Why Relying on ‘Word-of-Mouth’ is Costing You Occupancy - A Personal Story

  • By York Woodford-Smith, Owner, Five on a Bike
  • •  Sep 15, 2021

Reading time:3 minutes

The idea for this blog came from a personal experience I had with my Grandpa, who recently had to go into hospital. Sadly, he was not well enough to go home so it was decided that discharge to assess was the best option for him, with the possibility of needing to stay longer, perhaps permanently.

We were given 3 care homes to choose from and, as many other family members looking for care homes would, I instantly started looking at their websites, CQC scores, and reviews on care home comparison websites.

Marketing is not an optional extra

We very quickly realised that this process was going to be particularly difficult because not one of our options had good information online about their service – their websites were out-of-date, and none had any social media presence.

It was weird to think that he could be spending the rest of his life in one of these homes when we had so little go on. With no way to go and visit the home in person, we felt totally in the dark. Whilst ‘marketing’ can feel like an optional extra to a provider, for us as prospective customers it was a critical gap in essential information to help us make a life-changing choice.

We don’t need marketing

These care homes are prime examples of those who claim, ‘all our business is word of mouth’ or ‘most of our beds are filled by local authorities, so we don’t need/want marketing’.

Word-of-mouth is only half the work

In the digital age, regardless of your size, budget, or team, you are letting your potential residents and their families down by relying on word-of-mouth and neglecting your marketing. Even if you're lucky enough to get lots of word-of-mouth recommendations, you still need your online presence to be strong enough to convert those recommendations into actual Enquirers.

Your online impression is the first impression

Your care home’s online impression is very likely to be your customer’s first impression. Make it one you are genuinely proud of. If you owned a shop, would you have flaky paint on the front window?


Essential Online Marketing Practice = Essential Information for Families

Organise & update your website

  • Identify what questions are people asking when they call? Address these on your website
  • Break your site down into easy-to-digest sections in an order that makes sense to your customer

Keep a regular blog

Post on social media and add your feed to your homepage

Provide a visual impression of your home

  • Use video content
  • Use real photos, not stock imagery

And don’t forget that a successful website will result in more people making Enquiries online and by telephone. Have a good (and quick) process for responding to people who make contact (see our super practical guide to an Effective Enquiry Management – otherwise all that hard work on your online presence will go to waste.

And for my Grandpa? The choice we made was a difficult one and I can’t help but feel like it might have been the wrong choice. Having worked with hundreds of different homes over the last 6 years, I truly think that the vast majority of care homes in the UK (big and small, old and new) are absolutely fantastic in their own ways. I’m just not sure the home we picked was the perfect fit for my Grandpa.

If you rely on word-of-mouth and local authorities to fill your beds, don’t think that Marketing is an optional extra. Improving your online presence will improve your occupancy rate – and help families make some of the most difficult choices they ever must make.


5 top tips for your virtual tour

Virtual tours are a great way to provide a window into what makes your care home special. Get the most from yours:

  • Preparation is key

    A nice bunch of flowers, a mowed lawn, and a tidy space goes a long way. Video tours are made to show your home off at its absolute best, by doing little preparations before your film crew arrives, you’re helping us to do that.

  • Tell everyone in the home what’s going on… then repeat

    Whilst filming a video tour isn’t extremely disruptive, it’s still a new change to your residents’ and team members’ daily lives. We don’t want to shock anyone or impose on anyone’s space, so please do warn everyone in your home that we’re coming and continue to remind them right up until the day.

  • Plan some dynamic activities

    We love to film dynamic activities that your residents are really engaged in. This could be anything from seated exercise, baking, arts and crafts, to flower arranging. We try to avoid things like bingo and board games and go for things that really get the residents engaged, and don’t worry if you’re struggling for media consent - activities can be cleverly filmed with just hands and movement if need be!

  • Showcase the video front and centre

    A good video tour is an incredible addition to your marketing mix and should be treated as such. Make sure you’re using it to the best of your ability, by showcasing it on your busiest website pages, your social media, and even in your sales process.

  • Enjoy the day!

    Filming days are really fun and special days. Often care teams go into a video tour shoot feeling nervous and leave the day wishing they hadn’t worried at all, so relax, trust your film crew, and enjoy the excitement of the day!

York Woodford-Smith is the owner of Five on a Bike, the care home video specialists. York and his team are winners of the 2021 Care Sector Supplier Awards. Learn more about them here

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