Cleveland Clinic’s brand journalism site draws 1 million-plus visitors monthly

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What would you do if your urine turned blue?

This may not be your most pressing concern during a busy day at the office, but if the question has ever awakened you in a cold sweat, Cleveland Clinic’s Health Hub has you covered.

Health Hub is the famous Ohio clinic’s brand journalism platform, which launched in 2012 and has become a roaring success, drawing nearly 1.4 million visits in December alone.

Since you ask, one of its most popular posts was an infographic titled, “The color of pee.”

The post has drawn 616,000 visits, pops up all over Facebook, and has gone nuts on the Internet. Media such as Lifehacker and Popular Science (“Is Your Pee The Right Color?”) have helped spread the word that although blue urine might indicate a genetic disorder, “there is no such thing as purple urine.”

The success indicates why Cleveland Clinic is pleased with the platform. Health Hub’s objective “is really around national and even global brand awareness,” says Amanda Todorovich, manager of digital engagement.

With 3,000 full-time, salaried physicians and researchers and 11,000 nurses, Cleveland Clinic is one of the country’s premier hospitals. Along with its main campus, it runs eight community hospitals and 75 northern Ohio outpatient locations, with an Abu Dhabi site under construction. But a clinic in an area with a static population knows it must keep drawing patients from around the country and abroad.

[RELATED: Get advanced brand journalism tips from Mark Ragan and Jim Ylisela.]

Spreading the word

Health Hub has become a leading voice in spreading the brand. A year ago, the site was drawing around 200,000 visits a month. Following its December success, it is on pace to land as many as 1.6 million visits this month.

“It’s been wildly successful,” Todorovich says.

Stories (both print and video) can range from a warning about frostbite to a piece on “Kids and Codeine: Why Genetics Matter for Medication.” If you are wondering how to keep your child safe in a highchair, Health Hub has a story for you. All the editorial content is vetted by medical experts.

The core staff—Todorovich and two others, supported by a slew of in-house, agency, and freelance writers—add three to five updates every weekday. Cleveland Clinic’s Facebook site, with its 800,000 fans, drives half of Health Hub’s traffic, and content is freshened on the social platform six times a day.

The clinic also blasts a “Be Well” email newsletter to more than 50,000 subscribers; click-through rates run nearly 60 percent.

Health Hub strives for a balance in editorial topics, with stories about innovation, wellness, and medical breakthroughs.

“Our objective is really to help people improve their everyday lives,” Todorovich says. “It’s really not about only when they’re sick. It’s trying to keep them healthy as well.”

So, chocolate’s OK?

Among the popular posts are those from featured experts, who are listed down the left side of the pages. For example, posts by Kristin Kirkpatrick, a dietitian and wellness manager for Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, have performed well. One recent story is “5 Healthy Foods You Think Are Unhealthy: New thinking on eggs, nuts, and more.”

(Count on me to start eating more dark chocolate.)

Some stories highlight procedures and services, among them as one that calls varicose veins “more than a cosmetic concern,” according to Joe Milicia, senior manager for public relations and social media. Likewise, an article for “snowbird” patients urges them to “coordinate medical care before traveling.”

Cleveland Clinic has analytics specialists who track procedures that patients sign up, “but ultimately the biggest measure of success for us is brand awareness,” Todorovich says.

Research and medical breakthroughs tend to be editorial priorities, and Health Hub works with the PR team to cover matters that also will be announced to the press. One clinic study found that how a concussion occurs—whether by a blow or a blast, as in combat—can dictate changes in brain activity and behavior later on.

Blogging an innovation summit

The site doesn’t focus solely on the clinic’s own research. Every year, Cleveland Clinic Innovations, the commercialization arm of the clinic, holds a summit that brings in 1,700 people from the medical devices and pharmaceutical industries, along with venture capitalists, Milicia says.

Health Hub assigns a blogger to cover the event, with posts such as “Top 10 Medical Innovations for 2014.” The story lists medical breakthroughs such as a device that disrupts seizures and genomic tests for managing cancer. No. 1 on the list: “The bionic eye becomes reality.”

The clinic lists the top 10 every year, and they are usually from outside the clinic. The winners tend to be a long way from being available to the public, so the goal is to establish Cleveland Clinic’s thought leadership.

“Our coverage of them is definitely not about, ‘Hey, come here and get this procedure or get this device,'” Todorovich says.

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