Tweeting @DoctorWelby: Practical Examples of Social Media in Healthcare

Filed in Research, Social Media by on December 14, 2010 1 Comment

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This article will examine high yield opportunities for healthcare and healthcare related companies to consider when evaluating the potential for social media within their integrated marketing communication plans.

There is a considerable and justifiable amount of perceived risk for any healthcare organization when evaluating the potential rewards that this direct channel could provide. The lack of a clear position or guidance by the FDA on the use of these tools in promotion complicates the adoption process for most organizations. Admittedly, satisfying the concerns of an organization’s medical, regulatory and legal stakeholders in this environment will be challenging. Pioneering companies that will allow marketers to build a stronger affinity with their consumer base using these technologies will be well positioned to harvest a wealth of consumer insight through this emerging communication channel. The concepts and recommendations outlined in this summary are intended to be practical examples for consideration.

Citing academic references of social media, applying current business intelligence and using the concepts described as “satellite marketing™” we share a perspective for knowledge gathering, strategic decision making and relationship development using social media sites, services and applications.

Today’s average consumer of any healthcare product or service is an incredibly empowered individual in the selection of which providers will deliver their services . Whether your need is for an orthodontist or an over the counter analgesic, there is information immediately available on the web to help support their decision making. The challenge is that it is difficult for many consumers to decipher which sites provide the most clinically accurate content. As pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing organizations begin analyzing their current communication strategies and tactics, a common question is emerging: What are the opportunities, if any, for the effective use of social media in such a highly regulated and scrutinized environment of healthcare communication?

We believe that there are immediate high yield opportunities for healthcare marketing and communication professionals to consider when evaluating the potential for social media in their communication plans. This article will benefit any communication professionals that have a need to effectively engage consumers of healthcare products or services. Our objective is to describe the role and influence of social media as an integral part of the modern communication plan.

As Mangold & Faulds suggest, the promotional mix is expanding to include vehicles the organization and its agents have not typically had to utilize in the past (see Figure 1). As many agents will be new to social media as the organizations they support, there is a considerable and justifiable amount of perceived risk for any healthcare organization when evaluating the potential rewards that this direct channel could provide. The lack of a clear position or guidance by the FDA on the use of these tools in promotion adds to the complication in the adoption process for most organizations. Admittedly, satisfying the concerns of an organization’s medical, regulatory and legal stakeholders in this environment will be challenging. Pioneering companies that will allow marketers to build a stronger affinity with their consumer base using these technologies will be well positioned to harvest a wealth of consumer insight through this emerging communication channel. Considering the degree of trust social media provides when compared to traditional media, social network generated customer recommendations and blog posts and micro-blog consumer opinions can be an organization’s greatest marketing force .

Responsible communicators are asking which channels are available for prospects and current customers to contact their own organization today. Is their company positioned where their target markets already gather and communicate online? The objective of this article is to share our research, our experience and our resulting strategy on how to implement social media sites, services and applications in an efficient manner, within a controlled budget, on a regular schedule.

In 2010, the average healthcare consumer is becoming more involved in all decisions about the healthcare services they receive and the providers who deliver them. Changing issues in healthcare have forced the patient to know more and more about the cost of medical expenditures via co-pays, the service providers available to them via primary care physician selection, and the decision-making related to their care as pharmaceutical companies are regulated to disclose even more about side effects and variables in treatment success. There does not appear to be a strong link between consumers being empowered to understand their conditions through online education and research. To date, there have not been compelling data provided by any organizations that we are of that would suggest better healthcare outcomes are bestowed on those consumers that are better informed. The average healthcare products and services consumer simply has more sources for information and potential for confusion or misinformation.

One of the undeniable outcomes of the empowered consumer is that once they have information they will want more information that can be used when communicating with healthcare providers. This is not to suggest consumers follow an “evidenced based” approach to their research, but marketers and communicators need acknowledge the tenacity with which they routinely gather information.

Consider, too, the evolving relationship between the average healthcare provider to the consumer and the communication between the two as it has been depicted in popular culture over the last 70 years. During the late 1920’s healthcare was commonly represented by painted images of a kindly country doctor, such as Norman Rockwell’s “Doctor and Doll” on the cover of a printed The Saturday Evening Post. In the 1930’s and 40’s film and radio portrayed an interning Dr. Kildare as the model of medicine and the last word on patient treatments and efficacy. In the 1960’s the common exchange with a healthcare provider could be seen in the fatherly dialogue of Marcus Welby, MD. In a typical television episode Dr. Welby told the patient what the problem was, how he would be proceeding in treatment and what the patient should expect. There was no questioning the doctor and the God-like status doctors experienced set their words as final, and patients politely followed societal etiquette.

The public perception of doctors changed with the media again in the 1970’s with prime-time “Medical Center” and the soap opera story lines of “General Hospital” presenting doctor accessibility and right to have human issues, like fallibility. The use of humor in the doctor-patient relationship emerged in the irreverent film-to-TV series “M*A*S*H,” and has been used successfully as a means to a ratings end in more recent series, including “Doogie Howser”, “Scrubs” and “House.”

Modern “medical” television is evolving today to include doctor-patient dialogue with talk shows, like “The Doctors” and “Dr. Oz,” as producers have learned compelling consumer insight and credibility starts with listening to the audience, not speaking to the audience.

When communicating an organization’s unique selling proposition (USP), we must question how strongly value is defined. Increasingly, the costs of care are being pushed onto the consumer from the payors, providers, and facilities that their treatment requires or that the patient elects to use. Every promotional claim that these healthcare partners make is evaluated by the consumer in the context of, “What’s in it for me?” This informed and discriminating environment is proving to be a rough test for most marketers trying to win the hearts and minds of the average consumer.

To address the challenge, innovative companies have realized the interactions with healthcare and the communications mediums used have radically changed, and our traditional communication models must evolve. There is a strategic mandate to engage the consumer in the format of their choice in order to be heard in the marketplace. Recent history has shown that if marketers and communication professionals do not fill in the important communications gaps then the consumer will. The problem occurs when a gap gets filled with inaccurate or incomplete information.

There is a real risk in lack of communication, and in the absence of a branded social media presence in the social mediums; these risks begin with exposure to fraud or misinformation. Pfizer Inc. experienced such an issue with an unknown person posing as an authorized company representative . The unauthorized Twitter account had 643 followers and had been linking to negative articles. As of July 8, 2009, Pfizer-specific Twitter accounts include an unbranded “pfizer” with 1,012 followers, an “unofficial” PfizerNews” with 1,045 followers, “Pfizer_Drug” with 49 followers and “Pfizer News” with 12. Even after editorial exposure, as of December 15, 2009 the number of accounts which include the name “Pfizer” has increased to 23, and three currently use a Pfizer logo as its profile picture . Although moving forward with communicating about products and services may take time and planning, securing trademarked, copyrighted or intellectual property names on social media properties does not. Most require only minimal information (username, password, and email) to create an account to secure the username while providing fields for web site links, profile pictures (or logo, product shots), as well as “about” fields to include company tag lines, mission statements, etc that already had been reviewed (approved) as they appear on the corporate web site.

Strategies are quickly changing in the marketplace to appeal to consumers’ needs, wants and desires . Historically, when a marketer wanted to create incremental awareness or trial they simply had to increase the message frequency. Pushing the required communications into the targeted channel was efficient and effective. The “push” strategies are proving less useful in today’s environment as the amount of brand messaging and competition for the consumer’s share of mind has become over-saturating the channel . Product sampling, Continuing Medical Education (CME) and promotional items are being more heavily scrutinized by the public and regulators than ever before . Not surprisingly, ”pull” strategies, those in which the consumer initiates the dialog, are beginning to gain advocates as a way to develop relationships. Social media has begun to find favor amongst marketers and the increasing examples of other business successes are helping to secure larger budgets to access user groups, communities, advocates, the research community, associations, and non-profits. A large portion of these budgets are allocated to leverage patient (P) behavior and understanding consumer insights to develop personalized media messaging, like that found in social networks (sn), blogs (b), micro-blogging (mb), events (e), photo sharing (ps), video sharing (vs), PPT sharing (ppt), video streaming (vst), bookmarking (bk), widgets (w), mobile (mo) and the myriad of other miscellaneous (mi) services.

All new territory has risks. In trying to identify with “moms” online Motrin used an ad page on its web site to discuss “baby wearing,” or carrying a child close to you with a sling or a wrap . The ad included, “Wearing your baby seems to be in fashion. I mean, in theory it’s a great idea” to which Twittering Moms were “offended by the suggestion that they carry their babies to be fashionable.” They were outraged at the idea that they look “crazy.” They vehemently disagreed with the phrasing that “in theory” carrying your baby around is a good idea.” Online Moms did not respond to the ad by racing out for Motrin, but by making it the most “tweeted” subject the next day on Twitter. The next day a nine-minute video on YouTube continued the backlash displaying all of the negative posts. Bloggers began calling for boycotts, and readers contacted their local media to bring attention to the issue. Since its upload November 15, 2008 the video has been viewed 101,060 times and continues to be a source of negative influence on the brand.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) launched a blog titled “More than Medicine ” covering topics including healthcare policy, GSK financial news, and how-to tips offering to “encourage an open, productive discussion about a range of topics related to the US healthcare system and how it can be improved. ” The project, lead by Michael Fleming, Senior Director of Social Media at GSK stated, “we would like people to hear from our company and interact with our company in…a less formal, less rigid way than they are used to hearing from us,” noting that the kind of dialogue featured on the blog is “not being offered by any other company.” The blog received some negative press because of its lack of complete authorship as articles have a first name and initial, but no last name. A post titled “Content is King Here, Not the One Who Posts It” was their response to the comments, including, “legitimate privacy and security concerns” limit the amount of personal information the authors can provide externally. “One of us has already been quoted in the press about this blog, so we’re certainly not hiding anything; but the larger point is that this blog is not about any of us individually; it is about the company as a whole,” wrote Michael F. “Transparency,” defined for social marketing as “the importance of being forthright, authentic and honest ” has been one of the hallmarks of social media since its inception and the perceived lack of transparency was taken to issue, as well as the lack of “who” in the GSK posts. Although there can be a chasm between the “transparency” social media expects and the “translucency” marketing and legal may have deference towards, the intent remains the same: communication.

Risk can also provide rewards. History has shown that the first entrant into a segment frequently enjoys the lion’s share of that market, while subsequent entrants tend to receive a diminishing market share based upon entry . While this relationship does not always hold true, it is an incredibly appealing incentive for innovators to consider. Apple’s iPod is an example of a product that has long dominated its segment by using a blend of corporate accessibility, consumer insight and technological innovation. The story continues to be written with the introduction and expansion of the iPhone.

We find many examples of patients taking control of these technologies for their own healthcare needs. GI Monitor, an iPhone and online application used to track symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease was created by Brett Shamosh, an Ulcerative Colitis patient. Shamosh realized that he could leverage existing technologies to provide more accurate symptom information to his doctor, resulting in more effective treatment . He used his background in digital media to create an iPhone application and distributed it via iTunes to fellow IBD patients. Today, Shamosh is the CEO and founder of WellApps, LLC, which develops applications for patients with chronic illnesses to track symptoms and medications. This real-time global symptom data is also collected and shared anonymously for research. Shamosh believes that the utilization of emerging technologies to record and collect symptom data will lead researchers down paths that might have otherwise gone unexplored.

Some companies are communicating to doctors by providing more innovative resources. Monthly Prescribing Reference (MPR) has launched an online database for medical professionals to download to a desktop PC or to a mobile device . Many companies are also now sharing the same information with the patient as with the doctors who prescribe their medicines. Champions Biotechnology, for instance, offers personalized cancer data, treatment options, genetic tests, therapeutics and research to patients and doctors online .

All new relationships start with a conversation, of one type or another: Patient-to-Patient, Payers, Hospitals, Drug or Medical Device manufacturers. With social media emerging as a cornerstone of personal relationships there are a variety of opportunities for business to follow suit, to engage, and to (as social media has invited) “join the conversation.”

Social media groups of all kinds already exist where the members are patients, doctors, hospitals, and service providers. Unlike traditional marketing efforts all of these people start the conversation, on their own terms, and by their invitation, with greater credibility. One of the more visibly active groups of patients is the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which facilitates patient organization, fund raising and advocacy . With their signature pink ribbon the organization has branded social media profiles on Facebook (130,195 fans ), Twitter (10,806 followers ), MySpace (3265 friends ), YouTube (54,638 total uploaded views ), Flickr and Windows Live Spaces.

Doctors are self-organized on professional business networks like LinkedIn.com reporting 400 groups for “doctors” of as of December 15, 2009 (up from 234 July 7, 2009) with varying interest including Doctors without Borders, Healthcare / Hospitals / Medical Equipment / Devices experts, Architecture and Healthcare, and New York Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Doctors are also using micro-blogging services, like Twitter, to share short real-time updates about a procedure . Dr. Craig Rogers, the lead surgeon in the Henry Ford Surgery Department, said “the impetus for his Twittering was to let people know that a tumor can be removed without taking the entire kidney.”

The Cleveland Clinic has used their social media properties in what we refer to as a “satellite marketing” strategy . The goal of the strategy is designed to connect an organization with its target markets via social media sites and services. These social media sites and services act as marketing sub-stations, or “satellites”. This concept describes a classification system for social media based on each property’s relation to the patient, the frequency of interaction and relevance with the target audience. This concept is an analogy to help conceptualize the interrelationships and implications that the various media have on one another and the organization. Like satellites placed in orbit, there are advantages for two or more to have “line of sight” positioning to enable them to work together.

In a conversation with a representative from the Cleveland Clinic Corporate Communications Department (Ziegler 2009, oral communication, 7th December), the Clinic has used social media and a satellite marketing strategy to increase their reach within the community; the patients they serve, the doctors who practice there, and the employees who provide services. In addition to including the clinic social properties on the web site they consistently brand and communicate their profiles on Facebook (6,422 fans ), YouTube (56, 687 total upload views ), Twitter (2,406 followers ) and LinkedIn . These satellites offer smaller, faster, dynamic communications opportunities, engaging prospects where they already exist.

Ziegler reports that traffic still comes through traditional means, but the online resources help channel the traffic to more appropriate centers. The hospital web site received 1,621 visits from the Facebook fan page between October 1-31 2009 (54% new visitors) and 248 visitors from the Twitter profile (51% new visitors). By providing more information earlier, contacts are more prepared to ask their questions, and take directions towards their next steps. From the corporate perspective, communications perceives great value in branding and public relations the new media provides at a fraction of the traditional investment.

The Clinic has used social media and a satellite marketing strategy to increase their reach within the community; the patients they serve, the doctors who practice there, and the employees who provide services. In addition to including the clinic social properties on the web site they consistently brand and communicate their profiles on Facebook (6,422 fans ), YouTube (56, 687 total upload views ), Twitter (2,406 followers ) and LinkedIn . These satellites offer smaller, faster, dynamic communications opportunities, engaging prospects where they already exist.

Investments in traditional media are on the decline as it proves more expensive and slower to respond to consumer need or crisis. TNS Media Intelligence reports an across the board drop in U.S. ad spending from 2008 to 2009 from -20 to -40% for spot broadcast, -25 to -45% for radio, -30 to -40% for newspaper and -16.2% for magazines. For pharmaceutical direct to-consumer advertising, spending for 2008 was off 18.4% when compared to 2007. Total direct-to-consumer (DTC) spending decreased from $5.3 billion to $4.3 billion .

The average consumer today not only watches broadcast television (4hrs 52 minutes per day including cable / satellite and on-demand), but mobile (7.3 minutes per day) and online content (5.5 minutes per day) . Social media is proving more effective for advertisers as TNS reports online advertising spending is holding steady at 4.6% and 4.5% over the last two years respectively.

By examining the elements of healthcare consumer behavior , like how patients react to diagnosis, where they go for pertinent healthcare information, and whom they trust, one can begin to define the elements of a value proposition, and the business case for investing in a social media strategy. Actively listening to the target audience will always provide a rich source of information and is the recommended activity that all marketers should start the process with. This option has the advantage of being a very low risk alternative to implement, since there are no promotional claims being made.

A recent case study on hypertension demonstrated how listening to social media conversation, keywords, phrases and brands provided the basis to adjust a communication strategy as new information becomes available . “Hypertension is a chronic, asymptomatic condition that is skewed toward older patients (55 and older), yet can also be present in younger patients for genetic reasons. There is a high correlation of hypertension with obesity, smoking and alcohol use.” The business questions included:

1. How do patients feel when they are first diagnosed with hypertension?

2. What information do they need?

3. What kind of solutions are hypertensive patients looking for?

4. What are the barriers to patients staying adherent to their hypertension prescription medication?

The exercise examined search terms, as well as the top 50 keyword phrases, which fell into four main categories: symptoms; causes; treatments / medications / remedy / cure; and treatments / general / alternatives. Researchers reported two insights:

1. How many people are searching for signs and symptoms of hypertension, which is asymptomatic.

2. The variety of treatments to hypertension that people search for including medication, diet, and exercise.

By examining the most frequent words and phrases in online posts and the most frequent sources of hypertension posts, marketers found there were three main categories: cardiology-specific, general medicine, and other demographic / business. As a result, topic taxonomy for the hypertension category shows three themes for conversation: treatment styles, barriers to adherence and information seeking. With this insight the success of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program throughout the patient’s lifecycle is more likely to be a success because the marketer is discussing what matters most to the patient.

The return on investment (ROI) for listening can be expressed in qualitative or quantitative measures, depending on specific criteria. Listening is a relatively easy process using social media tools that can be found starting with search engines, like Google. Marketers find it an easy way to listen to what is being said about a company, a brand, a product, a facility, a disease, a treatment or service. Google Alerts provide “email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic.” Google Trends monitors and reports the most popular keyword searches to “show how frequently your topics have appeared in Google News stories, and in which geographic regions people have searched for them most .”

Twitter is the most popular micro-blogging site and has received a great deal of speculation as to its application, potential for monetization or true market share of the social media pie. Most of the users are speaking, or “tweeting,” which provides a constant stream of shared voices. Experience is building that Twitter provides a quick and effective channel for relationship development, monitoring status updates (29%), searching for news (26%), as well provides the opportunity for closer relationships . We find a common concern for marketers when evaluating Twitter is, “How can I effectively filter all of these tweets, to listen for only the specific content that I am interested in?” One solution is using an application called “Tweet Deck.” Touted as “air traffic control for Twitter, account holders can define a combination of key words to identify relevant content . Like a search engine, all relevant posts for the query are listed. For example, entering the phrase “pharmaceutical and marketing” yields an incredible variety of posts. There are advocates voicing concerns about the industry, networking opportunities and conference invitations. We can also choose specific individuals to “follow” offering a direct response to each encounter as needed.

Other listening devices are available based upon what a company is listening for. Technorati monitors what’s being said in new and existing blogs, from “the top stories, opinions, photos and videos emerging across news, entertainment, technology, lifestyle, sports, politics and business. It tracks not only the authority and influence of blogs, but also the most comprehensive and current index of who and what is most popular in the Blogosphere .” Boardtracker, a free service that monitors the “buzz” on web-based discussion boards, “can pre-define search terms and preferences and will notify you in a number of ways (email, Jabber, Site) as soon as a thread matching your search term is posted on any of the thousands of forums” monitored.

Conclusion

In the past, promotional plans have been designed to “speak” to the target to inform or persuade. The opportunity for speaking to an audience through a social media channel will become evident when a company has listened enough to the audience. The opportunities will, in time, present themselves, and we would have the insight, the taxonomy, and an approved corporate direction for initiating the conversations in all types of social media environments.

Social media represents a rapidly evolving and dynamic form of communication that should not be ignored by healthcare marketing and communications professionals. While there may be some reluctance in adoption by this segment because of the perceived risks, there is no denying the role these channels play in the everyday lives of healthcare consumers. Every organization should be assessing the risk of not making social media channels available to their target audience as a first step in their analysis.

There are 500 million users on FaceBook. How many of them are desirable consumers that could be engaged in a dialog about the brand or service? Make it easy for them to communicate their successes, concerns or feedback in a channel that is very compfortable for them. The authors are recommending the following five steps as best practice for evaluating the role of social media in healthcare marketing and communications.

To begin a social media effort of any scale Doctors, Service Providers, Hospitals and Healthcare Organizations should consider following these guidelines as a starting point, and for a general detail of deliverables:

1. Secure Your Online Identities.

Misinformation can be devastating to a product, and the redirection of traffic is one of the easiest ways to hijack a successful brand. Secure the identities for every property where there is interest, and every social site and service where there is a significant population. Create an account using the business or product name, using the logo or product picture for the profile image, and including a link to the primary web presence. Include some general information in the “about” section to provide an immediate presence at the site until ready for development.

2. Develop a Social Communications Strategy and Plan.

Consider the goals of the communication plan (a plan that tracks and schedules all advertising, marketing, events, public relations, etc.) that will be supported through social media. Defining the role of this complementary strategy and who is authorized to speak for the company is important not only for getting approvals, but to provide oversight and leadership. Sometimes one person does it all, and sometimes the responsibilities are shared between departments. As these are incoming and outgoing communications, they are best served by the communications department, not the IT department where, because of the access to technology, they are often deferred. Many companies are finding it more efficient to utilize an existing methodology in lieu of learning by trial and error. Formal methodologies, like XXXX™, share process and tools in an open source environment, sometimes providing workshops and user groups.

3. Define Roles and Responsibilities.

Chart each property over a calendar, aligning with traditional communications, like advertising plans, marketing promotions, public relations releases and industry events. Consider sales cycles and seasonality when projecting interactions with customers. Defining an editorial schedule, or list of topics, keeps social properties on the subject the audience is most interested in discussing or learning more about.

4. Plan a Reputation Management Strategy.

Be proactive about managing potential risk and exposure from social media to avoid the outcome displayed in the Pfizer example. Contingency planning time is the benefit of making the effort to formalize a process for responding to consumer inquiry or concern. When considering blogging, play out the worst-case scenario internally and discuss the options. For social sites, how would a company handle an employee inadvertently sharing company information? Discussing it now reduces the chances it will happen, and prepares a company for the worst.

5. Build a Dynamic Knowledge Base of Your Audience

Learn to speak to an audience in a personalized message by listening and collecting baseline data. Define 3 “SMART” objectives to establish a return on investment methodology for your social media strategy. Each social site and service is different, including culture, netiquette, and acceptable forms of behavior. Take the time to share what the company has learned internally with others that are familiar with the site for further insight and experience. Study all baseline results and revise the strategy as needed with a goal to improve on each key objective.

Popovic, K, & Smith, C. (2010, Vol. 3, No. 2). Tweeting @DoctorWelby: Practical Examples of Social Media in Healthcare. Journal of Communication in Healthcare. (pp. 138-151) © W. S. Maney & Sons Ltd 2010

About the Authors

Kevin Popovic`´ is Founder of Ideahaus®, a creative communications group that helps clients build their brands and increase sales. With studios in Pittsburgh and San Diego, he serves key accounts as an adjunct Communications Director to develop communications plans, lead teams, and develop creative messaging. Kevin has a BA in Communications/Psychology, MS in Multimedia Technology and has extensive graduate studies within the field of Instructional Technology.

 

D. Chauncey Smith is Founder of MarketSMITH Services, LLC. He has more than 20 years’ healthcare marketing and business development expertise. MarketSMITH Services  provides contract marketing and business development services and include: market research and analysis, brand development, business management and interim management services. Chauncey has a B.S. in Marketing from the Ohio State University

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This article will examine high yield opportunities for healthcare and healthcare related companies to consider when evaluating the potential for social media within their integrated marketing communication plans.

There is a considerable and justifiable amount of perceived risk for any healthcare organization when evaluating the potential rewards that this direct channel could provide. The lack of a clear position or guidance by the FDA on the use of these tools in promotion complicates the adoption process for most organizations. Admittedly, satisfying the concerns of an organization’s medical, regulatory and legal stakeholders in this environment will be challenging. Pioneering companies that will allow marketers to build a stronger affinity with their consumer base using these technologies will be well positioned to harvest a wealth of consumer insight through this emerging communication channel. The concepts and recommendations outlined in this summary are intended to be practical examples for consideration.

Citing academic references of social media, applying current business intelligence and using the concepts described as “satellite marketing™” we share a perspective for knowledge gathering, strategic decision making and relationship development using social media sites, services and applications.

Today’s average consumer of any healthcare product or service is an incredibly empowered individual in the selection of which providers will deliver their services . Whether your need is for an orthodontist or an over the counter analgesic, there is information immediately available on the web to help support their decision making. The challenge is that it is difficult for many consumers to decipher which sites provide the most clinically accurate content. As pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing organizations begin analyzing their current communication strategies and tactics, a common question is emerging: What are the opportunities, if any, for the effective use of social media in such a highly regulated and scrutinized environment of healthcare communication?

We believe that there are immediate high yield opportunities for healthcare marketing and communication professionals to consider when evaluating the potential for social media in their communication plans. This article will benefit any communication professionals that have a need to effectively engage consumers of healthcare products or services. Our objective is to describe the role and influence of social media as an integral part of the modern communication plan.

As Mangold & Faulds suggest, the promotional mix is expanding to include vehicles the organization and its agents have not typically had to utilize in the past (see Figure 1). As many agents will be new to social media as the organizations they support, there is a considerable and justifiable amount of perceived risk for any healthcare organization when evaluating the potential rewards that this direct channel could provide. The lack of a clear position or guidance by the FDA on the use of these tools in promotion adds to the complication in the adoption process for most organizations. Admittedly, satisfying the concerns of an organization’s medical, regulatory and legal stakeholders in this environment will be challenging. Pioneering companies that will allow marketers to build a stronger affinity with their consumer base using these technologies will be well positioned to harvest a wealth of consumer insight through this emerging communication channel. Considering the degree of trust social media provides when compared to traditional media, social network generated customer recommendations and blog posts and micro-blog consumer opinions can be an organization’s greatest marketing force.

The remainder of this article is available to members of the Ideahaus Professional Community. Sign up for the free Social Member level here.

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About the Author ()

Kevin Popović is a communications expert, featured speaker, and author of '20YEARS Communications: 20 Leaders, 20 Questions, 100's of Lessons.' After more than 30 years of professional experience, he helps business leaders make smart decisions about communications. In 2010, "KP" was ranked #43 in Fast Company's The Influence Project measuring the "most influential people online." In 2014 he was ranked as one of the "Top 40 Digital Strategists in Marketing" by the Online Marketing Institute.

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