The buzzword, influencer, is used quite a bit in the field of marketing and even among professional organizations. Can a medical practice achieve status as an influencer, and if so, how do they do this? Finally, how does it pertain to inbound marketing for medical practices?
What is an influencer?
In the world of marketing, an influencer is a person or persona who is a media creation developed by public relations agencies to attract attention to a product or service. They usually wield the power to influence the buying decisions of others because they exude a sense of authority (real or perceived) or have expertise, a major position in the chain of command, or other highly respected association with a company brand.
Famously, Michael Jordan became an influencer when he signed on to be a spokesperson for Nike.
But not all influencers are paid to endorse company brands. Sometimes, highly recognized leaders in a selected field (such as Kelly Osborne, who is regarded for her tastemaking talents in the world of fashion, as one example) become influencers by publicly establishing their perspectives about the industry and the brands that comprise it.
Movie critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were influencers in their day; computer mogul Paul Allen is an influencer when it comes to technological innovations.
Are influencers born or made?
A bit of both.
Some people are born leaders and naturally influence the thoughts and actions of others around them. In the world of business, those who end up becoming influencers typically show a history of hard work, mistakes, and life "in the trenches" before they emerge victorious.
Consider, for instance, Robert Herjavek, a wealthy investor featured on the Shark Tank television show. He started out as an immigrant's son, developing computers in his parents' basement while waiting tables and delivering newspapers, before he hit it big. Now his advice is coveted by many entrepreneurs hoping to share a similar success story.
Like celebrities, influencers are often selected by their peer groups to fulfill the title. A business person may not simply call themselves an influencer to become one. It is usually a title that is earned through the validation of those around them.
That said, there are ways to work toward earning the right to call yourself an influencer. One such approach is to strive to become a local influencer.
What is a local influencer?
A local influencer is, using the vernacular, "a big fish in a small pond." These are the individuals and business leaders who people automatically turn to in their communities for leadership, advice, and attention.
In the medical field, local influencers usually include hospital executives, celebrated doctors, and well-known specialists whose work is respected beyond the boundaries of the city they work in.
Consider sleep medicine, for instance. Its local influencers may include many widely known doctors and researchers at Stanford University.
But local influencers aren't necessarily famous for what they do. The Alaska Sleep Clinic is considered an influencer in the same field because they have the most digital visibility of any single sleep medicine facility in the world.
In either case, each local influencer earned this distinction because it established itself as a local resource and earned respect for its expertise.
Ways to become a local influencer
While no single business can predetermine their fate as a potential influencer, there are some ways they can work to establish themselves in this fashion as part of their healthcare marketing strategy. Within the context of medical practices, local influencers are known to:
Specialize. Your medical specialty is what makes you unique in town. Don't hide from the fact you're one of a kind... celebrate your market niche!
Spend time out into the community. If your goal is to be known locally, the best way to achieve this is to be actively engaged in community activities, regardless of its connection to your medical practice.
Provide helpful advice without expecting a return for it. In the healthcare profession, trust is easier establish between doctors and patients if patients believe their doctors serve them because they are more interested in healthcare solutions than they are in bottom lines.
Listen to their customers (both the established ones and the potential ones) to figure out what they need. When patients feel heard, they are more likely to ask for help from the medical professionals who listened to them when the need for care arises.
Aren't afraid to take risks. Influencers in any field do not get there by conservative measures.
Align with other influencers. A cardiologist who wants to become an influencer may be well advised to align with a popular bariatric surgeon, a well-known pulmonologist in the area, a vascular specialist with a column in the local paper, or any other influencer with related connections to their specialty.
Deliver a message, mission, and/or image that is clear and consistent. This is true for any business: the more precise and consistent you build your brand through business offerings, branding, marketing, publicity, and/or public relations, the more that customers will take notice.
Sponsor and endorse quality local services and products. This is a similar tactic to aligning with other influencers. If you're a dentist and you want to put your stamp of approval on a local company that manufactures mouthguards for athletes, your practice (and the manufacturer's) gains mutual respect and support.
Actively engage using social media. In 2016, the name of the game is web presence. This means having an engaging Facebook page, a blog and website where patients can find you on the Internet, even a YouTube account, a Twitter handle... any kind of channel where you can engage directly with others.
Also participate in traditional media. A medical practice influencer will not shy away from local radio or television interviews, nor will they ignore the calls coming from a reporter hired by the local newspaper.
Belong to local business organizations and attend Chamber of Commerce meetings and activities. Aside from having a live presence in the general community (for instance, at a local health fair), a medical practice can increase its influencer status by being active in professional associations of all kinds.
Recruit people to help them meet their leadership goals. A medical practice which encourages happy patients to share testimonials on their website (as one example) is able to show external validation for their expertise. Employees of the practice who present at local health-related workshops and roundtables are also another way to show that the entire practice is "all in" when it comes to the sincerity of their efforts.
Medical practices in Alaska have a unique situation in that they may find it easier to become local influencers than may be the case for clinics and practitioners in other states (except for, say, Hawaii) due to geographic differences.
There is less competition for an Alaska business to become an influencer in this region, and the community-supporting features that define the actions of an influencer are typically easier to fulfill because of the reality of a less-dense population and lifestyle differences that are unique to the state.
In addition, the Internet affords medical practices in Alaska many opportunities to "get found" by patients in search of their services.
It makes sense to take some time to see how your medical practice in Alaska can achieve some, most, or all of these characteristics befitting the influencer.