Senior living communities have been affected dramatically during the global pandemic, changing how we learn about and perceive them. Fortunately, digital tools allow these brands to maintain a positive consumer experience as we all adjust to life during the pandemic. Here are three ways communities can use digital tools to change with the times during this (or any) public health crisis:
1. Offer virtual tours
Before COVID-19 changed our daily lives, senior living communities relied heavily on in-person tours of their facilities for prospective residents and their families. These onsite visits gave prospective residents and their adult children a first-hand taste of the senior living community’s amenities and overall ambience. The pandemic has caused residential properties to drastically limit onsite visitors, meaning in-person tours are scarce, if not nonexistent.
Virtual tours enable senior living communities to give prospective residents a sense of the onsite experience without having visitors on the property. Operators can tell their brand stories by sharing photos, video testimonials and virtual tour videos everywhere a prospective resident might find them online, such as a website, social media channels and Google My Business (GMB) listings.
Baby boomers largely have embraced digital life, with 68% owning a smartphone and 60% using social media, most notably Facebook. And decisions revolving around senior living and care often include the grown children of older adults, who are even more active online. Virtual tours are an effective channel to reach the right audience, especially as sites limit the number of non-residents on location.
2. Address safety concerns
As widely reported, the pandemic has had a negative effect on the perception of many long-term care facilities. Although this segment makes up less than 1% of the U.S. population, it accounts for more than 40% of COVID-19-related deaths. These reports have driven angst among residents, caregivers and families. In response, many senior living and care locations have implemented stronger virus control protocols, including testing, social distancing, increased sanitization and the uniform use of safety masks.
As protocols continue to change, it’s imperative that senior living leaders make a concerted effort to listen to residents and their families. This can be accomplished through formal surveys or listening to online feedback such as Facebook posts, private messages and Google reviews. These data complement more formal and traditional surveys with insight in real-time. That said, simply listening isn’t enough; operators must respond quickly when a negative issue surfaces, and then take steps to resolve the operational concern.
In addition, senior living brands proactively should share what they are doing to protect the health of their residents across all of their digital channels, including their website, online listings and social media pages.
3. Combat isolation
Even as many states have eased lockdown guidelines, many senior living community residents remain essentially on lockdown. Further, communities have strict limits on visitors, meaning some residents may not be able to see their families in-person. Several communities have tackled this problem by working with residents and their loved ones to schedule video conference visits or even in-person visits where it’s possible to interact with residents through a window or a plastic divider.
To ensure that all family members are informed, locations should share visitor restrictions and protocols clearly on their websites, Google My Business listings and social media channels. Also consider using informative content formats such as Google My Business Q&A to communicate rules and regulations.
Community managers can help residents use communication tools such as Zoom or Google Hangouts to connect virtually with loved ones. Staff members may need to be involved in facilitating the technical aspects of a virtual visit. Again, properties can communicate how to schedule video calls on their websites, GMB listings and social channels.
The current health crisis has affected all aspects of life, but it could be argued that no area has been hit harder than long-term care. As we navigate through one of the most challenging times we ever have faced, digital tools will help us continue delivering the experience that residents need and caregivers expect.
Annie Haarmann is the head of consulting, healthcare and life sciences at reputation experience management platform provider Reputation.com. There, she partners with senior living and care brands communities to provide strategic consulting and data-driven insights in an effort to drive conversion and improve consumer experience. Haarmann’s prior experience includes leading strategic digital transformation for brands in the pharmaceutical, nutrition, healthcare and education industries.