How to become a Non-Patient Facing Thought Leader

A few weeks ago, I hosted a webinar for clients and the public on strategically using social media to gain exposure and interact with patients.  After my presentation, a client asked, “What would you suggest for healthcare organization’s that aren’t patient-facing, like radiology or pathology?”  And then a thought occurred to me.  There are many practices out there that aren’t correctly marketing themselves simply because they believe social media is the only way, and they’re afraid to touch content creation altogether because they’re non-patient-facing.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Many physicians are uniquely positioned to become “thought leaders” in their specialty because of their uncommon knowledge and expertise.

Let me be clear, there’s a big difference between marketing your products or services and being a thought leader.  The most widely accepted definition of a thought leader is “An individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is routinely sought after and rewarded.”  Ascending to that status requires a certain level of strategy – knowledge of where and when to say the right thing in order to position yourself as someone who is sought after for thought provoking content and expertise among patients, your community, your specialty, and the healthcare industry as a whole.  

Patients are actively seeking thought leadership. 
The days of patients WebMD'ing themselves in search for a quick self-diagnosis are dwindling because they’re becoming smarter.  Let’s be honest, there is more unreliable medical information on the web than trustworthy sources.  Patients need more factual and original medical content, especially now that 80% of Internet users – that’s around 93 million Americans – have searched for health-related topics online.  Allow your patients’ need for reliable medical content to become the foundation of your voice.  Let your expertise shine through as you begin to think about what kind of content you want to create.  The great part about your experience is that you have a high level of specialized training and knowledge that very few medical professionals possess, and even other individuals in your specialty don’t experience the same things you do.  Let that inspire you to create thought-provoking content. 

What you say makes you unique. 
Without doubt, content is the most powerful tool when it comes to positioning yourself as a thought leader in your specialty.  When I say “content” I’m not referring to tweets and Facebook statuses.  I’m talking about blogs, articles, podcasts, videos, interviews, etc.  All areas of content creation that don’t necessarily rely on the use of social media.  However, anyone with two hands and a keyboard can write an article.  In large part, it’s what you say that will set you apart from other individuals that are advertising themselves. 

So, what DO you say?  This is what sets thought leaders apart from everyone else.  Many marketers write in generalities on things like diet and diet and exercise, common cold remedies and healthy living advice versus writing with a strong point of view on subjects your patients want to know about.  Thought leaders are a step ahead of the game, shedding light on emerging healthcare trends and issues pertaining to their particular specialty.  Consider what type of topics patients would want to turn to thought leaders for:
  • The latest news in breast cancer screening. 
  • New forms of therapy for Leukemia patients. 
  • Radiation dosage and its effects on the body. 
  • Therapeutic recommendations for certain illnesses. 

As you brainstorm ideas, keep this in mind.  You have a big advantage as a healthcare professional in that you can create compelling content based on your own firsthand experiences.  Think about the questions that you’re asked frequently and use that information to craft thoughtful answers. 

Choose where you share your knowledge strategically. 
A large part of becoming a thought leader is where you share your knowledge.  You need to create the right blend of content and delivery method.  It’s like the saying, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  You can create the most wonderful, thought-provoking content on the planet, but if it’s not executed correctly, you’ll never know if you’re making any kind of impact at all. 

So, where do you start?  Consider your demographic(s).  If your patients are older, think about long-form content like whitepapers or text-based articles.  Baby Boomers in particular care more about depth of subject and will spend more time reading through an article if they think it will help them.  Take printed materials into consideration as well, as older generations are more apt to turn to printed versus digital. 

If you serve a younger demographic, consider sharing content over video, blogs and podcasts.  Video is the most popular type of content available on the internet and visual content is forty times more likely to be shared on social media than any other type of content. If your demographic is mixed, consider identifying a primary and secondary generation, then tailoring your content based on that information.  You’ll have a healthy mix of both long-form and easy-to-digest content.  Some of it will undoubtedly blend between the two, and that’s okay.  Some topics will be useful no matter the age group. 

Consider non-traditional forms of content sharing. 
Don’t stop at the traditional forms of marketing.  Consider publishing content as a guest contributor on reputable websites that are connected to your specialty like partner or healthcare industry sites.  There are also ways to share your knowledge in person.  Speaking at health-related community events are a great way to share your knowledge and expertise in front of the right people at the right time, while gaining positive exposure for your organization. 

Lastly, build credibility and trust by giving freely. 
Becoming a thought leader adds value to your abilities in the eyes of your patients, prospective patients, and to your organization as a whole.  Patients are more apt to trust you and choose your services over a competitor.  The most respected thought leaders give their knowledge away freely.  Your content wouldn’t have the same effect if you were being paid to create it (and if that IS your intent, this article isn't right for you.)  Freely share your knowledge to assist and support your patients’ demographic(s). 

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