importance of social media they are still figuring out how to make it part of their strategy.
A popular place to initiate your connected strategy is by establishing your community presence on Facebook. According to the Q3 2011 Social Media Report by Nielsen, “Facebook has become synonymous not only with social media but with Web use more generally, as Americans spend more time on Facebook than any other site”.3 Your presence on Facebook will provide adult children and their parents the opportunity to connect with you before, during and after the decision to move in is made and your referral sources a chance to get to know you and stay connected as follows:
1. Learn about your community for the first time through friends’ sharing of experiences, suggestions, word of mouth type stories.
2. Visit your community after viewing an event invite, join people they know who share they will be attending the event, or by seeing pictures/videos of the event and positive comments which motivate them to come in.
3. Investigate your community and influence purchase decision by reading comments and reviews by their friends/trusted professionals, etc. or by following what is happening at your community on a regular basis.
4. Stay connected with your community through contests and promotions and by contributing their experiences, stories and feelings to the page.
5. Provide feedback to you and their network of friends by sharing stories, photos, videos and experiences with and about your community. This also gives you useful information about your customer preferences, wants and needs.
To capitalize on the power of social connections and enhance the marketing potential Facebook provides the business community, the popular social media site recently introduced the new Facebook Timeline format. The new format creates a greater opportunity for senior living marketers because it adds a more human aspect to the community page with a more personalized approach that speaks directly to your customers. This includes the following:
1. A new landing page with large cover photo and area to provide clear messaging to introduce your community to new fans.
2. A new wall that is more visual and encourages fans and consumers to share their photos and stories. Content on your wall by users should increase engagement levels and create greater visibility for your community.
3. Timeline allows you to share significant events both past and present. Provides for sense of history about your community as well as promotes ongoing improvements, events and news.
4. New analytic tools that help you monitor comments and track results of sponsored stories.
5. Ability of customer to send a personal message to the Page Administrator provides one on one connection.
You will notice that these recommendations are focused on establishing individual community Facebook pages. Setting up a Facebook page for each individual community provides the social media user and their friends the opportunity to get to know the authentic personality of that community. Yes you want to have that community page connected to a corporate Facebook page, blog and of course website; however, the true power of social media for senior living is at the organic community level. When you initiate your page, you are much more likely to build an initial fan base by connecting with your current network of residents, families, friends, associates, referral sources, vendors etc. Your network, the people you live with and interact with each day, have a relationship with you and your community not your corporate office. Those connections will create access to multiple levels of fans and further a variety of new connections. The corporate presence should be felt after the community identity presence is established and provide another way to build brand awareness overall as friends of community pages relate their experiences to the supportive culture of your company brand.
You will need an Administrator for your Facebook Page, someone at the community level who is connected with the daily
operations, highly trustworthy and has familiarity and interest in social media. This may be your Wellness Director, Activities Coordinator, Resident or Customer Relations Manager/Coordinator with support of one or two other team members. You will want to develop a policy and strategy around your page at the corporate level and provide training and oversight support by the corporate marketing and communications team. They can help with page set up, choice of photos, promotion of the new page, development of contests and promotions as well as help with specific story copy. You should have signed consent forms if you post resident, family, and visitor photos or video. The corporate team may also monitor the pages on a daily basis, recommend use of Facebook Ads and new Sponsored Stories as well as help you keep up with the ongoing upgrades to Facebook Pages. There is also a resource online called Facebook Studio 4 where you can gain access to a variety of how to videos, manuals, articles and ongoing commentary about existing and new marketing uses for Facebook.
Like we say to our prospects and their families, “What are you waiting for?
1. 65% of online adults use social networking sites, PEW Internet & American Life Project, August, 26,2011 (http://pewinternet.org/Reports /2011/Social-Networking- Sites.aspx)
2. Building Brands for The Connected World, A Social Business Blueprint by Facebook based on a commissioned study by Forrester Consulting, February 2012
3. The Social Media Report-Q3 2011, Nielsen (http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsen wire/social/