Social Media and health: the conversations are around experiences, both good and bad

  • Social networking use among Internet users ages 50 and older has nearly doubled –from   22%   to   42%.
  • This demographic is a sweet spot for healthcare marketers.
  • News sites still remain the most trusted online healthcare resource (68 percent), while user-generated contributions on Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs are used less frequently (54 percent), according to results from a national consumer survey conducted by Makovsky + Company.

A report from NM Incite and along with the survey are providing a clearer picture of what consumers are doing online when they search for health information.  The Makovsky + Company reports even states “pharmaceutical company-sponsored pages rank as the least visited; with disease awareness pages and branded treatment pages each frequented by 6 percent of respondents”.  The survey explored patients’ information-seeking behaviors on specific social media channels, identifying WebMD as the most popular for health searches, with almost half (48 percent) of Americans visiting the site. Among other findings:

  • Only 3 percent of consumers visit Twitter feeds for healthcare information
  • Patient communities’ websites are visited by 7 percent of respondents
  • Facebook sites rank as the fourth most-frequented resource
  • 11 percent of Americans turn to the ubiquitous site for healthcare information
  • U.S. Federal government is seen as the most credible shepherd of information. More than a third of Americans (35 percent) visit government-sponsored sites first when accessing Facebook health resources26 percent of respondents cite
  • Facebook sites created by peers as the least trusted health resource. 6 percent cite Facebook sites by patient groups or communities as least trusted.

Now I’m not sure if this research was commisioned by Web MD but I do have a couple of questions with it;

1: Harris Poll information, as recently as last year, seemed to indicate a low level of trust with the FDA so why would the Government be the most credible shepherd of information?

2: Are people viewing social media sites as they collect health information about possible problems or after they have a diagnosis an want to know more ?

The NM Incite Report Implications

The Nielsen Incite Report has some great findings.  First they find that health discussions on social media are broad ranging but that discussions around brands make up less than 20% of all discussions.  The best online experience is personal experiences.  This is what patients want to know and how they ask others about what to expect.  Remember as this quote from a patients shows it’s not always about the patient it is often about caregivers who are often put under a lot of additional stress trying to care for someone who is sick.

“Brain cancer is so awful. My mom is still in treatment, she has about 10 more avastin treatments left. She is 72, somewhat weak, hardly talks because she can’t think of the right word to say and does nothing but sit in a chair all day and look out the window. I wonder what will happen once treatment ends, will she get any better or can we expect more of the same for the rest of her life.”, 2011-01-13

The other great insight from Nielsen is that both positive and negative experiences are shared around conditions and treatments.  For example;

Finally one of the best insights from Nielsen Incite is that brands have only a short window to address negative news & buzz on their products.  If pharma companies don’t develop a process to identify threats to their brand and quantify the online buzz as it applies to their brand they are going to loose a valuable opportunity to drive the conversation around the facts.

Implications for healthcare marketers:

1ne: Consumer experiences are online currencies .  Bring consumers & patients together around the condition and have an expert who can provide some help an guidance .

2wo: Brand social media sites could be a waste of resources.  However more research is needed to uncover opportunities.

3hree: Pharma has to learn to quantify online buzz around their brands and respond quicker with good credible information that is transparent.  They do not have the luxury anymore of having weeks of meetings and developing a lot of Power Points because the longer you wait the more damage can be done to your brand.

4our: I am not buying the survey from Makovsky + Company that pharma product websites pages rank as the least visited. This could be true for someone who is starting a search for health information but once a patient has a diagnosis or has self-diagnosed they, I believe, are more likely to go to a pharma website to learn the positives and negatives of the brand.

Discussions online around various conditions