It’s been a year since I joined Phonak as Social Media Manager/Strategist. Previously I worked for a young, cool, and fun watch brand that was the perfect fit for social media. When I decided to change companies people asked me: “Why on earth would you leave your current job to work for the hearing aid industry?” My answer could be summed up in one word: engagement. The kind of engagement Brian Solis has so often written about.
To me, it was obvious that the hard-of-hearing community would bring a deeper level of engagement than the “Wow, cool & nice!” comments that appear whenever a “cool” brand shares something on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. This community would be willing to bond deeper through social channels with the brands manufacturing the devices that truly impact their daily life.
Additionally, after doing a little bit of research, it became clear to me that there was a lot of room for improvement in the way the hearing aid manufacturing industry was using social media to connect with that community. Not one of the top six manufacturers had a strong and well-thought presence. It reinforced my motivation to help Phonak build its presence and engagement strategy.
During my first couple of months in the company I concentrated on solidifying the existing social media presence. I killed off a couple of redundant Facebook pages, claimed the @phonak Twitter account back, and created a single centralized YouTube channel, instead of having one for every product line, among other things.
The second stage consisted in starting a trial and error content strategy. I curated as much “hearing-related” content as possible, ranging from audiology blogs to Pinterest boards, and posted things randomly to see if they were generating any engagement.
Within a couple of weeks we started getting some posts on the wall of our brand new Facebook page and some casual conversations on Twitter as well. As expected, people were expressing how grateful they were to Phonak for making products that literally “gave them their life back”. This was very gratifying.
However, we also started to see the first troubleshooting and pricing questions coming from end users. This is when I started to realize how much this industry has yet to face the kind of disruption internet has brought to the music, print, software, and travel industries, to name just a few.
The hearing aid industry, I’ve learned, is an industry of B2B marketing and communication. Hearing aid manufacturers market hearing aids to hearing care professionals (HCP), who then offer those products to their patients (or clients). For companies like Phonak, the culture of communicating directly with end users is in its infancy. Social Media puts them on the fast track to learn the rules and requirements of B2C communication.
The first of these rules is to listen and reply to questions being asked, in the most helpful and transparent way possible.
However, as simple as it sounds, this is not an easy task when the main answer you are supposed to give is “Please refer back to your HCP”. You see, the main issue is that end users are considered the clients of the HCP, and the manufacturer is not supposed to interfere in that relationship. However, as a brand, simply ignoring people who are using your products and turning your back on them is not an option anymore.
In today’s world of social media communication, the end user is going to look for the Facebook page or Twitter account of the brand name that is written on the case of his hearing aid, no matter who sold it to him. And if an end user decides to engage with that brand on social media, the brand will have no choice but to show its true face. It will be revealed by how helpful the brand can be to the end user, even if it is disrupting the traditional communication protocol.
So what does it mean for the hearing aid industry as a whole?
- Hearing aid manufacturers will have to develop stronger end-user services, to respond to the growing number of requests they will be getting directly through social media from people who wear their products or inquire about them. Involving part of their workforce in answering those requests will be crucial. At Phonak we have introduced tools like Zendesk to facilitate this process and reduce the time it takes us to answer those enquiries, which range from customer service to audiology questions. We are moving towards making sure that social media is no longer a job managed only by one person (me) but a skill mastered by all employees within our organisation.
- Hearing Care Professionals will have to learn to be part of the digital conversation in order to build a three-way relationship including the end user and the manufacturer. Because of its public nature, Twitter is a great platform for those conversations. For HCP’s, it can be the first step in creating a relationship that will allow them to show how important their advice and expertise are in a fitting procedure. Ultimately, social media could become an incredible lead generator with the manufacturer playing the role of the “lead magnet” through a strong presence and engaging social marketing campaigns. HCP’s who blog and become the educators of this industry will also benefit from making available useful information.
Ultimately, there is a real opportunity here for the whole industry: to use social media to maintain the level of service and technology that end users require for a successful hearing experience. And one thing is certain: B2C social communication is not going away. How well hearing aid manufacturers embrace it will define how strong their brand is.