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The Big Story: News engagement plummets as Americans tune out

Cable news primetime viewership has dropped by one-fifth year over year, while “social media interactions with news articles” have dropped by half – though part of that may be thanks to Facebook’s algorithm adjustments. Key quote: “A country facing one calamity after another appears desperate for diversions.”

The Other Big Story: The State of Local News

It’s not good…

  • “Newspapers are continuing to vanish at a rapid rate. An average of more than two a week are disappearing.”
  • “More than a fifth of the nation’s citizens live in news deserts—with very limited access to local news—or in communities at risk of becoming news deserts.”
  • “The largest chains control the fate of many of the nation’s surviving newspapers. Their business strategies and decisions continue to shape the local news landscape.”

What it means for healthcare providers

Thought it was hard to break through the noise? How about trying to break through apathy?

You’ve probably felt the desire to put aside the news and read a book, head to the backyard, watch Stranger Things or, maybe, scroll through TikTok (we hear that’s a thing). Anything but slog through the news.

Yet, when it comes to our professional lives, as communicators we have to press on and find ways to reach the audiences who matter to our organizations. Especially patients and community members who, like us, are overwhelmed by the noise.

The irony is that while the decibel level increases and the proliferation of social media has amped up the emotion, traditional media has been gutted by the loss of local news. For healthcare – an intensely local endeavor – that cuts out a valuable channel to reach people.

Providers will need to find alternative communication channels to ensure your messages reach your intended audiences.

But back up a moment. The most important thing comes upstream of tactics and channels, and even communications strategy. Before all that, you must:

Have something to say that’s real and relevant. Audiences tune out when what’s said just doesn’t matter to them. Make your healthcare message about them, not your nice building or new machine. Why is the most-watched segment of a local news show the weather? Because it matters to every person in that unique audience.

That said, with the loss of local news and the exhaustion we all feel with the incessant drumbeat of negative stories, healthcare providers are challenged to find new ways to deliver critical health and marketing information.

One approach is becoming the one who delivers the news. Essentially, building your own news room. You don’t need to repurpose an old storage closet to become the bullpen. Instead, think in terms of aligning and adjusting your existing investments in your digital/social channels, your communications materials, your educational efforts and your spokespeople to get the important messages out without having to rely on third parties.

Here are a few considerations for doing so.

With the remaining media….

  • Build relationships. Even though local news is disappearing, it’s still considered a valuable resource for the public. Follow their stories. Follow them. Be a valuable resource to those remaining local reporters. Since they’ll be stretched thinner, being a resource and making their job easier is both good for positioning your organization and just a good, mission-oriented thing to do.
  • Don’t yell. Don’t add to the noise. Avoid giving in to the temptation to get sensationalist with your content to attract attention. Instead, focus on facts, clear stories and specific calls to action.

With digital media…

  • Mass produce when possible. If you get the same question repeatedly, create a standardized response. Lee Aase, former head of social media at Mayo Clinic and now co-founder of HELPCare Clinic, highlighted this approach in a recent podcast with our team.
  • Look for chances to go (hyper)local. Today’s advertising and marketing tech allow you to connect with people on a hyperlocal basis. Be sure your digital team keeps an eye on the tools that allow you to do so. Because of the cost involved, the play may be to watch who jumps in first – for example, pharma companies – and use that to spur your creativity before signing up.

With your own spokespeople…

  • Continue to invest in your spokespeople. Especially your clinicians who are having those invaluable one-on-one conversations. There’s no noise and hype in an exam room. It’s a place of trust and quiet, literally built to deliver vital information.
  • Find and support your “celebrity” spokespeople. You may have people already in your organization who have online personas. Identify them and check in with them. But – and this is extraordinarily important – don’t co-opt them. Let them be individuals communicating as such, not mouthpieces for the organization. The trend of clinicians-as-personalities is a growing. See ZDoggMD, Joel Bervell, Pimple Popper and Dr. Glaucomflecken for an array of examples.

With your organization…

  • Don’t do stupid stuff. Don’t become a bad news story. Review your existing practices, whether it’s checking your website for inappropriately placed tracking pixels or looking through your collections process to make sure you’re not taking patients to court over unpaid bills. That way, when it comes time to talk about something important, your message won’t be overshadowed by reputational issues people can throw back in your face. Since people have limited bandwidth and patience, you don’t want it used up by a story that you’re on the wrong side of.

Above all, remember: A handshake breaks through everything. The most expensive but most powerful communication approach is the small group meeting, the shared cup of coffee, the eye-to-eye contact. It’s hard to scale, but when the message matters most, deliver it in person.

This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday Quick Think newsletter. Fill out the form to get that in your inbox every week.

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