Podcast #61

Healthcare Marketing on TikTok: The Future of Patient Engagement

Healthcare consumer behavior is changing. Instead of going to a doctor, many turn to social media for help. According to a survey done by Charity RX, 1 in 5 Americans will consult TikTok for healthcare advice before their doctor. When it comes to sensitive health topics, people report feeling more comfortable seeking information virtually. To reach and engage this growing population, more healthcare providers are using TikTok as part of their marketing mix. 

Episode Highlights:

Rich Briddock

Rich Briddock: ” In general terms because it’s a younger audience, it’s important to understand the type of healthcare solutions that a younger audience is looking for. I think particularly with COVID and a lot of the anxiety around a confined world that has been isolated, people have been cut off, obviously, teen anxiety is a huge issue. A huge place where we see health questions being asked is in and around mental health. I would say that that is the major one.”

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Announcer: Welcome to the Ignite Podcast, the only healthcare marketing podcast that digs into the digital strategies and tactics that help you accelerate growth. Each week, Cardinal’s experts explore innovative ways to build your digital presence and attract more patients. Buckle up for another episode of Ignite.

Lauren Leone: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to Ignite Healthcare Marketing Podcast. My name’s Lauren Leone. I’m the SVP of Healthcare Marketing. I’ve got Rich Briddock with me today. Again, Rich is our SVP of Strategy & Analytics. We’re going to be talking about a topic that we’ve touched on a few times in a couple of our earlier episodes, but never really done a true deep dive into, and that is, what is TikTok’s place in the healthcare marketing mix?

I read some interesting stats and we know for– Let’s set the stage. The current demographic of TikTok is on average, the 16 to 24-year-old bracket, but we know that that’s slowly increasing, and we start to see that this new population of young adults that are first time making their own healthcare decisions are spending more and more time on this platform. If it’s not the majority of our demographic today, it’s certainly going to continue to grow to be one of them. It’s something that we should at least be considering, and that we hope that you all understand.

I also read that one in five young adults in that demographic will go to TikTok to consult their community, their influencers, the people that they follow, the content that they consume, to know if they’re making the right healthcare decision. It may not always be the first place that they go, like Google, for example, although it could certainly turn into that, but it’s something that they’re using to maybe validate their decisions, to get additional opinions, to see what everyone else is doing, and decide if those are the decisions that they want to make.

To set the stage, I think it certainly has a place, but let’s talk about really what that means. The first thing I think it’s important to lay the groundwork on is what types of conditions and healthcare searches are people doing the most? I think there’s three areas specifically that we’ve seen just boom on TikTok in particular. Talk to our audience about those, and I think that will then help us frame up the patient journey on TikTok and how we could potentially reach them.

Rich Briddock: In general terms because it’s a younger audience, it’s important to understand the type of healthcare solutions that a younger audience is looking for. I think particularly with COVID and a lot of the anxiety around a confined world that has been isolated, people have been cut off, obviously, teen anxiety is a huge issue. A huge place where we see health questions being asked is in and around mental health. I would say that that is the major one.

That’s coinciding with this trend where therapy is becoming much more normalized and behavioral health is becoming much more normalized. There’s a lot less of stigma around it. The stigma has existed with older generations, but for the younger generations coming through, the kind of people who are on TikTok, there’s a lot less stigma around seeking mental health treatment, getting therapy, potentially that this audience has had contact with psychologists, psychiatrists growing up as well because things like ADHD treatment and those kind of things are a lot more normal and normalized as well.

That is one area where there’s definitely an opportunity in the behavioral health space to be present on TikTok and to engage with that audience. It’s definitely an area where young folks are making those healthcare consumer decisions that you were mentioning before.

Lauren: When we think about the patient journey and why these younger consumers would go to TikTok to search these topics, what does that typically look like for them?

Rich: Again, this consumer is so much more used to your engaging through digital, that they’re not the kind of people who are going to go down the local diner and ask their friend for a referral. That’s not that generation. They are used to engaging in digital to find the answers to their questions. Obviously, when you go to Google and you search health-related question, you’re going to get very factual, probably an article. You’re probably getting something from like Mayo Clinic or WebMD. When you go to TikTok, you are getting a video. I think obviously for all of us, almost all of us, we are visual learners, and it’s easier for us to disseminate complex health information in a video.

When you’re talking, especially in the behavioral health space, the benefit of providers talking to you, or even other people, other patients talking to you through video format, is you can convey empathy. You can convey an emotional connection and understanding that you can’t get through a 1,500 word article that you read on WebMD, which is obviously very factual and is just trying to be useful, but also rank on the CEO and all these other things. I think people want to have things explained to them in a format that is easy to understand. They want a mode of content that they can relate to. They want authenticity, which is something that you get in abundance with TikTok because it’s user- generated content, either through people who have been through the same thing as you, or from people who treat the thing that you’re going through.

That is a massive pro of TikTok, but it’s also a con. If you’re thinking about being on TikTok is that you’re probably not going to be successful on TikTok with a very polished ad or using stock photography or stock video. It has to be a genuine and authentic piece of creative that connects to that user and that feels native to that platform. That means it’s healthcare providers, employees at that organization, or potentially, patients of that organization, even actually generating content that is meaningful and authentic. Not, “Hey, here’s [unintelligible 00:06:03] script, let’s just read off this.” It’s not necessarily promotional, it’s much more educational.

That just something to bear in mind is advertising campaigns in terms of the creative lift are to some extent, going to be easier, in that you don’t need a professional camera crew, you can just do it on your phone, but the content has to be authentic and heartfelt and really resonate with the person.

Lauren: It’s going to be a departure from everything else you might be doing in your marketing strategy. If you don’t think about it differently, like you mentioned, and you try to squeeze it into maybe the video you’ve already captured some of what you’re already doing, that really polished piece of content, it’s going to have the opposite effect on a channel like TikTok. It’s going to feel very disingenuous, it’s going to feel very inauthentic, and reflect potentially poorly on your organization. It is, I think, creatives, asset point of view on usage of the platform from within the organization is probably the biggest hurdle right now to organizations being willing and ready to jump on it.

Rich: Yes, and the the other thing too is because it’s a social network, if you get it wrong, you can really get some serious backlash from other people on that network. Not just people who are viewing it, who are commenting, but potentially other healthcare professionals. If you post something that is not very well thought out, or people in the medical profession really disagree with, or there’s strong opinions on it and they have huge amounts of followers on TikTok, they may come at you and post comments on your post or on your ads. That’s going to create potentially a bit of a stir for you.

That’s just another thing to be careful of. Not to put anybody off TikTok, but you just need to be really careful about how things are going to be perceived both by your prospective audience, but also by other potential healthcare influencers that are on TikTok that may have an opinion about the content that you’re putting out.

Lauren: On the topic of authenticity, I think it’s also very challenging to think about your brand as the face of your TikTok efforts, and perhaps try to identify an individual or group of individuals within your organization that can be that face. Maybe it’s a provider who’s charismatic and great bedside manner, great reputation. It’s through that individual or a group of let’s say, maybe your awesome dental hygienist team that wants to get a TikTok started and put content out there. To do it from a a true brand page is going to be challenging. What are the challenges that that poses for companies that are looking to get on TikTok?

Rich: You can’t just jump in without a strategy. I think there are numerous examples of brands who have done a good job. Usually, they’re working in association maybe with a particular nonprofit or something, whereby they’re trying to draw awareness around a certain issue that might be affecting that audience on TikTok. There’s been instances where companies like Trojan have done stuff around safe sex because obviously, that’s the audience that is the 16 to 18-year-old audience that’s on TikTok, that’s something that is highly relevant to them and some of the medical concerns that they’re most likely to have at that age group.

Then you have other brands who weighed in, and try and engage with that audience, whereby it doesn’t go down so well. There was an example of Vagisil doing this, whereby they got called out for vulva shaming. There was a lot of negative commentary online, especially from medical influencers, healthcare influencers on TikTok, and so you’ve got to be careful. I think, again, it’s easier for an individual to create emotional connections with their audience and to essentially be a persona that people can get behind and follow and enjoy the content that they put out and become an influencer than for a brand, to your point. I think brands have to be very strategic about how they get into the TikTok, whereas an individual, it can be a lot more organic.

Lauren: All right, Rich, thanks again for joining us on Ignite. We appreciate you all listening. Please like, share, subscribe wherever you’re listening, and we hope to see you guys again next time.


Announcer: Thanks for listening to this episode of Ignite. Interested in keeping up with the latest trends in healthcare marketing? Subscribe to our podcast and leave a rating and review. For more healthcare marketing tips, visit our blog at cardinaldigitalmarketing.com.


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