Providers are in no rush to connect online, according to poll

Sunday, June 28, 2009

YARMOUTH, Maine - Despite the hype surrounding online social networking, a recent HME NewsPoll revealed that a majority of HME providers are not convinced of its value as a business tool.

"I'm not sure which of our referral sources would look on Facebook, etc., for an HME provider," wrote one respondent. "And most of our seniors do not have a presence on these sites."

This respondent's not alone in his thinking. Nearly three quarters of respondents to the poll do not currently have a presence on online social networking sites like Facebook.

However, 28% do, and they say it's a great tool for staying in touch with referral sources and customers.

"It allows us to build a personal relationship with our referral network," wrote Kip Lyerla, owner of Advanced Mobility in Anna, Ill. "It allows us to know what's going on in their lives. We also put our education seminars on it and anything pertaining to the industry."

For companies that do have a presence on online social networking sites, 51% say building company brand is the No. 1 reason.

"I think Facebook is a great way to market my company," wrote provider Bryan Collins, vice president of sales and marketing for Collins Medical Equipment in Fairfield, Conn. "It's 100% free advertising."

But other respondents countered: Nothing is entirely free.

"We're trying to determine the feasibility/potential gains vs. time commitment in keeping the material fresh," wrote one provider. "We're not sure yet if or how a company presence will improve the bottom line."

Other reasons for establishing a presence on online social networking sites include staying in touch with consumers (29%) and sales promotions (20%).

Numerous poll respondents said LinkedIn, a business-oriented networking site, offers them more value because it allows them to connect with other like-minded people.

"LinkedIn allows us to keep our activities with state associations and legislative efforts in front of our customers," wrote provider Lin Schussler-Williams, who serves on the board of the Kentucky Medical Equipment Suppliers Association. "The HME industry is slowly building a presence on LinkedIn, but has been mostly absent until recently."

The industry may not be totally onboard with social networking yet, but some say they that will probably change--for both providers and consumers.

"Although all customers may not be Internet savvy, it is an increasing trend," wrote one provider. "It is better to be proactive with social networking sites than sit back and let others capitalize on the trend."