Key takeaways in this post:

  • Include the culture and brand voice of your organization as part of your content strategy.
  • Collaboration and teamwork are key to executing your strategy – especially in times of crisis.
  • Keep your communities’ concerns top of mind when creating strategy.
  • Take time to listen and be aware of current events and concerns.

Author: WG Content
Last updated: 05/20/20

Kelby Johnson, director of content marketing at Providence during COVID-19

The first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was diagnosed at Providence. The healthcare organization serves communities in Alaska, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington. Providence is consistently on the front lines of providing innovative ways to deliver care. With that in mind, the marketing and communications teams focus on creating content that helps ease the way for patients and delivers actionable value, so patients can get the care they deserve when they need it.
The COVID-19 crisis was no different. We talked with WG Content client Kelby Johnson, director of content marketing at Providence, to hear how he and his colleagues shifted gears to engage, educate and support current and prospective patients. Even long after the pandemic, the lessons Kelby shares can be applied to inform content strategy and crisis communications.

Kelby: Our culture is one that pushes the envelope. That manifests in the content we build — such as doing live events on Facebook and LinkedIn with our CEO and other thought leaders, how we’re addressing COVID-19 as a health system, as well as information on testing and what we do next. We continuously look for creative ways to deliver helpful content to our audience.
As for our brand, our promise to our patients and communities is, “Know me, care for me, ease my way.” When we build and publish content, we want to create content that delivers on that promise. We want to carry that brand story in content to help people understand we are a health and wellness partner — that’s the belief we are trying to foster.

Q: Looking at COVID-19, how did the culture and brand help support your efforts in developing and distributing content?

Kelby: We knew it was coming but having the first confirmed case of COVID-19 made it real. Our communications team immediately put our protocol for emergency operations into effect. That gave us the processes and structure we needed to work with clinical experts and our leadership team to gather information to assure our communities.

We are here to help, we’re open, and we are prepared — these are all things we wanted our audience to know. All the while, we’re of course taking cues from WHO, CDC and FEMA.

Right now, people have a lot of questions. They’re scared. They’re not sure what to do or where to go. In a recent poll of a subset of our patients, we found that 80% believe healthcare providers are offering leadership to adequately address concerns. This is the space we want to occupy — an authoritative and trusted source of information during this health crisis.

In response, we married our clinical information with consumer insights and created the coronavirus resource hub.

Kelby: We went from a 30-60-day content planning process to churning out content in one to two days. It was a cross-team effort. At the center was the emergency operations team set in place by the communications team. That team — comprised of people from clinical leadership, marketing, web, brand, PR, communications and digital teams — constantly looks at what’s happening and helps set the path for how we can insert Providence into the conversation. The goal is to deliver a consistent and believable message to help assuage patient fears.

Kelby: Candidly, since mid-March, the vast majority of content we’ve been publishing has been somehow related to COVID-19. However, I’ve seen on our system blog that people are still looking for helpful content that’s not related to the current health crisis. As of early May, only 33% of the top 20 articles consumed on our system blog are COVID-19 content. We are just now starting to re-activate other marketing and content programs to help people realize that life may be in some ways paused, but healthcare isn’t.

Kelby: The biggest success for me was that our content teams across the organization saw value in creating content that was purposefully built to alleviate anxiety and confusion. Whether that’s to mask or not to mask; the million mask challenge; how to safely get the care you need; or how to identify signs of stroke.

And the work we’re doing is reaching people. Our initial PSA — “Stay home. Stay safe.” — drove 34% of traffic to our coronavirus website in the first week it ran. It was a big win for our brand narrative. You hear so many mixed things about this health crisis, so being a site where our audience can turn to and trust — that really brought the brand promise to life.

Q: How is your department equipped to handle these challenges in the middle of a crisis?

Kelby: We aren’t a content team of 20 or 30 people. Instead, we created an army of volunteers — content stakeholders from other departments. Content is everyone’s business. It’s a business asset. If you’re not going to create a single umbrella content team, then you have to figure out how to cross organizational lines and bring everyone together.

The content council was one way I did that. I invited about 25 people — from marketing, PR, internal communications, social, influencer relations and creative — and worked to get everyone aligned in a content goal. Together, we try to figure out how to build an editorial plan that serves both the moment-in-time needs of regional marketing programs as well as the brand narrative.

Q: What advice do you have to other marketers and communications teams who are looking to build that collaboration across departments?

Kelby: Be structured in your approach to get people on board. First, find the right people and stakeholders in your organization that have the position, passion and strategic understanding to see the value in what you’re trying to do. Then, sell your story: What is the pain point you’re trying to address or problem you’re solving? Then, identify your stakeholders who can support and build that narrative.

Be nimble. Be crafty. Be innovative. Bring the stakeholders along to convince them that what you’re doing is the right thing.

Q: Where do you get your ideas for content?

Kelby: I can’t consume enough information. I listen to podcasts and read books. I’ve curated my Facebook stream to be my news stream with news organizations like The Atlantic and NPR. I just really try to tune into what other people are saying. It’s about listening, being an astute learner and creating a space that allows me to absorb information constantly.

I rely on my resources from internal departments and external partners, like WG Content. I can’t know everything, so it’s essential to crowdsource and collaborate with other people.

Having an effective way to connect and communicate with your community during times of crises is so important as a healthcare organization. Using the mission and values of your organization while offering resources and empathy through your strategy can have a positive impact on patients and community members alike. As Kelby mentioned, having external partners to collaborate with can be very helpful and WG Content is just a click away.

Understand who your audience is and what their major concerns and needs are. If you’re not sure of this, it can be harder to create content that the community can connect to and engage with.

During a crisis, it’s important to provide content across different platforms like your website, social media and newsletters, for example. Your patients and other community members will likely be looking for helpful information and resources, so making your content easy to find in various places is a key part of strategy.

There a number of different ways you can provide engaging yet helpful information to your audience. You can include links to other legitimate sources, infographics that are easy to read and understand, along with multi-media such as news videos and clips.

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