Best Practices Q&A:
Janel Wait, Director of Digital Services at GlynnDevins
 As director of digital services at GlynnDevins Advertising and Marketing in Overland Park, Kansas, Janel Wait and her team develop strategies, analyze results, and build Web platforms for the company’s senior living clients. We talked with her about whether seniors are “tuned into” the digital world and how senior living providers can integrate their online and offline marketing efforts.
• How important is digital marketing for senior living providers?
A senior living community’s website is really the hub of all marketing communications. All offline materials (print, direct mail) and online activities (email, search engine optimization, social media) feed into the website. The website address and the Facebook page, if the provider has one, are always driving potential prospects to go to the website to learn more. It’s the next best thing to actually visiting the community.
• Is the senior population becoming more tuned into the Internet?
Absolutely. When I first joined GlynnDevins seven and a half years ago, the question of whether seniors were on the Web came up all the time. It isn’t even a question anymore. A study done in January 2010 (a bit outdated but the most recent data we’ve seen) indicated that approximately 47% of 70-74 year-olds in the United States were using the Internet—and that number had almost doubled within the previous three-to-five years. So digital marketing cannot be ignored anymore. The provider’s website must be informative and robust and really bring the community to life, because it very well could be the determining factor in whether a prospective resident or an adult child even visits the community.
• What important elements should communities include on their websites?
Good photography is key. Promote events and provide enough information so that site visitors get a really good idea of what it’s like to live at the community. Video—viewing a testimonial from a staff member speaking about the community or residents talking about how happy they are living at the community— is becoming more and more important. Also, the website should have multiple ways for a potential resident to contact an appropriate person at the community. 

• What are some tips for getting site visitors to request more information or actually visit the community?
We continually tweak our clients’ websites to achieve optimum conversion levels. The beauty of the Web is that you can track and measure everything, and we implement a lot of tracking on our client’s websites. We’ve found, for example, that often the next step that people take after they find information that interests them is to look for a phone number or another way to get in touch. We also know that when a senior or an adult child comes to a website, they look at the photos—and we know those pages convert at a higher level, because people looking at a photo are engaged and then want to know more.
 So it’s important to make sure that it’s very easy for the prospect or the adult child viewing those pages to take the next step, which is filling out a form or calling for more information. We recommend the website include both short email forms, where a visitor can simply ask a question and the community can follow up, and longer forms that ask for more information from the person requesting more details.
• How do you best utilize different types of digital marketing to get the best results?
We believe that websites are still very important in terms of the overall credibility of the community and for sharing a lot of information, but we do see a synergy with all of the social media vehicles. Many communities now have a Facebook page, which gives them the opportunity to make daily updates and provide insight into what it’s really like to live at the community on a daily basis. A message might simply say, for example: “I smell the lasagna cooking down the hall…I can’t wait for dinner.” 
 Social media can really build tight connections. A community may have only 100 Facebook followers, but they are its brand evangelists. They are the people that love that community. Facebook provides an opportunity to really build on those connections and to continue to reach out, so that those followers will then recommend the page—and the community—to others.
 Social media also serves to strengthen relationships between current residents and their family members, who can see photos of their parents having a good time or have the ability to ask a general question or comment and get a quick response.  
• How do the digital marketing tools blend together? 
They really all work together at all times. When doing search engine optimization, people are sent to the website; on the website, everything is optimized for search; emails all have a link to the website for additional content; and everything posted on the Facebook page has a link to the website to enhance the search ranking. So they’re all very closely intertwined.
 Even between offline and online media, few lines remain. Instead of just putting a website address on a direct-mail piece, for example, we might say, “Check out our floor plans,” or “See pictures from our last event.” That gives people a reason to go to the website. We’re looking to drive traffic and trying to make the most of every direct-mail piece by bringing it to life via the Web.
• How do tablets such as the iPad fit into the picture?
We’re watching what’s happening with tablets. As everything continues to go mobile, we believe tablets will be key for the senior population. Phones are too small for the older people to consume much information. Tablets, on the other hand, are large enough so they can actually see the screen, communicate using it, and utilize the apps. They’re also lightweight, portable, and very easy to use.
• How do you get people to become involved in your social media efforts?
Older people are increasingly involved in social media. According to the PEW Research Center (Internet and American Life Project, May 2010), about 47% of people age 50-64 (up 88% from April 2009) and 26% of people age 65 or more (up 100% from April 2009) were using social media sites. Those numbers have surely grown in the last 12 months.
 One very simple way to get people involved in your social media efforts is to actively promote them. Start promoting your social media page or address in everything that you’re doing. Make sure that the addresses are on your website and listed in any offline materials. 
 You might also send a letter to residents, their adult children, professional influencers, and others saying that you now have, say, a Facebook page…go check it out…this is the type of information that you’ll get by becoming a “friend” or “follower.” Then their friends and followers will see those messages, some will also become your friends and followers, and it will continue to build over time. The biggest goal for senior living communities, though, is not to get a million friends. It’s more important to develop quality friends and build relationships with those people.
Want to read more? Click here for a free trial to Senior Living Business and download the current issue today