The story of TransforMED's Delta-Exchange, powered by Igloo’s online platform, is a story about the potential of social media to convert engagement into business, social and customer value, and to do so on a continuous basis
What do you do to attract and keep customers in an environment in which consumers have so many options and resources it is hard to stand out? In all my years of working with associations, universities and businesses this was the ultimate question underlying all other concerns-no matter how lofty they sounded. The answers I got all pointed to processes: improved communications, membership and renewal campaigns, new programs and websites. With social media in the picture, "engagement" figures heavily in the mix. But for the most part, at least among associations and other non profits, the use of social media has not made enough of a dent on core business, especially in stemming attrition or generating revenue. Most executives utilize social media because of the pressure the feel to keep up but are at a loss over how to use it. Perhaps the right questions are not being asked.
Suppose you met your goals of "engagement," and your customers are now engaged in one particular community. What now? Will engagement, in itself, automatically turn into sales, new positioning or the right, strategic relationships that you need to grow? Will it increase the actual value customers will derive from your company?
Social media have opened up entirely new options but it takes the right value-generating strategy to guide a community beyond social engagement to strategic outcomes. In the end, it is not about social media at all but the value you deliver to people.
The story I see in TransforMED's Delta-Exchange, powered by Igloo's online platform, is one of utilizing social media, not simply to engage for its own sake, but to create distinctive and sustainable customer and business value. Delta is a learning-based social networking site for primary care practices who want on-going support to transform their practice models and sustain the new success they achieved. Access to the network is limited to paid subscribers.
The story begins with an important report, The Future of Family Medicine Report, and its recommendations for a dramatic re-design of the family practice model, "to meet the needs of patients in a changing health care environment." The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) took a leadership role. It created a new subsidiary, TransforMED, which put the FFM recommendations into action though the launching of the Delta Exchange.
Though I am still in the process of researching the Delta model, it seems clear that it is already a success. In less than a year of operation The Delta Exchange is financially self-sustaining and has converted approximately 11% of AAFP's members to Delta subscribers (which means paying for subscription in addition to their membership fees).
Even though it is still too early to draw conclusions, I suggest that there is plenty to learn from the Delta case about making a virtual community both profitable and essential to the growth of an organization and industry. The elements I see as contributing to the success of this model and applicable to other communities include:
- A Customer-Centered Process of Development: TranforMed first created a laboratory community, The National Demonstration Project (NDP), in which thirty-six family medicine practices from all across the United States were engaged in implementing and evaluating the new, patient-centered practice model. The Delta Exchange was a natural outgrowth of this laboratory community, hende was clearly demand-driven.
- Creating Powerful Incentives: Proof of Concept and Intellectual Capital: The NDP demonstrated the value of the new practice model by achieving a 10% increase in the revenue of the participating practices that made use of their expert facilitation. Hence demand was established for the model through proof of concept rather than the conventional product development -sales- and -marketing sequence. Also, through NDP new tools and methodologies were developed to support practice re-design, increasing incentives for participation.
- Deep and Nuanced Understanding of the Customer. Four "lessons learned" during the NPD were instrumental to the design of Delta:
- To enable and sustain model transformation, support had to be provided on a continuing basis rather than through one time projects
- To be effective, change had to be supported on all aspects of a practice
- Physicians and staff shared a sense of isolation, that was detrimental to both morale and performance.
- Family practices have a culture of independence--a "Do-It-Yourself" attitude-yet yearned for collaboration, communication and peer support
- Leveraging the options of the Igloo platform strategically to come up with a model that responded to the needs they uncovered.
To convert a peer community into a revenue-generating service, a business model had to be constructed. Its basis was an online network that balanced member-driven discussions with structured learning formats and consulting facilitation to enable independent-minded physicians to re-orient their practices to today's healthcare environment. Defining elements in the business model included:
- The use of an online platform to create a learning environment on which they could aggregate, organize, store share and configure into the right, customized packages, all the elements that were essential to the success of a subscriber's practice
- Several available tracks so that the entire staff of a practice could participate as individuals for a monthly fee of $30 per subscriber. In this way, Delta could serve the needs of a practice across the board and facilitate holistic, practice-wide change.
- Consultative support for practice transformation
- Content resources, including a portfolio of best practices
- Moderately priced and high-value generating
- Self-sustainable through subscriptions.
Specific Benefits and Features
Subscribers enter the site as if they were entering a university campus. Once inside, they can choose from a menu of services including:
- Online discussions with peers
- Optional, private work zones for physicians, clinical staff, office staff and residency programs
- Interactive online seminars on important practice topics
- Highly experienced Practice Facilitators
- Interact in live sessions or review them later at their own pace
- Track discussions, topics, or the site activities of colleagues, experts and innovators
- Create personal profiles
- Access a host of resources
- Ask for customized Virtual Facilitation
Like other successful, profit-generating professional communities Delta Exchange brought people together to achieve specific outcomes: improve the performance of their practices. The community's value is based on the fact that subscribers can achieve far better outcomes through the community than they ever could without it. Online relationships replicate the economic and professional relationships one must engage in outside the community in order to compete successfully.
In essence, through the Delta Exchange a new membership service and model were created, while, simultaneously, improving the model of family practice and converting practitioners into new users. They successfully recruited and retained paying members and achieved financial independence in less than a year outside the conventional processes for research, program development, marketing, and recruitment.
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