How MedLearn Media Doubled Website Traffic by Letting Its Audience Shine

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The BiPAP-masked patient… shouted through a positive pressure of 18/8 cm, “do you know why ants don’t get sick?”
“No, I don’t. Why?”
And through a positive pressure-enhanced smile, the patient answered, “because they have anty-bodies!” Then she laughed upstream against the onrushing BiPAP airflow.
…My laughing choked off as I watched her oxygen saturation drop from a very low 87%, to a really, really low 84%, to a breathtakingly low 81%.
— Michael A. Salvatore, MD, physician advisor and medical director of the palliative care team at Beebe Healthcare in Delaware, writing on MedLearn Media's Frontline Friday
When longtime SIPA member MedLearn Media decided to call one of their pandemic features Frontline Friday, it was for good reason. These first-person dispatches from nurses, doctors and hospital personnel are searing to read.
“Since we serve the healthcare market, we’ve gotten to see firsthand some of the real experiences that our market is facing on a day-in and day-out basis over the past 10 weeks,” Angela Kornegor, executive director of MedLearn Media, wrote me in late May. “The public health emergency has pulled our community and subscriber base together and the news and stories that have been pouring in have been remarkable to say the least. Our overall traffic in these past 10 weeks has doubled and in turn has inspired some significant pivoting in our communications.”
Early on, they took the stance that they would be “a confidant and trusted source of news and information for our subscribers,” Kornegor continued, “as we wanted to provide some normalcy to our audience as they were getting rocked day in and day out by the tragedy and uncertainty healthcare was facing.”
Health care has always been a popular niche for SIPA members. But the COVID-19 crisis has added so many new layers to their audience relationships.
Chuck Buck, publisher of RACmonitor, a division of MedLearn Media, told me last week that they started the increased coverage by boosting their popular podcast, Monitor Mondays—which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary—from 30 to 60 minutes.

“Because of the pandemic, there was so much confusion to deal with and just a tangle of regulations,” Buck said. “So we would have 30 minutes of content with our regular panelists, and then field the questions, which just kept coming on a daily basis. We saw big audience numbers. Wanting to leverage that and create more engagement led us to doctors on frontlines dealing with these issues.”
The initial thought might be that doctors would not want to relive what they were seeing, but Buck said the writing provided a form of relief. “I noticed this when I was a patient recently. They’re so passionate about their work and feel their work isn’t well received always. This gave them an outlet to express their passion of care giving. What they’re experiencing, the stories, are unbelievable.”
“What we did was roll out three new featured weekly segments on topics that we don’t traditionally write about, which are more lifestyle pieces then our traditional news on healthcare rules and regulations,” Kornegor said. The other two segments are Stay at Home Kids and The Saturday Post. “These new segments have driven our traffic up by 40% during the pandemic, and we are developing additional sponsor and advertising opportunities within these new segments and laying the ground work for a new subscription model.”
At the pandemic's beginning, a letter was sent from the publisher to subscribers, letting them know the coverage that was planned—this elicited positive responses from subscribers all over the U.S.
“We then invited more healthcare professionals to the podcast to share and tell their stories of what they have been experiencing and seeing each week,” Kornegor said. “The response on the new format was astonishing. Our live attendance to our podcasts increased by 50% which not only gave us great insight and feedback into what our customers were looking for and craving, but gave us intel on topics we could produce webcast topics around.”
They also added a COVID category on their news site, where subscribers could find what they needed to know during the pandemic, “as the news that was coming in, was more than what we could output in our weekly newsletter,” Kornegor said.
Buck also admires the Stay at Home Kids features. “I was so surprised how articulate these kids are—they’re stuck at home on lockdown so their point of view was amazing. “The adults kind of let us down,” they said.
“Quarantine may have taken things away from me, but it was also an eye-opener to how grateful I should be, and a reminder that I need to start laying aside time for myself as well,” wrote Delaney Grider, a 14-year-old freshman from Fishers, Ind. “Never take your health or your friends for granted—you never know if it’s going to be months until you can see them again.”
The other new column, the Saturday Post, was so named because of the personal and wide-ranging nature of writing they were getting. “Every home had a Saturday Evening Post,” Buck recalled. “These have been incredible—really great personal essays."
Erica E. Remer, MD, wrote a column titled, “COVID-19: Do you have ‘thinkihadititis?’” Another article included a firsthand account of contact tracing in Hangzhou, China. When the intersection of the racial protests started, another doctor, Steven Moffic, wrote about Billie Holiday and that haunting song Strange Fruit.  
“For me it’s been a fun enterprise,” Buck said. “Gives our audience a different perspective. We did get one of our sponsors to sponsor Frontline Fridays. And we’ve seen a significant increase in podcast listenership on Mondays and Tuesdays.” Most of their revenue comes from webcasts, advertising and sponsorships.
As far as keeping the expanded coverage, Buck said they were going to let the audience determine that—gauging by number of questions they get, columns submitted, etc.
“The nature of the virus has changed significantly since we first started reporting. A lot of us thought it would be here then gone. Every day brings a greater sense of reality until a vaccine can be found. If we can in a moment engage and just share with our audience other points of view…”
He didn’t really have to finish that thought. 

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…