Community outreach may not sound like it should be uttered in the same breath as algorithms, metrics and analytics for marketing, but the phrase has enormous meaning within a physical therapy marketing strategy.
Practices that demonstrate social responsibility are able to build and sustain patient loyalty.
There’s no doubt that clinicians are busy and many may wonder how they can find time to take on additional responsibilities such as volunteer programs or disaster aid relief, but facts don’t lie. A Cone Communications/Echo Global on corporate social responsibility (CSR) showed that two-thirds (9 of 10) of the global population that was surveyed indicated they’d boycott businesses that demonstrated irresponsible behavior.
The concept of CSR isn’t new. It’s been around for centuries in the form of grocers who donate food to area organizations, the veterinarian that offers free or low-cost services for pets, and the practitioner that makes house calls. It’s a mindset and way of conducting business that gives back to the community – and the “community” has become much larger than a local neighborhood or a small rural community.
CSR is an attitude that’s been largely abandoned in favor of metadata and trends. Practitioners of physical therapy business must keep in mind that the Internet has provided the means for individuals to quickly learn of and share information about businesses that demonstrate social responsibility – and those who don’t.
Reputation, Image and Presence
The reputation and image of a practice is something that must be constantly tended to create a presence within the community. Physical therapy businesses that can demonstrate a strong commitment to the community at large are able to acquire new patients easier and reduce turnover of staff and patients. Those patients are more loyal and likely to act as referral sources to recommend the practice to friends, family and associates.
Research has shown that patients make decisions about their purchasing decisions based on emotion and physical therapy businesses that can tap into that emotion are ahead of the competition. Behavioral science researchers reported in a study on ScienceDirect that businesses with strong CSR programs were rewarded with an enhanced level of loyalty.
Community outreach efforts provide a perceived sense of extra value to patients and they want to be associated with practices that provide them. Patients happily convey to others that “their” physical therapist supported a cause they feel strongly about and are willing to travel a longer distance to that practice.
A physical therapy business plan doesn’t have to end famine, cure a pandemic or take on global warming, but it does have to demonstrate that the clinician cares about the community he/she serves. School fundraisers, sponsoring a beach clean-up day, helping at animal shelters, and participating in local health fairs are all methods physical therapists can utilize as part of their marketing plan to boost their presence and visibility within the community.
It’s essential that CSR participation be sufficiently localized, demonstrate a direct benefit to the patient in some way, or meet an immediate need. Before undertaking any CSR effort, clinicians should take their time and identify relevant causes within the community. The more pressing the local need or benefit to patients, the greater the impact on patient recruitment, retention and perception.
The rise of social media has been the bane and boon of businesses around the globe, making them vulnerable to reputation attacks. Social media platforms add significantly to marketing physical therapy, but it can also cause substantial damage if any hint arises that the practice did something “bad.”
It doesn’t matter that the information isn’t true. The rumor is quickly spread and even with the best efforts, the damage has already been done. Community outreach efforts help minimize vulnerability and the damage that results. It provides a way to combat negative feedback and manage the clinic’s reputation, while strengthening and enhancing positive messages and the beneficial actions and projects the practice has undertaken.
Community outreach efforts help retain and acquire patients, thereby increasing the clinic’s performance. It’s a critical consideration for investment prospects and growth opportunities. Community involvement makes a business more attractive to investors for clinicians with expansion plans.
Physical therapy businesses that invest efforts in outreach attract higher quality and more productive staff that are less likely to leave the clinic. It’s critical that clinicians not make volunteering or participation a requirement. Staff members that choose to participate and are allowed to volunteer while on the job are more satisfied with their employment and that sense of satisfaction is conveyed in a myriad of ways to patients.
A commitment to community outreach should be a component of any physical therapy marketing plan. It’s a proven technique that generates goodwill, boosts reputations, and attracts new patients while retaining the loyalty of established patients.