Aaron Watkins, Senior Director of Internet Strategy, Johns Hopkins MedicineAaron Watkins has worked for years to blow the doors off of silos at one of the world’s most renowned academic medical institutions, Johns Hopkins. Has your Internet strategy team ever run ads on Facebook and LinkedIn targeting employees? Have you grown too tired of saying the same things over and over? Learn easy-to-implement tips for gaining organizational buy-in for digital marketing, from building the right teams to establishing the relationships to socializing your Web strategy.

Show notes

Air Date: January 27, 2016
Guest: Aaron Watkins, Senior Director of Internet Strategy, Johns Hopkins Medicine

1:20 Challenging the status quo: Content Marketing is NOT just for lead generation
3:31 Introducing Aaron Watkins
5:50 Johns Hopkins panel at HCIC – intersection of social media, PR and crisis communications
7:01 Building the right health care digital marketing team
10:45 3 goals for health care digital marketing
13:18 Keys to socializing Web strategy within a large organization
15:20 Being patient and looking for the opportunities to set common goals
19:18 Succeeding in a meeting-heavy culture
21:10 What types of research to do with your Web content
24:45 Summarizing key points
26:04 Run social ads to point employees to your internal blog
27:38 Bonus question: If you could join a music group or rock band for a day, who would it be?

About Aaron Watkins

My guest this week is Aaron Watkins. Aaron has been leading Johns Hopkins Medicine’s first integrated strategic team of Internet and digital professionals since December 2007. As the Senior Director of Internet Strategy, Aaron leads the Internet Strategy Team in the creation and execution of a comprehensive online strategy including content creation and development, user-centered design and development, Internet marketing and social engagement, and data-driven performance analysis.

You can reach him on Twitter at @aaronwatkins.

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Full transcript

Jared Johnson: Hello, my friends and welcome to Health IT Marketer podcast, the podcast for the heartbeat of healthcare. I am your host, Jared Johnson of Ultera Digital. This is the first and only podcast dedicated to the health IT marketing community. Welcome aboard.

If I didn’t know any better I’d say we’re building a community of healthcare podcasters. As you know we have our weekly Health Care Podcasters Blab on Mondays at noon Eastern. This week’s was the best attended yet. We had Colin Hung as our guest and at some points the conversations going on in the comments almost resembled how quickly they fly by during a tweet chat which is ironic because the subject was healthcare tweet chats. So it was really cool, really a lot of fun to see how many folks were joining us.

Many of you listeners were on that Blab. We appreciate that support there. I’d like to think that between myself and Janet Kennedy and Joe Lavelle and Todd Eury that we’re doing something a little different there, that we’re doing something that is of value in addition to this program. I hope you’re enjoying that opportunity each week again on Mondays at noon Eastern.

I’m also on a mission to preach what content marketing is not. For instance, content marketing is not dressing up your sales brochure as blog posts or video testimonials. So while a blog post should have a call to action at the end, that still doesn’t mean it ought to be overly promotional. So if all it says is, “Hey, look how awesome we are,” then it isn’t really content. Content is providing something of value to your customers, prospects, to your audience regardless of whether or not they use your product or service.

So if you create those materials, great. But call them what they are. Those are sales brochures. If a blog post is meant to say all the awesome things about your features and benefits, great. But call it what it is. That’s a sales material. That’s not content.

So this week I’m going to challenge the assertion that content marketing is only for lead generation and I’m going to use an example that we’ve all gone through. How do you feel when you’ve been a loyal customer of a cell phone carrier or a cable provider and you see a promo deal that’s better than the one you’ve got now, that’s better than the contract that you’re currently on? Then you see those little words, “For new customers only.” How does that make you feel for your loyalty over the years? Do we do the same thing with our best content?

Do we slave over the question of whether or not to gate our content and require email addresses and other information to download our e-book rather than for sharing it with existing customers? If that content, whether it’s an e-book or a video channel or an infographic, if it’s packed with as much insight as we claim it is, wouldn’t your customers want to see it too? Isn’t there something to be said for having retention as a content goal as well? I will leave with that. We would be mindful to think of ways to use our content for current patients and customers. So I wanted to give you something to think about there as well.

Content marketing does not mean it’s only for lead generation. That may be the primary goal but we can’t lose sight of where else that content can be good for us and our organizations.

So this week’s guest is Aaron Watkins who’s been leading Johns Hopkins Medicine’s strategic team. He’s actually been leading their first strategic integrated team of Internet and digital professionals since December 2007.

As the Senior Director of Internet strategy, Aaron leads their Internet strategy team in the creation and execution of a comprehensive online strategy. That includes many different aspects of that such as contact creation and development, user centered design and development, internet marketing, social engagement and data driven performance analysis, pretty much all the things that you, as our listeners, are wanting to learn more about.

So I wanted to welcome, first and foremost, Aaron to the program. How are you doing today, Aaron?

Aaron Watkins: I am great. Thanks for having me. I love the podcast. I’m excited to be here.

Jared Johnson: Wonderful. I know there’s a snow event going on near you actually this weekend.

Aaron Watkins: Yes.

Jared Johnson: How is that all working out for you?

Aaron Watkins: We are just waiting and waiting and waiting. There’s been lots of hype over the last week or so. It is supposed to hit any moment. By the time when we finish maybe I’ll see the first flakes.

Jared Johnson: So by the time people actually hear this episode it may have come and gone.

Aaron Watkins: Knowing Baltimore, we may still be buried. It takes a couple of days for Baltimore to dig out.

Jared Johnson: That’s what I hear.

Aaron Watkins: It’s interesting, yeah. It takes a little while. But it’s fun.

Jared Johnson: Doesn’t happen every week there, does it, in the winter?

Aaron Watkins: No, it happens more than we want to admit. We like to think we’re the South, but we get a couple of snowstorms every year now. They’re usually pretty big. But it’s fun. I’m looking forward to doing some sledding with my daughter this weekend.

Jared Johnson: Excellent, very good. It sounds like you know what to do when this stuff happens then.

Aaron Watkins: Exactly.

Jared Johnson: Perfect. So for our listeners, Aaron, you and I met at HCIC, the Health Care Internet Conference in November. I remember I was sitting at a panel of a couple of your other staff members there. Do you want to tell our listeners a little bit more about . . . maybe that’s a good way for us to introduce yourself to the program. It was a couple of other members of your team who were talking about topics similar to what you and I are going to discuss today. But they had one specific part of it, what was that panel about? Do you recall?

Aaron Watkins on the Health IT Marketer Podcast

Aaron Watkins: I do. There were a few things. One, they were talking about the intersection of social media and media relations crisis communications and how our teams interact in those situations, the dashboards that we have in place, the control center that we have in place during those situations. That was one topic.

They also got into wearables and some of the new technology, new trends and things that we saw coming in the future. That was a three-hour session our Internet marketing manager, excuse me, our Director of Internet Marketing, Therese Lockemy was on that panel and just did a great job.

Jared Johnson: I remember one point in that panel discussion we were talking about, how do you assemble the right team for an internet marketing strategy at a provider at any level? How do you know what skill sets to hire for and how do you keep them engaged and those kinds of things? It was a fascinating topic.

Aaron Watkins: It’s great. I’ve heard some other people on your podcast talk about how healthcare struggles with hiring great technology professionals. I think what I’m saying more and more is a lot of health systems have great technology professionals. They just don’t have enough of them and they don’t have the bandwidth to handle the things that are coming at them. I thought that panel, the audience, the questions they asked, I thought really demonstrated that.

Jared Johnson: Yeah, and you’ve been in the thick of this for a while, haven’t you? Because you’ve been with Johns Hopkins since 2007. How have things evolved from your standpoint in these, gosh, we’re going on nine years now.

Aaron Watkins: Yeah, it’s hard to believe. To me, it’s great. I mean, the first few years were really tough going. The last two to three years have just been incredible where so many opportunities have opened up to us. We have deeper collaboration across the organization and a lot of things in place to just help us be more successful and just help us have a more enjoyable day where we’re really getting to solve problems.

There’s also a lot of things that we’re just scratching the surface of, that we’re maybe doing pilots or we’re in discussions and trying to get the right people in the room. There’s a big future for us as well.

But, really, when I look at our team and how we’ve evolved and how we’ve been accepted in the institution, it’s night and day. We’ve really become a part of the culture here and affected a lot of great change.

Jared Johnson: Do you mind giving us a little glimpse of what your team looks like there? You mentioned Director of Internet Marketing. Do you mind sharing approximately what size the team you have and what types of roles they play?

Aaron Watkins: Sure. Should I give a little background, too, on really what we’re trying to do and then maybe talk a bit more about the team?

Jared Johnson: Yeah, perfect.

Aaron Watkins: Cool. So when our team was formed, a lot of academic medical institutions, there’s a lot of silos and previous, everyone had just been approaching the web independently. HopkinsMedicine.org, it existed as an umbrella site with a handful hodgepodge of organizational websites on it, the occasional research lab or a small department or something like that. But it was by no means a comprehensive site. What we had was a situation where there were literally hundreds of websites. I did an audit my first week here, found over 500.

I hadn’t even gotten into our research and our faculty websites at that point. So I knew and, in fact, I was overwhelmed and what a mess it was. What we really started to work at was bringing people together, integrating them onto one platform on the consolidated web channels and organizing around centralized strategies.

So what I like to say internally is that we’re working to connect the people of the world with the people of Johns Hopkins Medicine. I say that because there really truly are people on both sides of that equation. Ultimately, you’re trying to create that human connection whether it’s happening digitally, whether it’s actually connecting a patient or a caregiver to the right doctor or a researcher to another researcher from all around the world, whatever it is, ultimately, you’re connecting people to people.

So there’s three big things that could encapsulate what our core goals are. One, we’re trying to create that access to just the breadth of Hopkins research and care and education. We want to create an enjoyable experience, a brand experience where people get to the people that they’re trying to connect with.

Two, we’re really working to create engaging content that presents our faculty physicians and really help show the science of medicine and groundbreaking research especially here but not only here. We want to share how healthcare is changing.

Lastly, we want to reach audiences wherever they are. So hopkinsmedicine.org is that central channel but, of course . . . and really we’re trying to draw in five people. We’re trying to reach the unsearched. But we also want to be heavy in social and we want to engage people wherever they’re talking about topics that interest us from a clinical or scientific perspective. We’re working to make those connections.

When we look at the team, I break it into four categories. There’s our market analysis, user analysis piece. There is our marketing group which is led by Therese Lockemy. That’s social. That’s search. That’s all the things you’d expect. There is our content creation group which is really our largest group. It’s led by a woman, Stacia Jesner who’s been developing health content for all of her career. She’s amazing.

Then lastly we have that technical, the development side. What’s unique about that and what I really try and communicate internally is we build websites but really what we’re trying to create is this integrated experience and bridge technologies. From a technical standpoint that’s pretty complicated, right? There’s a lot of systems that we’re trying to connect.

So the team, all told, I’m not always crazy about giving out numbers of the team because I think, executives, when I get asked that question about other healthcare systems, they want more context to it, what are those teams. But roughly we have about 20, 25 people, counting contractors and others. That’s grown from a group of three when I first got here.

Jared Johnson: Yeah, one of those things that you’ve spoken with me about wanting to achieve this socializing web strategy within the organization, you mentioned that it’s similar to other academic organizations. However, there are a lot of things that you guys have been able to figure out. There are a lot of things you’ve been able to discover along the way while trying to do that within an organization that you said yourself is pretty siloed. What are some of those things that you’ve learned as you’ve been on this journey?

Aaron Watkins: I think part of my perspective on this and when I talk to other people in healthcare systems, you hear a lot of people who just feel like their organization isn’t listening. I read a really interesting article. I don’t know if you know who Jared Spool is. He founded User Interface Engineering, one of the early UX leaders. They’ve been around for about 20 years.

He was talking about the fact that he often gets asked by people to come in and convince executives to engage in more user research to really understand their audiences. He does not take those jobs. He’s never had success changing a leadership’s mindset regarding the value of user input.

So when reading that, it validated the fact that really that’s our job. If we’re in healthcare and you’re in an organization, your organization is wherever it is and incorporating your audiences into the day-to-day. Ultimately, what I really want to do is connect in all of our leaders’ minds the understanding that the web is a huge part of patient experience. It is, in many cases, the only brand touchpoint they’ll have with us because we have a goal to educate people around the world. It’s just the key experience point of anyone who’s engaging us. So I really work to communicate that.

When I started in this role, I was really frustrated. I felt like I bring a lot of expertise. I’ve been doing this, building websites and doing it since the mid ’90s. But what I found was a lot of people working independently and not really wanting to listen. I was really frustrated and I talked to the successful executive in DC who I met through a networking group. He was like, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. If you’ve said something 29 times, you’re just getting warmed up.”

That really resonated with me. I realized we really have to work as educators in our institutions and keep repeating the same things and keep looking for those people who it resonates with and who can then start to collaborate. I found that once I started doing that, it was actually a lot easier. I used to go in and really show lots of data and just share all the great things we were doing. But really you have to be patient and look for the opportunities to establish that you’re working for common goals.

As an example, findability of content is our biggest challenge as an organization. That reflects what a big enterprise we are. It goes to our core goal of my team. We want HopkinsMedicine.org at the top of search engines. We definitely want a great search experience. When people are on our site, we want them to get to the information that they need.

But when I first started it’s like people didn’t realize that. They would tell me we’re not doing well enough on search. It was an argument. I would sit back and instead of leading with data I started to learn to wait and hear what things did people bring up.

If they start talking about frustration that they’re not at the top of search for a certain thing, that’s when I jump in and talk about, “You’re absolutely right. Findability, when we do any testing, findability of information is our key problem and here’s what we’re doing to address that kind of thing.”

So I think the core message is focus on the simplest of problems and establish those common goals before you go in and do anything else in a conversation.

Jared Johnson: How do you gain organizational support then for that with those, like you were saying, those who are telling you that, “Hey, we need to rank better.”

Aaron Watkins: Right. Again, we’ve got strategic documents and those kinds of things that circulate. They don’t always get to everyone for one thing. But also they might not be read. They might not be remembered at the time of the conversation. In those meetings it’s critical to bring it up.

I think one of the things that I really learned as well, if we look at some of the people we commonly interact with, I used to assume that people really understood Johns Hopkins Medicine, that if you’re a faculty member, whether you’re research, clinical, usually both, if you’re an executive, that you have a complete view. The reality is a lot of people are working in a silo and what I found is after a few years of being here, I’d actually presented to committees that some of our faculty had never even heard of as an example.

It solidified how much value I could bring into conversations and that when I was hearing our faculty express concerns that I can actually inform them not just about the web but about what is happening in other aspects of the organization. I try and play that support role whenever I can and try and build relationships within the organization whenever I can.

Another key thing I found, is it’s a meeting heavy culture and a lot of healthcare organizations are. When you look at an organization like this there’s a lot of leaders. There’s a lot of people making hard decisions every day and acting on that, perhaps, with little information at that point in time. It’s often in the context of a meeting where they’re on stage. People are looking to them to be that leader and make that decision.

So the two things that I try and do with that. One, I try and socialize ideas before we get into those meetings. I try and make the connection with the person who I anticipate will be the decision-maker in that meeting, whether that is a faculty member, an administrator, an executive, whoever it may be. I try and talk to them first and share what information we’re going to bring.

Within that then I really try and, again, support their goals, listen to the things that are on their minds and in that room and adjust. What I try and do is avoid a situation where we’re forcing anyone to make a decision that they might be uncomfortable with because when that happens most people fall back on a prior decision. They want to look consistent.

So if in the past they haven’t collaborated with our web team in any way, that’s probably where they’re going to land again. Again, you’ve got to build those relationships coming into the room and you’ve got to try to avoid putting anyone in a situation where they have to make a quick decision without the information and in a way that they feel like their reputation in some way is on the line in front of their peers.

Jared Johnson: What type of research do you do and how do you go about doing it?

Aaron Watkins: We’ve done numerous tests on our content over the years and evolved how we approach it. A few years ago we did a study that was really pivotal to how we approach health content, also very simple. We had a doctor who wanted to share a ton of information. He also had just two pieces of information that he wanted people to remember. One of which he considered critical. If they know this then they’ll probably decide to take action and probably with me.

We presented it how he had written it on the website. We went out to do a user test. We had an incredibly low retention of that information, that piece of information that he wanted to share. We did another round of testing where we just moved it up. We put it in a box. Basically, we created this box that we call the “what you need to know” box. It had a few bullets in it.

What we found then at the end when we tested for retention, we increased that retention by more than 58%. Once we found that we started approaching almost all of our health pages that way. You’ll almost always see some form of a box with just two, three, four points that you need to know. It’s great. It’s almost a get out of jail free card in some ways for us, too, because it allows us, one, it gives us credibility with the faculty to communicate that.

But, two, it also give us some ability to deal with longer forms of their content and share that below the page with a little more ability to edit it and guide them as well. When we did those tests, those were remote testing, hallway testing, we’d worked with an outside vendor, Aha Media, on those. But we were actually…we went to local gyms. We went to the waiting rooms. Those are kind of guerrilla tests that we did of those visitors. So additionally we had some other forms of that.

The biggest thing, the biggest foundation of all of our research is an on-site survey on HopkinsMedicine.org. It gives us more than a thousand responses every month. It gives us responses from all of our audiences which is fantastic. When I’m meeting with someone who’s concerned about education, I can say, “Well, here is what students are saying about our website. Here’s what applicants to the med school are saying about the website.” Similarly, I can talk about patients and caregivers. I’ve got great data sets for all of our key audiences.

That also becomes the foundation for how we determine what kind of guerrilla testing are we going to do or what kind of deeper testing are we going to do and how are we going to prioritize our major site projects, our major incremental design improvements. Lastly, we do some market research as well. We’ve tried to understand how do people decide. Why did they decide to come to a certain doctor? Why did they decide to come to a certain hospital? How much do rankings play into it?

How much is it about the doctor and the information they see? How much is it about what their peers are saying or what they’re seeing in online reviews? We do a good deal of research on those topics and share that internally.

Jared Johnson: So if you have to boil all this down into one or two keys for being able to socialize your web strategy and gaining that organizational support, how would you describe that?

Aaron Watkins: I think, ultimately, what I would focus anyone on and I focus everyone on my team on this, it’s you have to build relationships first. That requires a great deal of patience and especially in healthcare and especially in academic medicine. A lot of people confuse branding initiatives or some of these consolidated strategies with governance. But, really, it’s about creating a great brand experience. So for us we have to be patient. We have to be educators.

We have to be supportive of everyone that we’re engaging with to help them to understand that. It’s very hard to be seen as both a legislator and an innovator. In our group we’ve really tried to position ourselves internally along with the groups that are really getting into wearables and apps and some of these new technologies that we’re all working towards the future of medicine. We want our faculty to be a part of that.

One other thing I’ll share that we’ve done. Our team has a blog where we talk about the kinds of things we’re doing. It ebbs and flows. We’ll be really active honestly for six months, nine months and then we get buried in work. That has been really critical in communicating what we do.

Additionally, we’ve got internal publications like Insight that focus on technology. We can try and be really front and center in those. Those have just gone miles for us where when we walk around now people come to us and talk about, “Hey, I read about that thing that you were saying. I really like what you’re doing.”

One of the things, a tip that I would give to anyone who maybe is producing some kind of internal communications materials, like that, we take advantage of all our internal channels. Additionally, we market just like we would for any of our services.

So every time we post an article on our blog, we spend $50 and we target Hopkins Medicine employees on Facebook and on LinkedIn so that they’re seeing us in places that they’re seeing things they think are cool or things that their friends are sharing. So they’re seeing us away from a work environment and engaging with content there. That’s been huge for us. It’s awesome when we see on a weekend one of our faculty shared a link to an article that’s on our blog or something like that.

Just a tip for people who may be trying to communicate what they’re doing.

Jared Johnson: That’s a great tip, just thinking of how to even target your own employees, even that much more. I love it. Well, it is bonus question time.

Aaron Watkins: I love it.

Jared Johnson: You’ve been prepared for this. So the question is the same as always. If you could join a rock band or a music group for a day, who would that be?

Aaron Watkins: Yeah, so tough. My lifelong . . . the guy that I love is Bob Dylan. I’ve been a fan of his forever. I’ve seen him in concert maybe 15 times. But, man, I was just torn because I think, I’ve got to say Jack White. He has all that stuff he’s doing at Third Man Record with the recording booth and all the compilations that he puts out.

There’s so much that he’s doing beyond his own music that it’s really awesome and archives a lot of classic Americana. He’s great. Has anyone said Jack White?

Jared Johnson: No, not on either one which is a bit of a surprise. But it just goes to show the wide musical diversity of our guests.

Aaron Watkins: I know. Interesting.

Jared Johnson: I’ve had a couple of Rolling Stones and I’ve had . . .

Aaron Watkins: Yeah, I’ve heard those.

Jared Johnson: I think I’ve had U2 once or twice. It seems like there’s one other repeat here.

Aaron Watkins: Yeah, I’ve heard some country artists a few times. Man, now I feel really bad I didn’t get one in for Bob Dylan.

Jared Johnson: It’s perfect though. Well, hey, we appreciate your time again. I know it’s always, like you said, it’s always this battle we’re in constantly every day to do the things we do. I appreciate you being able to share some of these tips with our listeners. If people want to get a hold of you or connect with you in anyway, how do they do that?

Aaron Watkins: Yeah, so I’m on Twitter. It’s @aaronwatkins, A-A-R-O-N Watkins. That’s probably the easiest way.

Jared Johnson: Well, easy enough. Well, thanks again for being a guest. Like I said, hopefully we can bring you back again before too long and dive even deeper.

Aaron Watkins: I would love that.

Jared Johnson: Thanks absolutely for being a guest today, Aaron.

Aaron Watkins: Take care.

Jared Johnson: You, too. Well, that wraps up the program this week. We are now on Stitcher Radio so you can check us out there. Our listenership is growing like crazy since the new year so thanks for tuning in. Please let me know what topics and guests you would like to hear in future episodes. Coming up, we have e-Patient Dave, Dave deBronkart, Seattle Mama Doc, Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson and pediatrician and network TV parenting expert Dr. Tanya Altmann. You may have seen her on Today and Fox News as a regular contributor on TV news programs.

Until next time. I’m Jared Johnson and you’ve been listening to the Health IT Marketer podcast. This program is sponsored by Ultera Digital Marketing Consulting. Take your content further. For a full archive go to HealthITMarketer.com. That’s HealthITMarketer.com. Thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you next week.