9 questions for WebMD's Stephanie Snipes

WebMD's VP of editorial development Stephanie Snipes outlines the health outlet's web and video pivot.

Name
Stephanie Snipes 

Title
VP, editorial development 

Outlet
WebMD 

Website: www.webmd.com 

WebMD is often mocked as an enabler of hypochondriacs: someone reads about their runny nose and assumes they have cancer. How do you counter that?

WebMD is not trying to substitute for professional healthcare. We encourage users to seek the advice of their physician.

While we are a practical and relevant content source for health and medicine, unfortunately in some situations the content provided to our users, based on symptoms they mention, may include information on serious conditions, such as cancer. That’s not all we are.

We want users to have the most informed health discussions and to make sure our coverage is well-rounded so they have everything they need.

WebMD is enhancing its products. What does that include? How does being acquired by investment firm KKR affect that?

The KKR deal is still in process, so I can’t comment beyond what we’ve put out publicly. But we’re making exciting updates to our symptom checker, including a new, more powerful backend that’s going to make entering symptoms and finding matching conditions quicker. We anticipate a full launch in the coming months.

Where do you see growth opportunities?

We pride ourselves on knowing our audience’s needs and delivering information in an engaging way, and there’s no format more engaging than video.

Having made strategic investments, we expanded our patient stories series, which are personal videos about what it’s like to live with a medical condition, such as bipolar disorder. But we also have short-form videos that are fun, optimized for social sharing, and designed to appeal to a cross-section of our audience.

And we align with key production partners, such as Rock’n Robin Productions, founded by Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts.

According to comScore Media Metrix, WebMD Health has been consistently ranked number one within the health category in terms of unique visitors, page views, and time spent across total digital, desktop, and mobile.

Do you have an internal studio?

Yes, we have a team of three video producers and five editors, as well as a shooter and writer. They have experience producing content for CNN, Time Warner, Discovery Communications, Showtime, Food Network, AMC, and CBS. We’re about to launch our new video studio.

What kind of output can users expect?

We’ve started to experiment - get all those different styles of video out there. We have people interested in long form, such as our piece on YouTube about binge eating, which was easily our most popular.

That’s influenced us to do more stories around patients and share their lives. At the same time, people really need to learn how to, say, remove ticks.

What types of video resonate most?

We’re delving into that now, as we create new pilots and styles to see what our desktop, mobile, and social audiences want to see. In theory, people on Facebook are looking for shorter videos, but there’s interest in more in-depth storytelling. So we’re still in test and see mode.

Years ago, WebMD videos featured a lot of talking heads - doctors in lab coats speaking into a camera. Now, we know users on mobile or social often don’t turn up their volume, so we introduced more graphics.

In short, we look at how we can stop the scroll - what’s interesting in the first one to three seconds that will make them stop.

Will there be any layoffs as WebMD pivots to video?

WebMD will maintain a broad editorial team, which will continue to include in-house board-certified physician editors, medical journalists, experts, and contributors to create trusted original health content.

How do you partner with influencers?

We consider influencers thought leaders in the health space, everyone from patients to medical professionals. We leverage them to share firsthand experiences and knowledge. We don’t tap into those wanting to promote agendas or products. It’s about sharing information that may impact our users. We fully vet everyone we may partner with, try to provide as many voices as possible, and clearly label third-party content.

Tell me about your print magazine.

It is our point-of-care product that is found in 85% of doctors’ offices. It launched in 2005 with four 60-page issues a year. Now, we do eight 96-page issues a year, along with specials, such as the Campus issue we did in July-August. Last year, we redesigned the magazine so we could take a fresh approach to having the same type of journalism you can expect from our website.

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