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Word of Mouth Works Best When Hospitals Listen

Anna Webster, for HealthLeaders Media, October 19, 2011

How do you pick a restaurant to visit over the weekend? There are basically three options: try the place your friend recommended, browse online reviews for guidance, or wander into an eatery at random.

Following the wise words of a friend seems to make the most sense. Word of mouth has led me to my favorite hairdresser, nail salon, dentist, and yes, doctor. It is continually one of the most important ways to market your hospital or healthcare facility, health leaders say.

One popular way to measure free lip service is the cocktail party test. In my time covering the marketing beat, I've heard leaders sing the praises of this test -- when schmoozing at a party, or interacting with others, the best way to find out your hospital's reputation is to ask questions and then listen. The method isn't exactly scientific, but it works.

"Hospitals talk more than they listen," says Emerson Smith, PhD, Medical Sociologist for SC-based Metromark Market Research. "The only way we can know what people are saying is to talk less and listen more."

Measuring word of mouth is not as easy, but it is vital. The first step is defining what qualifies as word of mouth:

  • Transmission – One person communicating to another
  • Broadcast – One person communicating to an audience
  • Social media – All forms and methods of communication between two or more people. Social media doesn't just have to be online and includes TV, radio, and face to face interaction.

"Face-to-face transmission, including word of mouth is the most effective way of communicating," says Smith. "But before you mouth off, make sure the product is good."

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