Senior living providers that have historically been wary to invest in social media may want to think twice, if the success rate of the New England-based provider is any indication of how powerful these tools can be to drive occupancy. Naysayers of social media may simply not be using these platforms to their full potential to reap rewards.
Northbridge Companies, a privately owned senior housing developer, owner and management business, has been heavily investing in its social media department for a decade, and it’s paying off. About 70% of the company’s new leads come from social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and outside referral companies, according to co-founder Wendy Nowokunski.
With a dedicated team of millennials on the front lines of the company’s social media department, the focus is reflective of a changing consumer and workforce culture.
A Long-Term Online Vision
As the business expanded from its inception in 2003, Northbridge has invested in its online presence and targeted its marketing toward the adult children of residents. The company operates 15 communities in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, with three new communities opening in Maine later this year.
“We have a whole social media department because we’ve learned that for the adult children of our residents, it’s the way in which they all work,” Nowokunski tells Senior Housing News. “About 70% of all of our new leads come through social media. It’s amazing. We do a tremendous amount with Facebook and with our website.”
The social media focus provides families with more information on the Northbridge residences, which gives the company a leg up once those prospective residents and family members come through the door, CEO and co-founder James Coughlin tells SHN. The result is that those families have already done some homework on the community, much like they would when booking a hotel stay, according to Coughlin.
“We have three people in that department and all they do is social media,” Coughlin says. “That started our second year of business. It was a real eye opener for us. As we start catering to the parents and the baby boomers, families that are walking through the door have already pre-qualified us. They’ve done all the research, they know our rates..”
With a decade of social media campaigns under its belt, Northbridge may be ahead of the curve.
“Social media platforms are getting better and better,” Coughlin says. “It’s all about thinking about the customer experience. How are you going to engage those folks and get the messaging out consistently?”
Providers not spending time and money on social media are likely missing an opportunity, says Coughlin.
“It’s a huge investment,” Coughlin says. “We’ve developed measurement tools that backtest where we are getting the value for our investment. It really takes some long-term thinking about how you’re going to approach this. If we don’t have that front-end fully thought out then we are going to miss that opportunity to even get them in the front door.”
Northbridge also invests in traditional methods of marketing, such as direct mail and print media advertisements. The bulk of the company’s online presence brings family members and prospective residents back to the social media pages. About 20% of the social media leads also stem from outside referral sources, including A Place for Mom and Caring.com, according to Nowokunski.
“We do traditional types of marketing, but everything drives to the social media,” Nowokunski says.
In addition to the major investment and commitment to social media, the co-founders attribute the success of their campaigns and strong referral sources to their millennial workforce. The team even produced a viral video recently, and the idea came from its young workforce at Avita of Stroudwater in Westbrook, Maine. The community is one of Northbridge’s standalone memory care communities that operates under the Avita memory care brand of the company.
The video, which was produced to drive donations for the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, depicts residents and staff members at the community doing daily activities like painting, dancing and gardening, and has been viewed more than 40,000 times on Facebook in a matter of weeks. The video shows staff members, residents and families holding up an Avita sign with empowering messages about the fight to cure Alzheimer’s disease, such as, “I still have a lot of fight left in me.”
“The whole staff wanted to do something to showcase what they do and how our residents really do still have a voice and are enjoying life,” Nokowoski says. “It was local students that put it together for us.”
With a budget of about $1,000 to produce the video, it’s success is helping drive leads and is a prime example of the strength and innovative ideas from the millennial workforce, the co-founders say. The project is also reflective of the workforce the company has found in Maine.
While the industry at large is facing a shortage of qualified health care staff, Northbridge has been able to overcome these headwinds in Maine. With three new communities opening up in the state, Northbirdge has bet on a relatively untapped workforce, which the co-founders have called their “best-kept secret.”
“The recruiting and hiring in Maine is going well because there are not a lot of employment opportunities there,” Nowokunsi says. “It’s been terrific to see the amount of interest, and we already have a good core team. What’s fascinating about the team is that they are all millennials, all of them. They are extremely passionate and that passion is so contagious.”
Written by Amy Baxter