What does online reputation mean during COVID-19?

“Perception is reality,” has never been truer.

If we know that during a crisis people are searching for the right information online, what is our responsibility as healthcare providers and health systems to help them find it? The answer is to control what we can: Be a trusted source of information, which in turn means actively, nimbly managing our online content and presence to build our reputation.

In fact, with so much of everyday life having moved to the web over the past few weeks, it’s possible that our online reputation has become the key component to building and relaying trust with those we serve.

Our stakeholders are accessing more information online now than ever before. Our community of former, current and future patients, as well as current and future employees and physicians who choose our organizations as the place where they deliver care, are all looking at what the world says about us. And, because most non-acute medical encounters have been put on hold, that insight is not colored (for better or worse) by in-person interactions.

We’ll continue to track what’s changing and what providers can do. One significant wrench that just got thrown in the works came from Google. The search giant recently “turned off” both reviews and question-and-answer functionality. How they’ve done that (described in a post titled, “Limited Google My Business functionality due to COVID-19,”) appears to be disjointed and has raised big questions about what the change means for user experience.

Because, although they have in fact turned off reviews, it’s only on the business side. For example, if a user leaves your hospital a review on Google (which they can still do) the author can see and view the review they just left. The disconnect is that you as the manager for that page aren’t notified of the review nor can you see it in your Google My Business dashboard. Along with these changes, Google temporarily shut down the ability for business page owners to respond to reviews, creating some confusion.

Now, this is just one example of the changing landscape. Hospitals are going to have to engage all stakeholders across myriad platforms and, while we are still finding our footing with some of these changes, here are a few things that you can do now – Google included.

  1. Update online listings based on the COVID-19 impact. Do you have locations that have temporally closed? What about a change in business hours for clinics or other outpatient locations?
  2. Communicate and be transparent. Be responsibly transparent on your social platforms about what is happening within the organization. Engage users who want to help by building out instructions and resources online show how others can engage the organization.
  3. Don’t forget about employees. They can be your biggest advocates and a trusted source with their peers and networks. Engage them in your online messaging strategies. Also, hearing from the front line will help inform what content and messaging should be developed.
  4. Forecast and predict. No one has a crystal ball but understanding the changes that are happening allows you to be proactive versus reactive. If you know the community is wanting to help with PPE shortages update your online listings to reflect how and where they can contribute for example.
Reed Smith