There are many reasons to start a blog. For most companies, it’s about content marketing and generating leads. In healthcare marketing, it’s about educational content marketing and creating brand awareness, loyalty and trust. But for a clinician, starting a blog was about solving a problem: “I didn’t think that patients were connected with great, timely information that helps them be better parents.”
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, author of the blog, Mama Doc, as well as her new book, Mama Doc Medicine, started a parenting blog at Seattle Children’s Hospital in 2010. Now, with more than 20,000 followers on Twitter and thousands of readers every month, Dr. Swanson shares of her story of being a physician who shapes our conversations around healthcare content and social media.
OIAM: Tell us about your training. How you came to be interested in writing a blog?
Dr. Swanson: “I knew quite a long time ago I was interested in the communication space before I became a pediatrician. I finished a master’s degree in bioethics and have always had a fascination about how people make decisions and what shared decision-making looks like in the physician/patient relationship. I was also intrigued by what influences the media. I trained at Seattle Children’s and went into private practice afterward, while still maintaining my strong relationship with the hospital.
I remember the day I decided I couldn’t wait anymore—it was the day after Jenny McCarthy appeared on Oprah and said that vaccines cause autism. I was in clinic and parents told me they were afraid to give their child the MMR vaccine. I thought, “I can’t sit on my hands any longer.”
OIAM: Typically, hospitals want a lot of control over social media and blogs. How did you convince your executives that this was a good idea?
Dr. Swanson: “I approached the VP of Communications at the time, David Perry, and said, ‘I think we need a blog.’ But, I also told him that it wasn’t about marketing or strategy. Instead, I wanted the blog to be about a pediatrician sharing her journey. So, from the very beginning, I told them that marketing and communications couldn’t touch this. Soon after I started the blog, (about three months) other people began to take notice and more trust was built after it [the blog] became more valuable. But I really got the initial buy-in because I truly believed that we could provide medical care outside the exam room and others believed it as well.”
OIAM: How do you decide what to write about? Do you use an editorial calendar?
Dr. Swanson: “I actually don’t use an editorial calendar and I’m very intentional about that. I do think about the topics I want to write. I also know a week ahead of time the studies that are going to be published in the press, so I can plan for those posts. Typically, studies spark interest for the public, so knowing when those are coming out allows me to publish on the same day, adding my perspective to the conversation.”
As social media matured and I learned more, I started to really listen to my audiences on Twitter—I created lists and followed bloggers, medical correspondents and other doctors. I learned what others were talking about and what was really considered important. I also blog on seasonal issues like flu, sunscreen and allergies, and I’m always trying to pepper my content with evergreen topics. And because I still practice as a pediatrician, I try and answer questions that I get during clinic, because I know other parents are probably asking the exact same questions.”
OIAM: How do you approach search engine optimization (SEO)?
Dr. Swanson: I used to have a SEO person who would help me analyze which posts did well and why. I use Word Press for the blog and look at my Google analytics every day. I also use the SEO pack in Word Press and manipulate browser titles for social media vs. SEO. I’m very aware of my audiences and my traffic—for example, I will write posts differently for Twitter and Facebook because I’m aware of how different those audiences are.”
OIAM: How do you balance your time as a clinician and the author of this blog?
Dr. Swanson: I’m very lucky that Seattle Children’s was so supportive of this endeavor. When I first started, I was 75% clinical and then I moved to 50% clinical. Now I am 20% clinical and spent 80% (or the rest of my time) as executive director of Digital Health for the hospital, as well as the blog. The hospital created an environment where there was protected time for me to do this so I could dedicate the time it needed to build and promote the blog. Honestly, I spend more time personally promoting the content and ideas, than creating it. We, as a group, need to market science and ideas better.”
As a healthcare marketer, I learned three things from my conversation with Dr. Swanson:
- You have to pick the right doctors to speak for your organization. Her passion about these issues sparked right through the phone. Only a clinician who believes in the power of social media could devote the time and attention you would need to make this a successful endeavor.
- She’s right: We all do need to do a better job of marketing science and ideas better. People want clear, reviewed information. Why not give it to them in an easily digestible conversation, like a blog post?
- Editorial calendars are critical when you build a larger blogging team. While Dr. Swanson doesn’t use an actual document, truth is, she has an editorial calendar in her head. But once you add in another blogger, or even a team of physicians who would alternate blogging, you would need an editorial calendar to keep track of posts, due dates and editors.
Want to learn more about Dr. Swanson? Check out her blog, Seattle Mama Doc, and be sure to pick up a copy of her book, Mama Doc Medicine: Finding Calm and Confidence in Parenting, Child Health, and Work Life Balance.