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The Influencer Effect, Part 1—How to manage a surprise influencer opportunity

This is the first in a series on the effect of influencers in healthcare digital marketing.

For healthcare organizations, social-media marketing is usually slow and steady.

Marketing teams work within a long process of accumulation. They build their organization’s reach one blog post, one answered question, one engaged patient at a time. It’s not glamorous, but it’s effective.

Once in a while, though, organizations get lucky: an influencer unexpectedly takes to their cause and brings on a social-media bonanza. Suddenly and dramatically, the organization’s influence surges across the Internet as the influencer draws in followers by the thousand.

It’s every marketer’s dream. And it’s completely unpredictable. While some influencer relationships are deliberately cultivated, with others there’s no telling when they’ll shine the spotlight on a healthcare organization. But that doesn’t mean that organizations shouldn’t prepare for it to happen.

Here’s how two NRC Health partners each used savvy marketing tactics to capitalize on a surprise influencer opportunity.

The Story: Ochsner Health System and Jarrius Robertson

 In Louisiana, Jarrius Robertson rose to fame as a committed superfan of the New Orleans Saints. Battling a rare liver condition called biliary atresia, Jarrius stands just above two feet high, even though he’s now 16 years old.

Small as he is, Jarrius is a massive force of personality. His talent for sideline smack-talk won him an official contract to be the Saints’ official “hype man,” cementing him as part of the Saints family in the eyes of Louisianans.

And as Jarrius’s celebrity status grew, he called attention to the hospital that had been taking care of him since he was three years old: Ochsner Health System, an academic hospital organization in Southeast Louisiana.

Jarrius received two liver transplants at the Ochsner Hospital for Children. One of them, as luck would have it, happened just before a milestone event in Jarrius’s life—receiving the Jimmy V Award for Resilience at the ESPYs, a nationally broadcast sports-awards show.

The lesson: show and amplify

This was an extraordinary PR opportunity for Ochsner. The team moved fast to make the most of it.

Before Jarrius went off to the ESPY award ceremony in Los Angeles, the Ochsner Facebook page broadcast the quality of care he received. They produced and posted a video of Jarrius keeping in good spirits after a smooth recovery from his transplant.

They also invited Saints players to stop by the hospital to congratulate Jarrius and wish other pediatric patients luck on their procedures.

Finally, they kept true to their mission by helping Jarrius start a fund—The Jarrius Robertson Fund—dedicated to helping families pay for the expense of transplants.

Ochsner has been rewarded for the consistency of their efforts. Videos of Jarrius at Ochsner have received over 100,000 views so far. Thousands of people in New Orleans and beyond have connected with Jarrius’s story, and the Jarrius Robertson Fund has raised tens of thousands of dollars in donations.

And according to NRC Health’s Market Insights research, Ochsner’s preference rating in the New Orleans market has seen a statistically significant increase of 1.6% since Jarrius won the ESPY Award in July, 2017.

This is a good example of a local celebrity driving local growth.

The Story: Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Jimmy Kimmel

This second story is much more national in scope. In fact, it was so widely publicized that it hardly bears re-telling.

In May of 2017, much of the country saw Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue about his infant son, Billy, who has a rare heart condition. Achingly sincere, Kimmel won the hearts of millions, and likely changed the course of the healthcare policy debates that had then been raging in Congress.

Kimmel also called attention to the physicians at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) who saved Billy’s life. CHLA was subsequently flooded with public interest and support.

The statistics beggar belief. 14 million views and 240,000 Facebook likes in under 24 hours (compared with an average of fewer than 1 million views per monologue). 26,000 re-tweets of the talk. A surge in search traffic for “cardiac surgery” and “open-heart surgery,” attributable almost wholly to Kimmel’s talk. Even a grass-roots donation campaign spurred by Ellen DeGeneres, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the hospital.

It might be the single largest healthcare influencer event in the history of social media.

The lesson: gratitude and grace

For staff at CHLA, this was a completely unexpected—and unprecedented—event. They had to scramble just to keep up with the sheer volume of supportive callers and donations. But they did everything right.

First, CHLA’s president and CEO, Paul S. Viviano, personally penned a thank-you note to Jimmy Kimmel. He also published editorials in The Hill and CNN.com to pronounce his support for Kimmel’s views. People might disagree on the political stance behind these pieces, but there’s no question that publishing them was the strategically expedient action for CHLA.

CHLA also built Jimmy’s message into their Imagine 2017 year-end fundraising campaign, and launched a donation page to help direct Kimmel’s and Ellen’s viewers to their site.

These steps catapulted CHLA into a new tier of popular engagement. Thanks to Kimmel’s campaign, the CHLA Facebook page surpassed 100,000 followers for the first time. Dozens of companies reached out to offer donations. Small donations from individuals also surged, along with a very generous donation from Ellen in 2017.

Finally, CHLA’s profile also became more prominent in its hometown of Los Angeles. Though the hospital already occupied the market’s top position for pediatric hospitals, NRC Health’s Market Insights data shows that their overall preference rating increased after June of 2017. It was a very remarkable achievement for an organization that was already number one in the city.

The secret to influencer success

Both of these organizations enjoyed extraordinary strokes of luck. No one can plan the kind of impact that comes from such prominent public figures praising an organization.

However, Ochsner Children’s Hospital and CHLA also both leaned into their good fortune, and found a way to maximize engagement without being self-serving. They managed it by keeping their messaging focused on giving back to their patients.

Ochsner’s and CHLA’s generosity, empathy, and dedication represent exactly the kinds of behavior that consumers want to see from their healthcare organizations. That’s how every organization should act, should they find themselves in an unexpected influencer spotlight.

But not all influencer stories are surprises; some of these relationships have been carefully cultivated for years. In cases like these, how should health systems maximize the benefits of their celebrity connections?

That will be the subject of the next post in our Influencer series. Stay tuned for more!