4 ways Cleveland Clinic data draws millions of readers to its blog

The clinic’s Health Essentials blog drew 43 million visits last year and is on pace to beat that in 2017. How? Build relationships and use your data, for starters.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal, Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

Let’s say you’re writing a health blog post recommending oatmeal for breakfast, and you’ve dug up two alternatives to illustrate your story.

Each photograph shows a bowl of hot cereal topped with blueberries. In one, somebody has stuck a spoon into the oatmeal. In the second, there’s no spoon.

At Cleveland Clinic’s wildly successful Health Essentials blog—a place where they “eat, breathe and sleep data”—there’s no question which photo to choose, says Amanda Todorovich, director of content marketing.

“If we showed food in a bowl with a spoon, it out-performed food in a bowl without a spoon,” she says.

Next time your execs or marketing team talk about getting “granular” with data, sit them down to watch Todorovich’s Ragan Training session, “Measure your storytelling: How to use data secure resources and leadership support.”

The blog’s stupendous success—43 million visits in 2016 and approaching 50 million for this year—can be credited to useful content, careful use of data and a smart overall strategy.

Health Essentials is produced by a full-time team of 25 that also designs and produces all on- and offline content for the enterprise (there is also a half-time designer). Among them are three project managers, two print-production team members, eight editors and writers and six designers.

Some tips from Health Essentials:

1. Build relationships.

Cleveland Clinic is a $6.2 billion enterprise stretching from the Ohio city to locations in Abu Dhabi, Canada, Florida, Las Vegas and London, England. The clinic employs 49,000 people (all are considered “caregivers”), including 3,400 full-time salaried physicians and researchers and 14,000 nurses. Patients come for treatment from every state and 180 countries.

But health care is different from other forms of marketing. The clinic can’t offer a coupon that will cause throngs of people to line up to have their appendixes removed. Marketing the clinic is all about brand awareness, and that means becoming a place people trust for advice about health and wellness in general.

“So what’s really crucial is that we build relationships.” Todorovich says.

2. Be useful, helpful and relevant.

Todorovich says her three favorite words are useful, helpful and relevant. This is what Health Essentials strives for on every channel—both the blog and social media.

Why? Because people are busy. They want usable information that will help them make decisions—not stories about the expensive procedures your doctors and hospital brass want to promote.

“When you hit these three things, every single metric goes up,” Todorovich says. “Traffic goes up. Organic reach on social media goes up. Your engagement across the board goes up.”

For this reason, Health Essentials avoids the approach many hospitals take, of telling patient stories that pull at your heartstrings. Often in such cases, she says, marketing concerns override what is useful to readers, so there’s a push to add mentions of every department or outpatient clinic involved in the treatment.

“Patient stories have a tendency to become like a bad infomercial for a hospital really quickly,” she says, “because you’re never going to put out a bad patient story. There’s always a positive outcome.”

3. Use data to vary your timing.

When Health Essentials publishes a blog post at 9 a.m., staffers don’t promote it on every social media channel at that moment. Rather, they use data to determine the right moment. A mom’s social media activities will be different when checking her smartphone before cooking breakfast as opposed to meeting her friends for a glass of wine on a Friday night.

“We know people use different channels different ways at different times of day,” Todorovich says. “Our demographics are of the users are different. The ways they engage with content are different. The formats of content they engage with are different.”

Tweak and test post lengths and use your metrics to see what works.

4. Use data to get executive support.

Put your data to work to engage stakeholders and get executive support, Todorovich says. The Health Essentials team meets with each clinical team once a month to find out what’s going on and what doctors and patients are talking about.

Todorovich’s team says, “OK, last month we published these posts that were really good to your service line. Here’s the traffic, and here’s what happened, and here’s how many clicks these ones got.”

They can discuss what worked and what didn’t, so staffers don’t spend time on things that “don’t get us the engagement,” she says.

The data can help convince clinical marketing areas that might like to have a story on a rare condition that few people experience or care about. Confronted with the data, they usually conclude, “Maybe this isn’t the right channel for my messages.”

That helps prevent people in other departments from thinking of Health Essentials as a dumping ground for any old content.

Health Essentials can track how many epilepsy patients came through the blog to the clinic because of the links placed within articles. But that’s not the primary goal of the blog.

“Our goal is brand awareness. … I care about our reach. I care about our brand awareness reports that come out quarterly. I care about the impact we’re having nationally.”

@ByWorking

This post first appeared in 2016, and was updated to include new statistics.

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