Steve Moran reconnected with Darren Lancaster for conversation about the power of building relationships to grow your market through social media engagement.

By Michelle Seitzer

Steve Moran first met Darren Lancaster at the Boomer Venture Summit three years ago in San Diego. The two connected again at this year’s Silicon Valley Boomer Summit for a conversation about the power of building relationships to grow your market through social media engagement.

Lancaster’s company, Thin Optics, has designed reading glasses that go with you, but with a low-impact footprint: no thicker than two credit cards. These ultrathin readers live on the back of your phone via a universal pod case, so if you’re meeting a friend for dinner and the dim lighting makes it impossible to read the menu, or you’re checking email from a dark train station, you’re set.

One and Done: The Problem with Senior Living Sales

Approaching 2 million sales at the time of the interview, Lancaster, who had just given a presentation on the value of social engagement for growing your company, shared some of his social engagement secrets with Steve.

Because senior living has the unique problem of a primarily “one and done” sales process, the whole idea of selling, again and again, isn’t quite the same as in other industries. To overcome this, Lancaster believes in using social media channels for relationship building.

All Comments Welcome

Many who are hesitant about using social media for branding and advertising often fear the wrath of nasty, negative comments. But an active comments thread—ugly ones included—is actually desirable.

A visit to Lancaster’s company social pages reveals the posts with the most organic reach are characterized by a range of comments, and he views them all—the good, the bad, and the ugly—as opportunities for engagement. Opportunities to show they’re listening and paying attention. “If it’s a concern, we say we’re going to take care of your concern, and if you’re happy and raving about our product, we’re going to socially reinforce that,” Lancaster explains. “And we do that across all the channels that we operate in.”

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

Lancaster’s words of wisdom to senior living companies launching social? It can take time and patience, but if you’re making sure you’re delivering value in terms of content ideas and offers tailored to your audience—and engaging with them in public transparently—you’ll be on the road to establishing trust.

Think of it this way: As a senior living operator, you’ve built a reputation in your city, state, and zip code . . . but it didn’t happen overnight. Until people moved in, until people experienced life at your senior living community, until word-of-mouth advertising and positive PR coverage began to permeate the airwaves, no one knew whether your community was a good place to call home. It will be the same with social media engagement.

Try, Try Again

Besides patience, perseverance, and the entrepreneurial spirit, there is a level of experimentation that comes along with building engagement on social, says Lancaster. “But if you’re out there in the public domain having that conversation, it really improves the identity of your organization and shows that you care, you trust, and you listen,” he says.  

For Lancaster, the process took well over a year: “It was about 12 to 14 months of really wandering around,” he said.

But once you have that audience built and you’ve engaged them effectively—getting feedback on what the product means to them, why they love it, etc.—you’ve got a community vouching for you, he says, instead of you selling to them. “We’re not saying we’re great,” Lancaster explains. “They’re saying we’re great.”

How great exactly? Thin Optics has enjoyed about a 2:1 ratio in terms of their return on investment, moving from roughly 3.4 million in Facebook advertising since the end of 2015 to around 6.8 million.

What People Want: Making the Emotional Connection

Still not convinced that social is right for your senior living community? Think again. As Moran puts it, “If you can build a community around something like glasses, you can certainly build a community around something so deeply emotional as senior care.”

It comes down to making the emotional connection. Creating content that your audience cares about. Finding a way to tell your brand story that gets to the heart of the matter. Getting other people to share their stories: telling others how living in your community has changed their lives, or how they’re proud to be part of your community.

Find the fun when sharing your brand story too, Moran and Lancaster agree. And spin the emotional connections in a positive way—a la, “I love getting together with new friends at this community” versus “I had to move away from all my friends to live here.”

“The emotional connection is what people want to engage with: not the fact that they wake up and there’s breakfast served every day,” Lancaster explains. Go further in telling the story: “What does the breakfast smell like? What does it taste like? What’s the experience like? That’s the fun part to talk about.”