When it comes to blogging, there is no clear starting line (or finishing line, for that matter).
Blogs, as a part of an inbound medical marketing strategy, enter the world in medias res (in the middle of the action).
For medical professionals, the decision to launch a blog comes amid the day-to-day work of managing a practice, seeing patients, staying on top of healthcare protocols and procedures, and paying the bills.
So where do you begin? It's not as if you decide, hey, I think we need to launch a blog as part of our medical website, twirl a magic wand, and poof! It's ready to go.
Instead, you begin by sitting down and answering some questions.
Starting the medical practice blog
Blogs are not something that can be conceived and launched in a day, but you can start them whenever and wherever you are and improve on them as you go along.
Blogs are an informal form of marketing media; they carry a different level of reader expectation than what you would place on a white paper or a presentation before a medical board.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't have high standards for your blog, because you should. Strong content has authority. However, it does mean you can (and should) be more relaxed and less technical in your approach.
The questions listed below can help you decide on the natural starting point for your blog.
They focus less on the general mechanics of creating and formatting a blog (which has been written about ad nauseam across the web) and more on the inbound marketing challenges that are germane to bloggers in the medical profession. After all, while anyone can start a blog, a healthcare practice must enter into the commitment with additional concerns in mind.
If you've already started a healthcare blog but are still a newbie, these questions are equally useful for you. Don't be concerned if you don't know all the answers at first, but do strive to find the answers.
Why do you want to start a blog? Is it to add new patients to your practice? Develop a trusted reputation inside your community? Establish you as a thought leader in your particular field of medicine? Provide patient education and support? You should have a clear idea what the mission of your blog is; its mission should also match the mission of your medical practice.
What is the purpose of your blog? Possible answers include providing patient education, community relations, promotion of clinical services, curation of medical news relevant to your audience's interests, and dialog opportunities between doctors and patients.
What are your blog's key focal points? It's useful to boil down your focal points to three areas, then expand from there.
For instance, if you operate a sleep practice that specializes in insomnia patients, you may want to spotlight your CBT-I services and credentials, sleep hygiene best practices, and discussions about prescription medications and their impact on sleep.
Or you may be a primary care physician in a retirement community who wants to highlight the top health concerns for the elderly, health insurance and Medicare news relevant to retirees, and reviews of various assistive devices to help improve your readers' quality of life.
What is already being done? Look online for blogging efforts from other medical practices. They can be similar to your field or outside of it. In either case, see what appeals to you and what doesn't work. Take notes so you can follow through by either implementing (or avoiding) these strategies yourself.
Who is your audience? Possible answers include other medical professionals, patients, patient employers, the local community, and family members of patients. Be clear on your answers here; the posts you publish for a readership of doctors are going to be quite a bit different in tone, content, and language than those intended for patients and their families.
Who will contribute to your blog? Is it important that your contributors have credentialed background in your chosen medical field? Will these contributors be part of your current staff or will you hire them from outside your practice? Do you want the doctors in your practice to contribute content?
Who else might read your blog? This could include not only your desired audience, but other potential readers: competitors, professional cohorts, medical association boards, healthcare legislators, potential advertisers or sponsors, insurance payers, CMS representatives, HIPAA compliance officers, and health media watchdog groups.
Where will you "live" on the web? Does your medical practice already have its own website? If so, how easily can you add a blog feature? If not, do you have the budget to work with a blog hosting platform that integrates inbound marketing features like SEO analytics and keyword tools? Or, are you part of a hospital system that requires you to add pages and content to layers within their preexisting URL? If so, are there marketing and legal protocols you need to be aware of?
Are your blogging goals location specific? In other words, do you intend for your blog to serve your patients in the local community, or do you aspire to a larger digital "neighborhood" at the regional, state, or national level? How you approach your content will be reflected in your answer.
Where will you crosspost your blog content? Medical professionals can be late to the social networking world, partly due to internal bans on using social media websites and the risk-averse nature of their profession.
However, if you can access and use platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, even Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube, it's highly recommended that you get registered and become familiar with how they work. Social networking is critical to blog post amplification.
How will you manage legal considerations related to blogging? Concerns include patient privacy, copyright law, fair use, libel and slander, plagiarism, and malpractice, among other things. You may wish to address each of these aspects as you would your practice's policies by creating a new set of protocols and procedures to help guide you.
How frequently will you post new content? This will depend upon who is creating the content, your budget, and other factors. Ideally, twice a week is a good starting point. The more regular the content, the better. Frequency of solid content ultimately leads to improved credibility, familiarity, and a positive impression.
When will you "go live?" You can start your blog at any time. However, it's when you announce to the world that you are "live" that your presence becomes real.
Take time to play in the sandbox
Don't feel pressured to "go live" right away. Take some "sandbox" time to dig in, make discoveries, and work out the kinks. As you start populating your blog with posts, patterns and focal points will emerge, as well as obstacles or weaknesses.
It's during the infancy of any blog that you'll find your comfort level with content depth, tone, frequency, and other intangibles like the process of researching, writing, planning the calendar, using search engine optimization (SEO) tools, and social media for amplification.
Try out new technology, explore social network, and don't be afraid to fail if you're dealing with uncharted territory. Eventually you will come to know it much better.
Once you can place confidence in your content, the structure of your blog, and your goals, you are ready to enter the "live" space.
This does not mean your blog will ever be perfect, but that's okay. Most readers of blogs consider them "works in progress," so don't fret if you do make mistakes. You can easily correct them, learn from them, and move on.
Note: If you are working with a medical marketing service like inboundMed to create new content, you may more quickly move from the "sandbox" to the "live" space, but this is because you are working with professionals who are versed in content marketing and development; they have strategies already in place based on your specific needs.
Certainly there are added benefits to working with professionals versus going it alone!