Six ways with social media Insights on healthcare branding March 2009
Last year all of the healthcare publications – online and offline - were buzzing about social media and its potential impact on our industry. Pharma spent nearly $1.2 billion to market online in 2008, a figure that is expected to reach $2.2 billion by 2011, according to digital tracking firm eMarketer. Yet there is still much confusion about how to integrate new forms of communication, particularly digital and mobile, into a brand marketing plan. If 2008 was about creating awareness that social media exists, then 2009 should be about exploring how to meaningfully engage. And engage in a way that makes the team feel comfortable. There still appears to be much reluctance about social media because of regulatory considerations. I am usually the first to say there are ways around it, but to be fair ours is an industry that is highly regulated and there are potential pitfalls. So rather than suggest ideas or programs that some could perceive as too risky, we will focus on six steps you can reasonably take without incurring the wrath of regulatory.
1. Start tracking your brand online. At a minimum, all marketers should be monitoring how their brands live online. With nearly universal adoption of the Internet among physicians and 72 million U.S. adults visiting a health site in 2008 (comScore), there is an astounding amount of unfiltered discussion and information flow taking place among patients, caregivers, and physicians online. Dialogue is happening all over the Internet – on wikis, health-related social networks, general social networks like FaceBook, blogs, videos, message boards and drug rating sites. Do you have a solid grasp of the social media landscape where your product or the therapeutic category is being discussed? If you don’t, then you are missing out on a golden opportunity to listen in and learn from your customers. The findings can help marketers monitor general perceptions, provide a quick read on an unfolding situation, uncover issues that had not been considered, or even confirm primary market research. No one has time to pore over all of the sites, and some companies prohibit such visits, so it makes the most sense to select an outside service that will aggregate the information in which you are most interested. Many research companies now offer robust sentiment tracking or blogmining services. Work with your branding or advertising agency to help select the one that best meets your goals. Six ways with social media – 2
2. Establish a relationship with a patient opinion leader. Today’s patient population is completely different than those of years past. They are involved, well educated, and not afraid to question the advice of their physicians. In its 2008 report, How America Searches: Health & Wellness, iCrossing found that 59% of patients turn to the Web as their first source of health information. Physicians rank second at 55% and traditional media like television and print trail in the distance attracting only 20%. As a result, patients have begun to forge relationships with one another online, discussing medications, therapies, symptoms and more. This has led to the rise of a new type of expert: the Patient Opinion Leader. These are nonmedical professionals who inspire trust and act as guides for other patients. They write blogs, voice their opinions in patient communities, post videos on YouTube, and create FaceBook pages devoted to their cause. One such POL is Kerri Morrone Sparling of Six Until Me, a popular diabetes blog that attracts 50,000 visitors per month. Readers often ask Kerri for advice and opinions, and while she is careful to point out that she is not a medical professional, her followers appreciate her candor and accumulated wisdom as someone who has lived with the disease for twenty-two years. Kerri believes her audience would welcome a dialogue with a pharmaceutical company as long as it is done in a way that is honest and respectful. “Earning the trust of your user base is crucial to the growth of the industry. If Big Pharma wants to really touch the lives of patients, they need to show us that they care, that my health, and the health of my fellow diabetics, is something their company holds in the highest regard.” Fellow blogger Lisa Emrich, a musician who lives with multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, agrees. Lisa’s blog Brass and Ivory
discusses health policy and Big Pharma as it relates to MS. “I’ve received emails from the communications department of isolated pharma companies who are developing MS treatments. But the purpose is often just to distribute a press release and not actually to develop a mutual relationship… Talk with us, not at us. Engage with participants. Patients will not bite.” All pharmaceutical companies have advisory boards of physician opinion leaders; now is the time to create ones with patients, too.
3. Support a social network in your category. Over the past few years, patient-led discussions about every disease imaginable have moved from Yahoo Groups and listservs to full-blown social networks. As already mentioned, patients are connecting with each other online, often disclosing personal medical histories and detailing their treatments. Patient-focused networks exist in a number of places: large general social networks like FaceBook, Ning and MySpace; general health sites like HealthCentral, WebMD, RevolutionHealth; and specialty platforms like CureTogether, PatientsLikeMe, Inspire. How can you get involved? You need not start from scratch and create a new forum – go where your audience already congregates. Alexandra Carmichael, president and co-founder of CureTogether, a site that enables people to anonymously compare symptoms, treatments and health data, believes there are many opportunities for collaboration where all parties benefit. “Pharma companies can send us inclusion criteria for clinical trials they need filled. They can also send us surveys about adverse side effects, drug efficacy, and company perception for specific populations of patients.”
Do you have a solid grasp of the social media landscape where your product or the therapeutic category is being discussed? If you don’t, then you are missing out on a golden opportunity to listen in and learn from your customers.
A great example of a company that partnered with a thriving patient network is LifeScan, a Johnson & Johnson company, and manufacturer of the OneTouch Glucose Meter. Lifescan learned about TuDiabetes, a social network for those living with diabetes founded by Manny Hernandez in 2007, at an Amercian Diabetes Association-sponsored expo. They developed a partnership that resulted in an entire section of the OneTouch site dedicated to Sharing – the root of all social networking - which features information about TuDiabetes and its programs. According to Manny, the relationship with Lifescan has been warmly received by the TuDiabetes community and has helped the group grow. This proves that when done correctly, partnerships between Big Pharma and patients can work.
4. Engage with physicians at one of their many online haunts. The Internet is completely integrated into physicians’ personal and professional lives. Manhattan Research studies the Web behavior of doctors and found that 99% are online daily, 85% maintain broadband in their offices and 83% consider the Internet essential to their practice. Physicians go online during the day, between patient visits or during patient consults to search for information. They also peruse favorite blogs, share information in MD-only social networks and read the online versions of preferred journals. These destinations represent prime locations where savvy marketers can disseminate compelling content that goes far beyond ad banners. For example, the medical blogosphere is blossoming in size and stature. One of the best-known bloggers is Val Jones, M.D. of Getting Better with Dr. Val. She recently teamed up with other wellregarded physician and nurse bloggers
to create Better Blogcast, which offers industry a novel way to access the blogging community in a completely transparent way. Using an unrestricted grant model, Better Blogcast invites top bloggers to write about specific topics. The posts are shared across all participating sites through a news widget. Communities where physicians congregate are also a good venue for encouraging discussion and debate. In addition to Sermo and Medscape’s Physician Connect, there are specialty-specific communities that may be more appropriate for certain brands. Examples include: EyeSpaceMD for opthalmologists; SpineConnect for spine surgeons; MedTrust Online for oncologists.
5. Use video to communicate and educate. Compelling video is the next frontier. A few pharma companies have created branded YouTube and Facebook pages. While it’s a great first step, the content they have posted is not as enticing as it could be. To effectively drive viewership of health video, marketers need to think about the intended audience, medium and distribution. A common mistake is to use material developed for TV or DVD and upload it to the Web. According to Josh Silberstein, CEO of Health Guru, the largest provider of health video on the web, “The path to success starts with differentiated and engaging content. Repurposed TV content is the proverbial square peg in a round hole when it comes to online video. Patients are usually looking for more detailed and comprehensive information.” Distribution and uptake is another important issue so it is best to work with a company that knows content and search optimization to ensure buzz and page views. When done correctly the rewards can be dramatic: Health Guru’s library of over 1,000 videos generated 150 million page views in 2008!
6. Go mobile. Mobile applications that focus on health and wellness for consumers and medical tools for professionals are exploding. Well over half of all physicians own an iPhone, Blackberry, or other brand of PDA or smartphone, according to Manhattan Research, and the majority believe it is a tool they can’t live without. Apple’s App Store offers over 150 medical tools for physicians, many of which are free but even more that are not. The most popular downloads provide comprehensive drug information, medical calculators, terminology or protocols/interpretations (eye exam, ECG interpretation). Why not use some of your marketing dollars creating an app that physicians find useful and relevant? It is also a good way to engage in dialogue with customers because many physicians willingly post feedback. As the article points out, there are many ways to engage in the social media universe that are no more risky than what you are doing today offline. No matter which path you choose, make 2009 the year you do something.
Six Ways Pharma Marketers Can Use Social Media Bunny Ellerin, InterbrandHealth New York (first published in Pharmaceutical Executive, March 2009)
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