From intuition- to data-driven: New York’s biggest hospital system on content (and COVID)24 hours with Julie Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Well by Northwell Health
Julie Shapiro remembers when she first decided to publish a story about the coronavirus. It was early February 2020, and the virus had just begun to circulate broadly in China. She called one of New York’s best infectious disease specialists, and in hours had a story on the threat that “just blew up — people couldn’t get enough of it,” she recalled.
This article is part of a new content series from Revmade that explores how the most dynamic content marketers approach their work.
Shapiro doesn’t work for a news organization. She is editor-in-chief for The Well by Northwell, the content brand for New York State’s largest hospital system. In leading the organization’s consumer content effort, she has something that no journalist has: Fast access to thousands of doctors with expertise on millions of ailments.
Years before COVID-19 descended on the world, the team at Northwell built a system for activating its doctors around key health concerns from its community, and getting accessible, practical information out to the people who needed it most. That system was launched into high gear once the virus hit the New York area.
“We were fighting a disinformation war from the very beginning,” Shapiro said. “People weren’t necessarily receiving the facts they needed. We were dedicated to getting the information out there — how to stay safe and stay alive — in a clear and concise manner.”
Case in point: Audience trend data revealed confusion around COVID and the flu, so Shapiro’s team quickly got to work combatting misinformation with expert editorial
This is how Shapiro’s team handled the days, weeks and months when COVID ravaged the New York area — an example that all content marketers can learn from to build a data-fueled system for content creation and distribution.
The Company: Northwell Health, New York State’s largest healthcare provider
Annual Revenue: $11.5 billion
Content team size: 2, plus an extended team from across the marketing department
Content Focus: Six original articles per week that help the Chief Medical Officer of the Home (typically women aged 25-65) keep herself and her family healthy and fulfilled.
Time spent in meetings each week: 50%
Tools she can’t live without:
- Audience Insights Dashboard for keeping a pulse on performance. “My dashboard is my bible… I wake up in the morning, I sign on to my computer and I look at the dashboard.”
- Workfront for organization. “It’s a big part of our lives. It’s great for integrating the departments. We’re all on the same page and we know where each piece is at any stage.”
- Apple News for staying up to speed. “I get news alerts all the time.”
- Facebook for sourcing personal stories. “I’m on Facebook more than is probably healthy. But that’s how I know what people are talking about in their private lives, and what matters to them day-to-day.”
Shapiro’s 4-point framework for prioritizing her day:
- Data: Getting a handle on past performance and present the needs of the audience.
- Immediate Team Communication: Meeting with her managing editor and social media lead to review performance and plan each day’s output.
- Broader Team Communication: Checking in with other departments at the health system’s marketing team to know what other efforts are happening, what’s in demand and what they have available from a resource perspective.
- Editorial Strategy Meetings: Getting an extended team together to review performance trends and audience demand, creating a global plan for what content will be tackled, why it’s important, and how to make it unique to the audience.
How she knows she’s successful:
We have aggressive KPIs, and the data speaks for itself. Beyond that, audience feedback is critical, especially when it involves someone inspired by the content to get the help they need. “When someone posts a comment or sends me an email saying they learned something useful or booked an appointment with a doctor because of something they read, that’s when I know we’re getting the right information out there in front of the right eyeballs,” Shapiro says.
A “You did good, Ms. Shapiro” from her boss is especially gratifying ”when we hit a milestone, win an award or are recognized for all the hard work and long days and weekend work,” she says. (The same week this article was published, The Well won two major awards for Best Content Strategy and Best Digital Editorial from the Content Marketing Institute).
Steal this idea: For Shapiro, the biggest difference-maker in her content program has been moving from “intuition-driven” to data-driven. “We used to say, I know what she wants because I am her,” Shapiro says, referring to The Well’s audience target. “Now, we go out and research to see what will really resonate. We have the data to prove it.” Building a data-first content operation is more than just performance insights; it’s understanding demand for content and designing a responsive production process to meet that demand.
24 Hours with Shapiro: “It’s never boring.”
6:30 a.m.: Wake up, brush teeth, check performance dashboard. Yes, really.
7:00 a.m.: Kale and fruit smoothies for herself, husband and two daughters. “I made this a daily ritual because you don’t always have control over what your teenager is eating. So I pack as many nutrients into one glass as I can. The girls are good-ish sports about drinking them. They know it’s important.”
7:30 a.m.: Running, P90X or Peloton. “I exercise every day…because one thing I’ve learned from this job is how important a well-rounded exercise routine is.”
8:00 a.m.: Shower and a short commute to her living room. “I pride myself on having worn a bra every day. Not one Teams video call in my PJs!”
8:30 a.m.: An all-hands team meeting about COVID every morning to figure out the state of things and determine what’s important for the day.
9:30 a.m.: Meeting with her managing editor and social lead to relay information from the all-hands and plan the day from a content and distribution perspective.
10:00 a.m.: Shapiro bounces around from meeting to meeting, helping the organization understand how The Well’s system can drive them toward better outcomes, and how more of its 70,000+ employees can get involved. “We’re producing six articles a week. For our team, it’s a lot, and it involves coordination with many other teams within the department. It’s vital to keep checking in with where everything is to help move things along.”
Noonish: Lunch. “When I worked from the office, I used to take a break, run some errands. At home, I never take a break. I just work all the way through. That’s no way to live. I’m going to stop doing that!”
All afternoon: A mixture of things that help extend The Well’s influence, including:
- Reaching out to potential partners and distributors: Support groups, other hospitals, blogs and other publications that want to share our content with their own audiences.
- Concepting new projects, checking in on ongoing initiatives and overseeing editorial work.
- Checking in with the social team to see what’s performing well and discussing whether anything could be optimized to perform better.
- Meeting with doctors and clinical marketing strategists to determine the needs of the community and business, and how The Well can meet those needs.
- Reviewing data from the newsletter to see what can be improved. “Whether the piece performs or doesn’t, either way, it’s good,” Shapiro says, “Because you’re learning what you need to do to be better.”
6:30 p.m.: Dinner time. “We’ve had family dinners almost every single night since we got sent home in March 2020,” Shapiro says. “It’s such a gift that came out of this for us. When else would parents get to sit with their teenage children for dinner every night? We talk about the worst and then best parts of our day, and we play music while everyone cleans up. It’s precious time, and I’m so grateful we had it with them.”
After dinner: Family walks or movies. “Lately, I’ve been trying to unplug [at night],” Shapiro says. “I’m making a conscious effort to separate work from home. There is no door to close, but I try to do it. Wine helps.” R
Revmade is proud to work with Northwell to power its data-enabled content planning and creation process. If you’re interested in how to build a powerful system of content delivery and optimization for your organization, please reach out to us for more information.
Get our weekly newsletter for tips on how to drive better content marketing performance.
For a regular stream of ideas, research and links we find helpful. And of course, to say hi!