Brad Haller shared how Mercy developed a multi-channel campaign documenting a coworker’s bariatric surgery journey

Brad Haller, Social Media Manager at Mercy, and his team are in the midst of long-term campaign featuring a Mercy employee chronicling her bariatric surgery journey from start to finish.

Brad and his team wanted to create a campaign to organically become part of the bigger weight loss conversation happening on social media.

“Instead of doing generic pictures of people before and after weight loss surgery or success stories, we wanted to actually take it a step deeper and feature someone from start to finish,” Brad said.

They identified patient and co-worker at Mercy, Jennifer Harmon — who already knew she wanted bariatric surgery — as the person to tell that story. “We asked her to chronicle her journey from day one, when she talks to her primary care physician, all the way through the surgery and beyond,” Brad said.

According to Brad, while they hoped to raise awareness of weight loss procedures at Mercy, their goals didn’t end there.

We wanted to be transparent. It’s her voice, her words, and her journey. Brad Haller
They also wanted to drive people to sign up for weight loss seminars and download their bariatrics guide through the blog — which instantly adds that person to their lead generation tool.

“On the other end of the patient journey, that allows us to say with certainty how many people reading the blog ended up actually getting the surgery,’” Brad said. “It was more of a full circle, long-term campaign than an overnight lead-generation tactic.”

The campaign lives as a blog on Mercy’s website, but the social media component is Brad’s primary focus.

Jennifer’s blog is called Confessions of a Yo-Yo Dieter — a title she created herself. “We didn’t want to overstep and come up with anything without her initial creation,” Brad said. “We wanted to be transparent. It’s her voice, her words, and her journey.”

To track Jennifer’s writing process and create the supporting social content, Brad’s team meets with her regularly and she submits blog posts on a quarterly basis. The digital team puts together the posts, but Brad’s team plays a role in the editing process.

“We have overall jurisdiction when it comes to the calendar,” he said. “Our social team decides exactly when the latest blog post should go out depending on the national narrative on weight loss or the time of year.” For example, New Year’s may seem like a logical time to put out weight loss content but, according to Brad, social media becomes oversaturated, so his team avoided posting during that time.

Brad explained the blog posts couldn’t be launched in real time because of the potential risks involved with the surgery.

The six-month delay also gave them time to properly edit each post, get approval by the bariatric experts at Mercy, and then brand them.

You need someone who’s charismatic and can tell a good story or at least succinctly explain something. Brad Haller
He said his team also has control over the editing of the organic supplemental pieces — like candid videos or photos Jennifer sends to the team. “Since she works at Mercy, she’s easy to get ahold of, and she can give us a thumbs up or thumbs down on the posts we create,” Brad said.

Then, the posts are shared on Mercy’s LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages. “There are several Facebook pages out there for different Mercy locations, and we pipe out our content to those, all under the same post,” Brad said. He explained they put money behind some of the Facebook posts, but LinkedIn posts and Instagram Stories are 100% organic.

Jennifer’s blog posts don’t necessarily get posted in chronological order, so collaboration across the teams — and with Jennifer herself — is key.

“We use Social Studio to create and pull all of our content together on a calendar, but I also have a document on my wall right now that lists all the blogs,” he said. His list includes the day the post will go up and the “day number” of the blog post (each post’s title includes the day number of her journey and the topic, i.e. “Day 85 – The Protein Dilemma”).

He said he makes a point to space out his calendar to sync up with Jennifer’s and follow along with her schedule. “We don’t want to post something too far out because we want her journey to be as organic as possible and aligned with her real timeline,” Brad said. “We want to make sure our delay syncs up appropriately.”

Right now, they’re currently about 100 days into the campaign and engagement is growing rapidly.

“We’re still in the first stage of getting her name out there and building a following,” Brad said. He explained that the engagement has basically snowballed from the beginning. “The same people are reading and then they’re bringing more people in with them,” he said.

We don’t want to post something too far out because we want her journey to be as organic as possible and aligned with her real timeline. Brad Haller
The team is basing success on the number of click throughs to their blog, as well as the comments and questions they receive along the way. “The ultimate successes lie in the number of bariatric surgeries that are performed 10 months down the road by people who have found her blog,” Brad said.

With Jennifer’s post-surgery reveal approaching, Brad is excited to see where the campaign goes.

“The number of posts is going down because there’s less to talk about,” he said. After the surgery, they plan to post more content about the details of Jennifer’s life following her weight loss.

“She’s a whole new woman, but no one on the outside knows it yet because the posts are still delayed, so no one has seen her progression,” Brad said.

He explained they’re working to build up a backlog of posts in preparation for Jennifer’s weight loss reveal — including some up-close and personal videos. “We plan on talking about how her rings don’t fit her anymore, how she’s not able to drink carbonated water, and what life is like without coffee now,” said Brad. “The little things that not many people know about.”

Brad said they have a lot of material to unleash during that segment of the campaign, and intend to do follow ups with Jennifer afterward as well.

According to Brad, they’ve encountered numerous hurdles along the way.

We plan on talking about how her rings don’t fit her anymore, how she’s not able to drink carbonated water, and what life is like without coffee now. Brad Haller
First, Brad said, getting everyone onboard — from the surgeons involved in Jennifer’s surgery to marketing leadership as well as Mercy leadership — was a challenge. “We know there are different techniques that providers have, and we have facilities that offer different levels of care,” he said. “So, making the blog more general, but still giving people tangible information, and then getting it approved was a balancing act.”

He explained another hurdle was the structural piece of the blog itself. “We don’t have a functional blog option on our website,” Brad said. “So it’s more of a webpage with different clickable links versus a user-friendly blog.”

His team has received an influx of questions since launching the campaign, and he said that keeping up with them has been a challenge. “We’re trying to make sure their voices are heard, triage their questions, and just respond quickly,” Brad said. “The customer service part was and continues to be difficult.”

For other hospitals looking to develop a similar patient journey campaign, Brad suggested building a strong internal foundation ahead of time and being selective when choosing the patient you feature.

“The relationship with that person is really important,” he said. “You need someone who’s charismatic and can tell a good story or at least succinctly explain something.”

Instead of doing generic pictures of people before and after weight loss surgery or success stories, we wanted to actually take it a step deeper and feature someone from start to finish. Brad Haller
According to Brad, part of the process should involve planning answers to followers’ questions and gathering resources to provide them. “Have people on the ground, whoever the experts are on that topic, at arm’s reach so that you can turn to them when there’s an overflow of questions that you don’t have the answers to,” he said.

He emphasized the importance of utilizing the experts at your disposal and building the right team to help drive the campaign’s authenticity.

Lastly, Brad said to consult with leadership on what their priorities are. “If we don’t have enough spots for surgery, then it doesn’t make sense to push it,” he said. “Making sure that foundation is built ahead of time is vital. It can save you a lot of time.”

Brad Haller has been a member of SocialMedia.org Health since 2016. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.