Building Your Brand During a Pandemic

August 3, 2020

COVID-19 has created the need for radiology residency programs to more effectively brand themselves online.

In business, branding is vital to product success. Radiology is no different – and, one of the industry’s most significant products is the residency program. But, with all of COVID-19’s in-person restrictions, program leaders are having to re-write their branding manuals. 

Face-to-face interviews and campus tours are not possible in this environment, so residency programs of all sizes are feverishly designing new ways to highlight their strong points and reach potential applicants online. As a guide to programs nationwide, a group of radiology residency directors shared what their institutions are doing in an article published recently in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

“A program brand has always been crucial, [but] the COVID-19 pandemic has elevated its importance as applicants will now only be able to form their ‘gut feeling’ about a training program and department by reviewing web-based resources and participating in virtual interactions with current trainees and faculty,” the team wrote. “Both programs and applicants will face challenges as they attempt to create an optimal virtual experience for applicants to explore open residency and fellowship positions."

Consequently, they said, programs will need to find ways to capture what makes them unique from their counterparts across the country.

Related Content: Re-Thinking the Radiology Residency Interview: The COVID-19 Guidebook

Comprehensive websites are critical to program branding. They should be populated with up-to-date information about programs, and they should offer virtual video tours of training facilities, cities, resident work life, and testimonials from current and past residents. But, program directors from Virginia Mason Medical Center, the University of Arkansas, and the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) contend institutions must do more during the pandemic to entice applicants. And, they pointed to what their groups are doing with social media and video-conferencing to reach that goal.

Social Media

The beauty of social media, said Erin Cooke, M.D., co-director of the diagnostic radiology residency program at Virginia Mason, is that is an accessible option to programs of all sizes. And, it can be particularly helpful for smaller programs as it requires a minimal budget.

The key to a successful social media campaign, she explained, is to recruit a mix of residents faculty, and administrators who are skilled in technology, art, and advertising. This team can gather or produce photographic, written, and video materials that highlight your program’s institutional, affiliate, and geographical highpoints. Be sure to use hashtags, infographics, and unified visual themes as a method to attract potential applicants.

“All of these efforts are essential storytelling,” she said. “The emotional content can inspire applicants to explore the brand at a deeper level, so your program can shine.”

In addition, suggested Kedar Jambhekar, M.D., director of the University of Arkansas’s diagnostic radiology residency program, you should find a way to spotlight the work of your current residents and faculty. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram can be effective ways to showcase their achievements, as well as breakthroughs in resident research. His institution has also planned live tweet chats with chief residents so applicants can ask questions. They also plan on creating a clickable Google map to highlight where residents have secured a fellowship and will design bar graphs that demonstrate their board passage rate.

Putting your current residents in charge of various social media accounts can also be an effective strategy, said Alice Chong, M.D., associate residency director and breast imaging fellowship director for UCSD.

“A resident-run Instagram account can highlight current residents, the work environment, and activities outside of work,” she said. “TikTok can show residency life and work in a fun and creative way.”

Resident program Twitter accounts that are complementary to the department’s account can also display the program’s personality in an informal way while addressing important topics and opinions, as well as prompting online conversations.

Video Conferencing

By this point in the pandemic, nearly everyone in radiology is familiar with the video conference call. But, they can be used for much more than the standard meeting, these leaders said.

Whenever you use a video conferencing platform, Cooke advised, be sure your image is standardized. Maintain the same digital background and incorporate your institutional logo. Engage as many residents to participate in remote outreach as you can. And, when you do connect via video with potential applicants, use the same microphones and spotlights, and anticipate technical glitches as much as possible.

Programs can also use video conferencing as a way to help students or residents prepare for future interviews, Jambhekar said. Arkansas offers mock interviews through its Radiology Interest Group, hosting virtual question-and-answer sessions with applications tips from individuals who have recently gone through the Match. They also try to create camaraderie with virtual happy hours the night before scheduled interviews.

Overall, Chong said, the success of online branding programs will rely heavily on the passion and willingness of people within your own institutions to share their experiences and drive your efforts. This participation will be invaluable as the pandemic lingers on.

“Effective messaging and communication are especially critical during the ongoing crisis,” she said, “and showing how a program continues to mentor and compassionately support the community can go a long way to establishing a positive presence.”

This push to highlight what truly makes your program unique – to sell your brand virtually when it is the only current, feasible option – is one all institutions should embrace, the directors said. A multi-faceted approached will be integral to continued success.

“Programs must be creative in how they showcase their unique offerings and provide applicants a glimpse into the daily life of a trainee both at the institution and in the city or town in which perspective trainees might live,” the team asserted. “Institutions must keep in mind that effective branding necessitates communication of consistent and focused message across these different media.”