Finding new ways to engage audiences can be an ailment for any marketer. Health resource HealthCentral.com found its own personal cure through content marketing and its “Stories that Inspire Us” campaign.
Early symptoms of inspiration
“Stories that Inspire Us”—which is part of HealthCentral.com’s overarching “Live Bold, Live Now” initiative—was born out of inspiration derived from The Guardian’s content series “Firestorm.” The wildfire series enabled readers to scroll through various audio, text, photo, and video elements that, when put together, told a seamless story.
Using “Firestorm” as a model, HealthCentral.com decided to launch its own content series and tell inspirational stories about people living with various medical conditions.
“There is obvious drama in wildfire,” says Rebecca Farwell, chief content officer of HealthCentral.com’s parent company Remedy Health Media, “but we have always believed that the quiet challenges, the hard-won victories, and the things that people go through as they conquer their own fears and challenges and have their family support was really dramatic, [as well].”
So, after securing enough funding through sponsorships, HealthCentral launched the campaign in January 2014 to connect and engage people through stories and, in turn, motivate them to enhance their well-being. Doing so, Farwell says, would not only help the brand stand out from its competitors, but also drive sponsorships.
“Our goals for this [campaign] were to tell a story in a different way and do something that nobody else on any of the other health sites—that we know of—were doing,” she says. “[We also wanted] to connect people to inspiring stories and to make a difference. We believe that if we [do] that, then from a sponsorship standpoint, we have to be able to say to the sponsors—who make these programs possible—‘Look, your money made a big difference.’”
An engaging remedy
HealthCentral.com kicked off the series with three stories: one about psoriasis, one about rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and one about Crohn’s Disease. Later that year HealthCentral.com did additional stories; one on Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and one about epilepsy. And the health resource isn’t stopping there. According to Farwell, HealthCentral.com intends to produce 11 stories this year.
Farwell describes the content series as immersive because it includes both longer, documentary-style content called “journeys,” as well as shorter “turning point” moments, which show people having their aha moments and realizing how they can live life to the fullest with their medical conditions.
Granted, not everyone is willing to share such personal stories. So, HealthCentral.com relies on its online communities, as well as its relationships with various advocacy groups, associations, and foundations to find those who are. And the value of this emotional connection is reinforced time and time again.
“You can tell somebody that there’s an approach to fighting MS or that there’s an approach and a way of incorporating yoga into how you deal with the stress or an illness…and you can write an article or put it in a structured reference, but it doesn’t have the same effect of having somebody who you can identify with share their story in an emotionally engaging way and have that aha moment for you,” Farwell says.
And HealthCentral.com isn’t the only one producing this content. The health resource has created a section on its website where community members can share their own experiences through blog posts.
To help draw readers to the stories, HealthCentral.com relies on its social channels and relationships with its foundations. But email also plays a crucial role. When people visit HealthCentral.com, they can sign up for condition-specific newsletters. For instance, they can subscribe to receive information about MS, general healthy living, or RA. The site can also cross-promote stories through an alert platform that it created with its medical partners, in which people can also opt to receive notifications about 23 different medical conditions.
Since launching the content series, HealthCentral.com has experienced a 30% increase in annual revenue growth rate. And people aren’t just clicking on the content; they’re engaging with it. According to Farwell, people are, on average, spending 17 to 18 minutes consuming the content. And when the site surveys its visitors about what the content means to them and what they intend to do next, the results are, as Farwell puts it, “off the charts.”
The success of the content series has inspired HealthCentral.com to expand the program. For instance, the health resource intends to introduce more stories this year, broaden the program onto its sister site, TheBody.com (a site centered on HIV/AIDS), and establish “Your Treatment Team”—a new program designed to increase better outcomes for new patients.
The site has made a few technological improvements, as well. For example, instead of having to build each immersive content experience from scratch as it did in the past, HealthCentral.com’s technology team built the brand a “turn-key solution” that makes it easier for producers to generate content, Farwell says. In addition, she would like to enhance readers’ story-sharing experiences. Rather than writing a simple blog post, she’d like to enable site visitors to create immersive experiences and filter them based on condition. She hopes to have this completed by later this year.
And while the site is producing some healthy results, the real win is creating a more engaging and communal experience for the HealthCentral.com user.
“When you’re a business, you use terms like margins, page views, and all of those things because we’re scrappy and we’re bottom line-oriented,” Farwell says. “But the truth is that that’s corporate speak. We, as the people who are serving an audience, don’t ask when we’re serving them what can people do for our business, but what can we do for them? How can we take care of them? How can we be loyal to them? Because when we do that well, the metrics take care of themselves.”