Digital health perspective: Chris Boyer

Rebecca Aris interviews Chris Boyer

Assistant Vice President of Digital Strategy, North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System in New York

Digital health expert, Chris Boyer, shares his thoughts on website optimisation with pharmaphorum.

Following on from our ‘Social pharma faces’ series, we’ve decided to broaden the scope of the people we speak with to encompass digital experts from the wider health arena to form this new ‘Digital health perspectives’ series.

Chris Boyer is the first interviewee in this series. Chris has over 20 years of marketing experience and is an expert in optimizing online marketing opportunities to drive new business. He holds the role of Assistant Vice President of Digital Strategy, responsible for the digital marketing / communications efforts to support the hospital system’s website, portals, social media, pay-per-click, social media, and mobile strategies.

Chris is a nationally recognized thought-leader in hospital social media and online marketing and he speaks with us here on what he has learnt on website optimisation and social media engagement.

Interview summary

RA: Chris thank you for agreeing to take part, could you start by telling me how you came to be in your current role?

CB: Sure, I am the new Associate Vice President of Digital Strategy at Northshore / Long Island Jewish Health System in New York. I’ve been in the healthcare space for the last six years.

I also was the Director of Digital Marketing &amp, Communications for Inova Health System, another health system right outside of Washington DC. Before then I was a hospital marketing consultant. So I’m very familiar with building digital strategies at hospital systems.

RA: During your career what have you learnt about how people discover hospital websites, and how to optimise that?

CB: One thing that overwhelmingly comes to mind is that people don’t visit hospital websites just for fun. When people come to hospital websites, they’re very much there for a purpose, and those purposes can be varied.

Many times they’re seeking out healthcare services. They learn that they have to have a procedure done at a hospital and want to learn if the hospital does that procedure and how much experience they have. They research the clinical staff and the reputation of the hospital itself, just to make sure they’re making the right decision on the hospital. Or they could be seeking out a variety of health or wellness programs the hospitals provide to the community.

Nonetheless, when people come to a hospital website they’re actually searching with intent. So when you optimise a health or a hospital website you really want to address that very action, to give them the information that they’re looking for, and make it easy to find.


“…people don’t visit hospital websites just for fun.”


RA: What key pieces of advice would you offer on setting up a website for a hospital?

CB: First of all understand who your audience is and what they are looking for. Many times a hospital falls into the trap of trying to offer all information to everyone all the time. There’s an adage in website design which says if you have too much information or too much navigation you have no information and no navigation. It’s important to prioritise your content for your audience.

Patients are looking for certain things and family members are looking for others. Prioritise content around those different search pathways and provide information to them at the time of when they want to discover it.

The biggest piece of advice I can offer is prioritise your content to your audience.

Secondly: more and more people are now accessing websites through mobile devices. You really want to look at your Information Architectural design to ensure that your website can be seen and navigated effortlessly from a mobile device.

RA: How can you see financial return on social media?

CB: A lot of people ask about the financial return (or ROI) of social media. I believe there are three main ways where you can really start to measure return from your social media efforts:

• Use social media to help facilitate consumer choice. For example, in the US, consumers can pick which hospitals to have babies at or choose which hospitals to have certain procedures done. You can use social media to share your hospital’s expertise and help them make that choice. And measure how many people came from your social media efforts.

• Use social media as a way to save money. Social media tools are very inexpensive to use, and traditional communication and marketing tactics often cost a lot of money. Find ways to augment, supplement or even replace traditional communication marketing efforts that may have a higher price tag with these inexpensive online channels, and measure the money you save.

• Start to understand how patients are interacting with your organisation and how social media can help drive loyalty among your community. You can then use social media as a way to connect with people throughout their lives (not only when they’re sick). You can provide proactive health and wellness information before they even come to the hospital. And then use social media after they leave the hospital for ongoing patient education and support.

“…when people come to a hospital website they’re actually searching with intent.”


RA: What advice would you offer around video and YouTube use?

CB: Video and YouTube use by patients is very high. As bandwidth becomes increasingly more open, people using the internet are becoming more used to seeking information in video format. Some prefer to consume content through video rather than reading it on a web page, so hospital organisations should develop content marketing efforts that address both.

From my experience, audiences tend to gravitate towards one or the other: the written word or video. Every hospital should develop a strong video and YouTube presence. One important way is to use video to highlight physician’s experience and knowledge, and share that with the community online. This allows doctors to virtually introduce themselves before the patient shows up in the office for care (establishing trust well before the first face-to-face contact).


“The biggest piece of advice I can offer is prioritise content to your audience.”

RA: What channels do you find to be the most useful?

CB: There are thousands of social media sites that are out there, and many hospitals use a variety of them. But really there are three or four that I would recommend to focus on from a hospital’s communication and marketing perspective:

The top one is Facebook, and, in part, that’s just by the sheer volume of users in this social network. More people are on Facebook and it is becoming its own sub-world on the internet. You definitely have to find ways to interact and engage with people in your community that are also on Facebook.

A very close second is YouTube. I consider YouTube a social media site because a lot of people use it to create, share and comment on videos. YouTube is also the second largest search engine in the world (next to Google), and studies have shown that the average person on YouTube can spend more than 15 minutes a day looking at videos. That’s a engaged and active community!

Third is Twitter. Twitter offers an excellent real time communications platform to share information with your community, particularly in times of crisis when you need to share information fast. Just recently at Northshore/Long Island Jewish, when Hurricane Sandy had a massive impact on people’s lives , Twitter was used as part of a real-time communication strategy to share updates on how the hospital was responding to the needs of the community. This proved to be a very effective approach.

It’s also important to use a blog. I consider a blog as a cross between a website and social media. Blogs allow for a way for a hospital to provide authoritative content (much like a website does) and also allow readers to comment and share their own information. In effect, a blog lowers the barrier between a hospital and their community.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention Pinterest. Currently there is a lot of interest and excitement that some have around Pinterest’s role in a social media strategy, but I still think it’s in its infancy. Don’t get me wrong – there is a high level of engagement by Pinterest users, and hospitals are certainly using it, but I I wouldn’t put this social network in the top four quite yet.

RA: Finally how important is it to tailor your content to your audience?

CB: As I mentioned before, knowing what content your audience wants is extremely important. People expect (and consume) content differently on different social media sites or different websites. In my experience, when people are following you content on Facebook, Twitter or your website, they really are seeking out content in different ways. People on Facebook respond to pictures and video more readily than text. Followers like to have a Twitter feed that contains links to additional content (so they could learn more if they are interested). People on websites want to read, watch and generally consumer very in-depth content in a long-form. You really should spend time not only understanding which tools to use but how to communicate appropriately with them.

Content tailoring to the audience by the medium is as important as understanding what the meaning is.

RA: Chris thank you very much for you time today.

CB: Thank you Rebecca, it’s been great talking to you.




About the interviewee:

Chris Boyer is an active participant, speaker and educator of healthcare digital marketing and communications.

As AVP of Digital Strategy for Northshore/LIJ Health System, Chris focuses on creating a strong digital communications and marketing strategy to build engagement and credibility with patients, physicians and the community. Chris is also an external Advisory Board member of the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Social Media.

Chris enjoys helping healthcare organizations see the value of digital marketing and social media – not only to communicate, but also to deliver relevant health information online. He focuses on finding and measuring the ROI of online/social media marketing. By creating online strategies that complement traditional marketing means, Chris is able to show how digital strategies deliver results.

How can you see financial return on your social media efforts?