Do Retirement Home Communities Need a Social Media Strategy? (Part 1)

Mar 29, 2012   //   by admin   //   Features, Industry News, News & Events, Uncategorized  //  No Comments

“Social Media isn’t a nuisance – it’s one of the greatest gifts your business could ask for.”  The Little Blue Book of Social Enterprise Transformation – An Essential Guide for Executives - Salesforce.com

Retirement home community operators frequently question the significance and need of a social media strategy. After all, since most communities already have an effective online presence, many sales and marketing managers believe that they have sufficiently addressed their virtual objectives.   In reality, though, the mountain of evidence continues to build towards the conclusion that retirement home communities cannot afford to ignore social media any longer. Simply put, social media is a tool that takes an organization’s most valuable marketing assets – word of mouth, referrals and public relations – packages them and magnifies them exponentially.  Since your company has likely invested heavily in creating an online presence, a primary benefit of adopting a social media strategy is that it directly drives your audience to your website and enables your retirement home to benefit indirectly from enhanced generic search results.

A second factor attesting to the urgency of a social media strategy stems from the statistics continually released by social media research firms.  In a recent survey conducted by Pew Research, researchers indicated that internet users over the age of fifty constitute the fastest growing demographic for Facebook.  They further revealed that this surge is led by women 55+.  Considering that this demographic represents the prime influencer in the decision-making process regarding retirement home selection, such findings are indeed compelling!   By launching marketing strategies designed to capitalize on such precise information, effective social media marketing is delivering a positive impact to some of the leading senior housing and retirement home communities across North America.

For an owner or manager of a retirement community, the reality is that your brand is the sum of the conversations that people are having about your organization – and today, many of these conversations are taking place online, inside social networks.    As a sales and marketing professional, you must engage in these conversations.  If you are not actively participating in these conversations with your existing and future customers, then someone else certainly will!

Fortunately, social media tools and practices can be readily learned and adopted by your organization.   The effective use of these new marketing channels can exponentially broaden your reach and allow you to communicate with speed and immediacy, driving substantial traffic to your local retirement community websites.  However, before rushing into the “nuts and bolts” of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and blogging, it is critical to start with your business objectives and marketing strategy.   As expressed by Chris Kirubi in the following quote, a clearly integrated marketing strategy is essential to ensure that you differentiate yourself from your competitors.

“You don’t need a social media strategy – You need a brand strategy that leverages social media. Don’t get off the brand strategy just because there’s a new communication channel; that’s how you lose the plot as a brand. Technology is the tail, not the dog.”

Chris Kirubi, Chairman of Coca Cola Nairobi

The first step in developing your marketing and social media strategy is to thoroughly understand the online audience.   To begin, you must determine where your audience is online and listen intently to its sentiments and discussions regarding your brand.  Listening is a key element of effective online conversations.   Only by listening first can you appreciate the appropriate tone and frequency for your audience.   Free tools such as Klout and Google Alerts are all essential to monitor online chatter regarding your brand.   More elaborate tools such as Radian6 are also available from forward thinking companies such as Salesforce.com.   These tools can help you listen and tune in to the conversations that are relevant to your customers.

Just as you would in building your marketing plan, an effective social media plan must consider customer segmentation – the types of people that participate in your online community.   As you start to listen to these online conversations, you will notice that your audience participates in online conversations in different ways.  According to Forrester Research, a market research firm that tracks the adoption of social media across categories, there are ‘creators’ who write content and produce podcasts and videos, ‘critics’ who post comments, ratings and reviews, ‘joiners’ who create profiles and participate in these sites, ‘spectators’ who read, listen and watch the content created by others, and ‘inactives’ who do not actively participate in online conversations.   Finally, any good social media strategy should include measurable targets, such as daily story feedback, blog analytics, share-of-voice, search volume and inbound links.

With a social media strategy in hand, you are now ready to create or participate in an online community.    If you are new to this, like many retirement home managers, I advise the ‘Crawl…Walk…Run’ approach.   Start slowly with low-risk, low-volume experiments, regularly measuring results and assessing the impact on your business. Based on these indicators, broaden your strategy accordingly.

In conclusion, social media is about creating and fostering a vibrant online community and participating in live conversations with your customers.   In the next issue we will look at: the choice of social media platforms, specialized senior living groups, and the benefits that retirement homes can derive from social media.

I look forward to having you join our discussions over the next few months!

Follow us on Twitter @LarryWieskopf


 

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