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Social Media's Role in Healthcare Education, and the Implications for the Marketer
Recently, the Pew Internet and American Life Project published a study entitled The Social Life of Health Information. The study is quite informative, but as Cymfony's resident healthcare analyst, I found two of Pew's findings to be especially signicant:
1) Over half of what Pew calls "e-patients" (those who rely on the internet for health information) are turning to social media in the course of their research.
2) While 66% of "e-patients" research specific diseases or medical conditions, 55% research specific medical treatments or procedures. The percentage of "e-patients" who research specific diseases has not increased significantly since 2002, however the percentage who research specific treatments has climbed from 47% in 2002 to 55% in 2008.
Marketing professionals in all areas of healthcare must understand the implications of these two facts. Let's begin with the first fact that over half of all "e-patients" are turning to social media. Whereas "non-user generated" healthcare content is generally based on academic knowledge, clinical results, and marketing spin, social media healthcare content is built on patient opinions and personal accounts. Therefore, over half of "e-patients" are making healthcare decisions based, at least in part, on information provided by other patients. This makes it imperative that the marketer is aware of these online opinions. Rather than speaking to patients and potential patients, healthcare marketers must listen first and then develop communications that not only speak to consumers but also respond to prevailing attitudes and concerns. In this sense, an understanding of social media is similar to the insights gleaned from traditional focus group and survey-based research, though social media provides a platform for unsolicited feedback. Two other advantages of social media are that conversations are peer-to-peer rather than "moderator-to-consumer", and patients are often afforded a greater level of anonymity in social media. The psychological differences between these two scenarios likely lead to the expression of more honest opinions.
The second fact, that 55% of "e-patients" research specific treatments and procedures, serves to emphasize the importance of the implications mentioned above. One of the first thoughts that should cross the marketer's mind when developing communication strategies should be, "the chances are very good that my target market will search the internet for specific information about my product." The natural follow-up question should be, "what will my target market discover about my product in online media?"
Pew's study shows that without a thorough understanding of the attitudes expressed in social media, a marketer can not develop optimal communication strategies.
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Great summary of the article. Definitely had a large impact on my understanding of the trends that will be coming out in the next couple years.
Posted by: @rdjfraser | Aug 19, 2009 4:23:02 PM
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