“Before you invest in a tattoo artist, you want to see their portfolio of work. Treatment is the same way — you want to see a ‘portfolio’ of other people who have come out of the program and are living full lives in recovery.” — Josh Zeises, Director of Alumni and Patient Experience at JourneyPure.
Josh’s analogy drives home a valid point: it isn’t necessarily the caliber of your programs that builds a solid reputation for your facility — it’s your alumni who are proof that your programs can work.
So how do you ensure that your alumni are living their fullest lives post-treatment? Through consistent support and communication. I sat down with Josh to learn how his team stays connected with alumni well past the final days of treatment.
Kelsey: Social media can be a great way to stay connected with alumni once they’ve completed treatment; however, HIPAA compliance is often a concern. How do you actively engage with your alumni on social media and maintain compliance?
Josh: That’s a tricky question and it’s always a good idea to consult a legal team. We’re a bit unique in our approach to connecting with alumni on social media. We have alumni coordinators on-site during treatment who connect with clients during group sessions. Once per week we give clients free time on their phones, and our alumni coordinators approach everyone and ask them if they are engaged on social media. If they are, we invite them to friend us on Facebook. We let them know that if any time they are uncomfortable being friends with us on a personal page, they can always unfriend us.
As far as communicating with alumni on public-facing social media channels, we utilize professional Facebook pages and never give out any patient information. We make sure patients know that:
a.) they are signing something on their way out the door that affords consent to follow up on social media.
b.) that everything on social media is completely voluntary and they have the option to opt-out of communication.
Kelsey: Once someone opts-in to communication, what approaches do you use to keep them engaged?
Josh: We built an app in-house, which we use for one-on-one recovery coaching post-treatment. The app is designed to fulfill a discharge plan that is individually focused for each and every alumni based on their specific aftercare plan. When we followup with patients on the phone, we can actually dig in and engage by asking them about specific logs they entered in the app. For example, we can ask them why they haven’t found a sponsor yet, or why they haven’t been to as many meetings as was indicated in their discharge plan.
Since it’s a proprietary tool, we have the opportunity to tweak and change communication based on feedback from alumni. We ask them what works for them and what doesn’t, then change things as we go along.
Kelsey: That sounds like an incredible tool, and something worth investing in. What can treatment centers do to engage with alumni online if they are unable to invest in an app immediately?
Josh: I utilize any and all forms of communication that I can. Obviously Facebook is a huge attractor of people in the alumni population, and a great first step is posting content where your audience is. However, another component of successful engagement is understanding what your audience actually wants. For example, if I put up an article about why a particular celebrity thinks drugs are harmful, my alumni simply won’t engage. But if I post a funny yet tasteful meme about recovery, my alumni will comment and share.
Another component of successful engagement is understanding what your audience actually wants.
Another recent example was a very simple post displaying a map with text that said “share your area code.” Everyone wanted to shout out where they were originally from and mark their area code and hometown.
The bottom line: posting content that’s relevant to your alumni and invites participation will allow you to build deeper relationships on social channels.
Kelsey: I love those ideas. What are some other creative ways you connect with alumni on social media or other online platforms?
Josh: A lot of times alumni coordinators are able to develop meaningful relationships with alumni on Facebook. From there, they are able to find other “secret” groups created by other alumni. These secret groups are often satire groups that allow for more open and raw conversation. Your coordinators can become involved in those groups and find authentic ways to connect with alumni in less formalized settings.
Another creative way to find former clients is by asking active alumni to invite their friends or tag their friends below particular posts. In this way, our alumni are doing the work for us without too much investigating to find our other clients.
Kelsey: Outside of social media, what other technology platforms do you use to maintain your alumni network?
Josh: I mentioned our proprietary app, which is used for one-on-one communication with clients, but we also utilize a community-based app that we created with an outside vendor. The app provides a feed for alumni to engage on a HIPAA compliant platform. Loved ones can also use the app to stay in touch with other families that they met at family week or other events.
Kelsey: Personal connection and “real” human interaction is so important for alumni in their continued recovery. How does technology ultimately enable person-to-person connection?
Josh: If you’re not leveraging all of the technology at your disposal, you’re falling way short of connection potential. Connectivity is so important for so many reasons:
When I’m training an alumni coordinator on the different ways to get in touch with someone post-discharge, I compare it to the urgency of finding a missing loved one. If you think a friend or family member is missing, you’re going to try multiple forms of communication to get in touch with them. The same should be said for communicating with your clients. If you rely on one form of communication, you may not reach your alumni. Maybe they’ve turned off their phone or changed their email address. It’s important to diversify your communication tactics.
Kelsey: Thanks Josh, you’ve given us a lot of food for thought. Let’s wrap things up with a final word on why all of this is so important. What’s the benefit of investing in a healthy alumni program?
Josh: Many people will cite referrals as the greatest reason you should invest in alumni programs, but I see that as the cherry on top. At the end of the day it’s about doing right by the patient. If you do right by your patients, good things will happen. I know this to be true because I’ve seen it myself.
Alumni are the perfect opportunity to build brand loyalty, recognition and a solid online reputation through positive reviews. Your alumni are the foundation of your brand. Being seen in a positive light requires you to treat your patients well.