Consumer use of social media in healthcare

Social media is becoming a bigger part of the collection of health information, but it varies by health condition and treatment options how patients use social channels during their online search. The more serious the condition, the more time patients spend online researching with social media tools as part of the equation.

This is one of the findings of a recent qualitative research project designed and carried out by Rich Meyer, an experienced DTC marketer working in the pharma industry for over 10 years now. The study showed other interesting trends about how consumers are using social media for seeking healthcare information and how it influences their decisions as well.

Here are the key findings of the research:

  • Seeking health information online is often triggered by health concerns of a patient or family member. People usually do not search for health-related information proactively. The search is initiated after experiencing the symptoms.
  • There is not one online source that is the most popular when it comes to searching for health info. There is no ultimate source. People in older age groups usually start with search engines, and often mention being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of health-related information online. One of the main problems for internet users is complexity, the often feel frustrated when not finding answers to more simple questions.
  • While some people use social media sites during their search, they rarely trust the accuracy of posts. The main reason to go to social media sources is to read about others’ experiences with the same health concerns. This is trend is more dominant with more serious conditions.
  • People are concerned about personal and data privacy, so they are usually not comfortable posting their medical information on social media sites. This was even a bigger of a concern for older demographics.
  • Before making a healthcare-related decision, women usually do more research online and go to a lot more websites than men.
  • While physicians are still a very important source of medical information, the need for a more cooperative approach to healthcare is obvious. Participants stated that they would like to discuss different options with their doctors.
  • Another interesting and possibly worrying aspect of the study is that during focus groups participants didn’t mention pharma company websites as a health-related online source at all. This might be due to the fact that they questioned the trustworthiness of pharma companies all together.


How Do We Spend Our Time Online?

A recent infographic from Go-Gulf presented striking numbers about just how much time people spend online. Social networking is the most popular activity by internet users while Google has the highest number of unique visitors monthly, followed close by Facebook. With 30 percent of the world’s population online the average time spent globally on the internet in one month only adds up to a mind-blowing 3,955,444 years.

According to the infographic below looking for health-related information online is the third most common activity among internet users. Only emailing and using search engines top its popularity. But looking for and finding valuable information can be two very different things. So do we trust online health info? Based on a new survey carried out by Wolters Kluwer Health people do trust the medical content they find on the internet. And this means a huge responsibility for every online publisher who create and distribute health-related information on the web. According the the survey:

65 percent of those seeking medical information online say they trust the information they find and 63 percent say they’ve never misdiagnosed themselves based on something they read online.

A recent post on points out that Twitter can be a valuable medical resource for patients and their relatives as well. With many doctors, patient groups and health services providing help and information on the micro-blogging site, there is a pool of knowledge that could be tapped into after getting used to the idea of sharing and co-creating a knowledge base with only 140 characters at a time.

To think that only a decade ago we didn’t even have the term social networking, using Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites didn’t play any part in our everyday life. It’s safe to say that these fast paced changes in technology remodeled the way we look at medical information and diagnosing conditions entirely.


(Source:, FierceHealthIT,


The End Of Janssen’s Psoriasis 360 Facebook Page

Janssen has announced the closing of its Facebook page, called Psoriasis 360. The social campaign was known in the pharma sector as the go-to best practice example for successful and creative social media use. What the audience – and the rest of the industry for that matter – didn’t see tho, was the enormous amount of work that goes into moderating posts and comments on a platform like a Facebook page.

Janssen was the first to use “post-moderated comments”, meaning that these comments were only checked – and pulled if necessary – after they were posted. This was definitely a progressive way of handling comments on Facebook, something that became mandatory after new Facebook policies were introduced in August last year.

So does this mean that pharmaceutical companies don’t have a place on Facebook? Does this mean that monitoring is a daunting task that cannot be completed? I’m sure a lot of people in the pharma industry would say so and use the closing of Psoriasis 360 as a proof to their case. But is it fair to point fingers and use a previous best practice as a bad example, or even as an excuse to stay away from social media? Can an award-winning campaign become a “failure” overnight? I surely hope the answer is no. If anything people responsible for the campaign should be praised for not letting the situation get out of hand and for addressing difficulties on time.

The end of Psoriasis 360 should not serve as a bad example, but as a great one for the proper way to handle social media risks and still keeping the main goals of social engagement and patient education in the limelight. Janssen made its announcement available on the landing page of Psoriasis 360 where they inform their fans about the reasons behind their decision. But they go a little further too, they point the patients in the right direction to get information by mentioning the websites and Twitter accounts of the Psoriasis Association, the Psoriasis Scotland Arthritis Link Volunteers and the University of Manchester Skin Research as accurate and useful resources. The company also decided to take a little time before closing down the page entirely to make sure its message gets through to patients. If anything, this process should be a best practice example of how and when to end a social media campaign.

And before anyone accuses me of being too positive and forgiving, this event should also work as a catalyst to generate  more ideas to better manage the task of monitoring social platforms, the handling of comments coming from the audience and keeping alive successful campaigns while staying in line with regulations.


Social Media Tips For Pharma Companies

Recently I read an interview with Gillian Tachibana, head of eMedia and social media at Merck Serono. She pointed out some basic issues that pharmaceutical companies should consider when using social media in their business.

As I mentioned it in our last post, some of the pharma companies are embracing social media and realize the value that patient engagement and social communication hold for them. They also pay attention to the special regulatory requirements that the industry demands. But there is always room for growth, there are always opportunities for improvements.

Gillian Tachibana raises an interesting point when she says: “Social media is being treated as a separate beast in itself … it’s not.” Just because social media is considered a new approach and a new channel to reach customers – although it can’t longer be called the hottest thing in digital marketing –, it doesn’t mean it has to be handled as something separate from the company’s marketing strategy. It should be an integral part of all marketing activities.

She also argues that listening is key in social media, especially before deciding where to set up an account, what platform to choose for a marketing campaign. I do agree that to reach a target audience it is important to find out where they are, but I also think that pharma companies are not destined to follow their audience, they can be – and should be – the ones setting an example, they can be early adapters to be followed. It’s also crucial to emphasize that listening and monitoring doesn’t stop with choosing the right platform and setting up an account. First of all, a pharma company should be always alert and aware of all activities happening on its social media accounts. Secondly, one social media tool could be the right choice at one point, but in the digital environment changes come fast, new solutions appear day after day, and a digitally savvy company cannot afford to be left behind or not up-to-date with the latest technologies.

Another important lesson from the above mentioned post is that you can’t base an entire social media strategy on the idea that using social platforms is important because everybody else is doing it. Copying doesn’t work with digital campaigns, it gets obvious very quickly. Not to mention that social media efforts that are built on only competition and not for the benefit of the audience, are very likely to disappear, and disappear fast. That’s why it is better to take time to plan ahead, to consider every aspect of how social media might effect a company’s marketing activity. There is no need to “jump headfirst into a lake”, it looks like social channels are here to stay, so there is plenty of time to prepare and make improvements.


Pharma And Social Media – Where Are The Companies Now?

There has been a lot written about the pharmaceutical industry being slow to implement social media and how it is not willing to actively engage with patients and other healthcare stakeholders. It might be time to change the sharp tone of criticism, and give to best practices and good solutions the attention they deserve. There is still a lot to do of course, but looking at pharma as an industry that is not capable of change is not an option anymore. And here is why.

While there are companies that are reluctant to use social media as an integrated part of their marketing strategy, others have realized the value of social communication and engagement and they are doing their best to navigate on the relatively new platforms, while meeting the strict regulatory requirements of the industry. For example GlaxoSmithKline with more than 22 000 fans on Facebook is making sure all of its followers are communicating respectfully and urges them to consider certain legal matters. They let their Facebook fans know how and why the company is using the platform by having all this information on their landing page. This is one of the many examples how a company can use social media consciously and still keep the important regulatory issues in mind.

Obviously when using social media it is not enough to just „simply” follow the guidelines published by different authorities, companies also have to use the platforms what they are created for. We can’t talk about communication unless both parties (the company and its audience) are participating in it. There is no social media without interaction. Case in point the Twitter – or any other social media account for that matter – of Boehringer Ingelheim. On Twitter they share interesting content, they retweet, they ask and answer questions. They interact. Not to mention the fact that the company realizes what numerous studies have shown, that people are more likely to engage with pharma companies on social platforms if they know exactly who they are talking to. On the Twitter page of Boehringer Ingelheim the company makes sure to state who shares their tweets, so people can connect the posts to actual faces.

Also, companies have to realize, social media is not just about the numbers. You can have millions of fans on Facebook, thousands of followers on Twitter – if you don’t use the platform wisely, if you don’t use the opportunity to actually connect with people, it doesn’t matter how many fans you have. Pfizer for example has almost 48 000 Facebook fans. It is an impressive number that looks really good in corporate presentations, you can use it as an argument in meetings, but unless you communicate and engage with those people, big numbers are pointless. Pfizer is actively using its Facebook page to share company-related news, and more importantly to give patients a chance to report adverse events. While this may seem like the worst nightmare for many companies, it is an effective and responsible way of dealing with issues that are there, whether a company acknowledges them or not. The discussions are happening whether we listen or not.

The Value Of Social Media Within A Pharma Company

When it comes to pharmaceutical marketing companies are accustomed to have very specific data and analysis ready about the ROI of their campaigns. Long lines of numbers show how many people have seen a television ad, what type of audience did a message reach and what is the value for the company in these marketing activities. Stats and numbers, clear and simple. Social media tools throw off a lot of people because they are essentially different in this aspect.

You can count the “Likes” and present the number of  Twitter followers to marketing executives but it won’t show you a definite picture of what value social media brings to your company. The statistics don’t represent how fans and followers make their purchasing decisions based on the creative contest you just did on Facebook, they also won’t show the long-term benefits of building business relationships on Twitter.

Another way of looking at the value of social media is to see how members of your company are using it professionally and how it benefits them, and eventually through them how it brings revenue to the company itself. This was the idea behind the recent study AstraZeneca carried out asking almost 400 of its scientists about the professional use of social media and science. More than 75% of the respondents said that social media was “valuable” or “somewhat valuable”. The most popular online platforms among the participating scientists were professional networks, wikis and blogs.

They study, featured on emphasized the importance of social communication among scientists and the long-term benefits of co-creation of knowledge. One of the responders summarised this in the following statement:

Social media are like any medium of communications. Saying that social media are not important is isolating you as a scientist … (which) rarely leads to new science.


Building A Successful Social Media Presence In Pharma – Andrew Spong Shares His Thoughts With H2onlinehu (Part 2)

In the second part of our interview with healthcare social media expert, Andrew Spong we asked him about the crucial steps toward a successful social media presence and focused on issues that pharmaceutical companies might come across when implementing digital solutions in their marketing plan.

Earlier in the interview you talked about some of the obstacles for pharma companies when it comes to social media conversation, for example the platform being so new. How can a pharma company take the first step, how to dive into healthcare-related social media?

I think they need to do a lot of things all at once which is never easy. The first thing is to get the buy-in of senior colleagues from across functions. So you need legal, you need regulatory, you need medical affairs, you need communications, marketing and more. Senior figures from all of those functions must feature in your initial task force. This is the team that will have to do the really hard work of defining and answering the „How? What? Where? Who? When? Why?” questions. Why do we want to use social media? Is it something that is going to take form in an integrated strategic plan for us or we’re just doing it because we think we should be doing it? All of those sorts of problematic but enlightening questions. The team must be able to provide compelling answers, which demonstrate to their business the critical reasons why it must participate within social media. There are many, and we already identified some of them, but they will need to be optimised in order to meet the needs of each business individually.

The next step (and ideally one which can be conducted concurrently) is to ensure that the existing corporate governance which is in place is fit for purpose, and it probably won’t be. It will need to be expanded in order to provide employees with a passport to the social web, to make them feel confident that they can express themselves on the social web. It must be made clear that they are not speaking on behalf of the company, as the communication function does that, but rather to help them understand the ways in which they can reach out to the communities of interest that they wish to communicate with in an effective and approvable way.

All of these are difficult, time-consuming, problematic issues for the industry. For the final step that we intimated before is to take all of those aspirations and those strategic objectives and incorporate them effectively into the existing strategic plan in order to make sure that social media isn’t treated as which sits outside of an integrated communications plan or marketing plan, but sits within it. This really should begin to show all the results that drive and fulfill the aspirations, that the architects of the company’s social media strategy believe they can deliver for them.

You mentioned that pharma companies need to find regulatory guidance within their companies. Is this a way to deal with or resolve the fact that there is little guidance from outside authorities?

It’s not that they’are going to reach out and find a lot of existing guidance. Firstly you need all of the people in the room at the beginning who may say ‘no’ at the end. There is no point doing all this work if you haven’t convinced people who ultimately have to sign off any plans or strategies that you want to implement. There’s no point in presenting a wonderfully crafted bundle of ideas and implementable actions that you come up with if senior colleagues are ultimately going to reject them. These colleagues’ concerns must be addressed at the beginning, and you need to get them and keep them on your side. You must keep talking about their concerns until they are resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, and all issues have been put to rest.

In order to achieve this aim, you will need to demonstrate to colleagues that there may not be a ‘Big Book of How to Use Social Media’ from you local EFPIA regulatory body or in the US from the FDA, but that doesn’t mean that existing regulation is not fit for purpose. Existing regulation – it has widely been claimed by pharma companies that are using the social web effectively – is fit for purpose. It is sufficient in as much as that it was designed to speak to all media, so in essence you make sure that you do not do anything on the social web that you would not do in any other environment and broadly speaking that means that you do not promote – it is as simple and as difficult, as that.

In your experience, what are the main concerns that pharma companies usually have when it comes to the social web?

They revolve around issues like regulatory, we just touched on one of them. But I feel like we just gave some insights on how that conversation can be managed. I’m not saying it is going to go away, because the industry always has to be aware of, and answerable to, the requirements of regulatory bodies. But it is certainly one of the issues that always comes up. Another example is adverse event reporting. „As soon as we get onto the social web we’re going to find a slew of extra adverse events that we’re going to have to report.” Well there’s a series of responses to that. Firstly, these conversations are taking place, if you believe that they are happening, those conversations are taking place anyway and it is beholden upon you if you wish to identify and respond to them. So it is a question of time management, rather than a question of maintaining your ethical responsibilities as a company. Well that’s not acceptable. Also, following Pfizer’s example of putting an AER link on their Facebook page, in terms of effective use of resources it makes a great deal of sense to provide a means of allowing reporters to convey their observations through the most successful and popular environment on the Internet which are delivered to a team of in-house experts waiting for their submissions.

A great deal of research has now been undertaken on the vast number of pieces of patient-reported information and data that are shared daily. There is a compelling body of evidence coming together that suggests that adverse events reports which meet the four standard criteria – a reporter, a reportee, a drug name, an identifiable adverse event – very seldom happen. This doesn’t mean that a company does not need an effective and functional response strategy to call upon when adverse events are identified. However, what is does mean is that the „fear” that companies are going to find tens of thousands of additional adverse events to report that they have not encountered previously is just not true. The data is suggesting this anyway. And even if they were, the industry has a duty of care to attend to them. It is in no-one’s interest to suggest that the industry would shy away from participating in the Social Web on the basis of a perceived concern that they may encounter issues that they are obligated to address. The fact is, however, that they simply won’t find them in the quantities that were feared some years ago.

The third issue is a big one, namely that „We’ve got no time to do this”, and „We haven’t got the money.” Another query that is often heard is „ what’s the return of the investment on the money we spend on the social web? Show me the cost benefit of using the social web.” Firstly, that’s the wrong question anyway because it’s not something you’re doing to drive revenues directly. It’s something that you’re doing to take care of any number of issues which are critical to your business that revolve around trust. But also going forward if we believe as many of the companies and startups have invested significant amount of time and capital in proving that patient reported information is going to change the clinical trial and drug development process and all of those issues feed back into the pressing question of why is it important for pharma to get into social media right here right now. But to loop back to the ROI question, there are two ways of looking at this. Firstly, you have to ask: „What metrics do you want me to measure? Because I can measure anything. The question is why do you want me to measure them and what are you going to do with the data that I provide you with? Are you going to implement it, and is it going to change your strategic plans in some way?” And usually the answer to that is no, which means the question isn’t worth asking in the first place. But the second response to that is „Why are we asking or probing so deeply into how much it costs to set up and maintain a Twitter account?” which frankly is not a lot. It costs nothing to set it up, and yes there are implications in terms of employee time in maintaining presences effectively but for a contemporary, progressive pharma company this is now quite simply an important part of the day-to-day work it must undertake as part of its broader strategic objectives, and should never therefore just be viewed in isolation. But more to the point that cost – as minimal as it is – is never measured against the 50 thousand, 100 thousand plus dollars, pounds, whatever currency, spent in setting up a website, for example, the benefits of which are seldom scrutinised in so exacting manner. Existing strategies that may deliver very poor ROI – like direct mail that no-one reads which just acts as a coaster for a coffee mug before being thrown in the bin  – are not similarly interrogated. Thus, a useful response strategy for pharma marketers would be „Well you show me the ROI of those iPads you bought, the BlackBerries your team uses, the memory sticks you sent out with some detailing to some GPs and tell me how many people actually got them, read them and got back to you. I’ll tell you how much it costs to make my campaign using social media.” And you can guarantee that on a cost basis, the results will be better for the virtual campaign.

(Connect with Andrew Spong on Twitter or on

Why Social Media? – Andrew Spong Shares His Thoughts With H2onlinehu (Part 1)

With this post we would like to start our first interview series on H2ONLINEHU. Our aim is to discuss the idea behind pharmaceutical online communication and the recent trends of the field with experienced professionals and influential experts. And what better way to start, than to talk about the importance of social conversations in pharma with one of the founders of #hcsmeu, healthcare social media Europe, Andrew Spong.

Anyone that is involved in the field of health and social media knows you mainly from your key role in healthcare social media Europe. Could you talk about the idea behind building this particular community and having the weekly Twitter chats?

I think the story behind healthcare social media is quite well-known now, so I will just re-cap it really briefly. I was looking in the Summer of 2009 for health conversations on the social web, and I didn’t find that many at that time. What I did find however was a lady, called Silja Chouquet (@whydotpharma). We found that we were using the same key words, searching for the same sort of health-related things and, as a consequence we found each other. However, what we didn’t find at the time (although the case is very much altered now) were the sort of regular conversations about social health that we were looking for. Or rather, we didn’t find any systematically organized or regularly held contexts for those conversations to take place on the social web in Europe.

We therefore decided to launch a tweetchat. We thought we’d call it Healthcare Social Media Europe, and use the hashtag #hcsmeu following the example of #hcsm, the healthcare social media conversations started by Dana Lewis (@danamlewis) in the US. Within 10 days of our initial conversation we had the first #hcsmeu chat. We promoted it quite widely through our own networks, and were delighted when a dozen or so people turned up at 1pm CET on Friday 7th August 2009 on the #hcsmeu hashtag. And that was in August 2009, and now of course we’ve had two real-life hcsmeu conferences, we’ve had a healthcare social media global conference, and nearly 120 weekly events now which take place every Friday as you know at 12:00 UK time, 1 o’clock European time.

To an outsider, how would you describe health conversations on the social web? Why social media, what are the advantages of this platform compared to other channels for health-related conversations?

The advantages of social media in connecting people are numerous really, but let’s just focus on a few of them. First is the instantaneous nature of the connection. To find and identify people – assuming that their bios are properly formed and feature the relevant keywords – and immediately connect with people across the world, but also with people in our own geographies around Europe who share our interest in the health conversation on the social web. So in terms of building community, social media has been I think crucial for all the healthcare stakeholder groups. What has been also very interesting is the way that social media has enabled those different stakeholder groups (patients, healthcare professionals, the industry, public health providers and so on) to find new ways to interact and new spaces to interact in, to share and to address some of the issues which we consider when we ask „What does improving the quality of care look like?”. Immediacy, speed and also availability of one-to-one connections is something new and something that social media fosters very effectively, I think.

You mentioned a couple of key words that stood out to me: interact, share, address issues. Why are these crucial? Why is it important for pharma companies especially to be involved in social media when it comes to health conversations?

While there are similarities across the different stakeholder groups, there are clearly differences as well. From pharma’s perspective, for example, the opportunities that social media offers include the rebuilding of its reputation, the building of a level of trust in its activities, and to credential itself in such a way as to offer tangible evidence of its commitments to patients and providers rather than some of the more abstracted and esoteric claims that pharma companies are prone to make on their websites along the lines of ‘wanting to make the world a healthier place’. That’s great, but really: who doesn’t want that? In short, you are far more likely to be convinced by a company’s claim to want to do that if they can actually demonstrate to you that they are doing it rather than just telling you that they’re doing it.

Thus perhaps the biggest opportunity possibly for the industry is to reach out, to credential itself, to build trust, and build credibility. However, that is also its biggest challenge, because when levels of trust in the pharmaceutical industry are as low as they currently are from an observer’s perspective, it is always going to be difficult for any given company to make that first step. It can be problematic for companies to find the most appropriate context within which they can begin to build all those adjacent benefits that we just identified. Being a heavily regulated industry as it is, pharma has not always found an easy route into this conversation. It is noteworthy that the companies that have succeeded such as Roche, Pfizer, and Boehringer have been those that have been most willing to put themselves out there. Not in an irresponsible way, but clearly, these companies understand that this is an experimental environment, and that unexpected things can and will happen. Let’s not forget that the conversation on the social web that Twitter drives has only been happening for five years. Twitter as a platform is only five years old, and whilst it is only the first generation of real-time information networks, what’s qualitatively different about the interactions that it creates and about what the industry is consequently having to learn to do in order to participate effectively is to get involved in a dialogue rather than merely making pronouncements, although at this time there is still far too much push messaging taking place.

Within European online health communication how do you see the position of pharma companies and agencies located in Eastern-Europe? Based on your past experiences what kind of advice would you give them?

I think from a Western European perspective we’ve seen evidence of interest arising across stakeholder groups including pharma, but on an individual level it hasn’t been a great deal of evidence, at least among English-speaking circles – obviously language is an issue – of affiliates within Eastern Europe coming online in a systematic way at a corporate level. So whilst individuals are beginning to mobilize, there hasn’t been a great deal of evidence of wider initiatives. Coming back to language issues, it is note-worthy that those conversations are conducted in English. However, I think that encouragement should be taken from the fact that companies like Pfizer, Boehringer and Roche are beginning to attempt to support their affiliates by supporting the bringing together and launching of local-language social media presences. And I think Pfizer is probably the leading example of this at the moment. They developed best practices from the head office in the US which have been expertly filtered out to European affiliates and they have been really supporting local colleagues in their desire to connect with the customers that matter to them in their geographies.

We know that the internet has no boundaries, so effectively everything they publish could be theoretically read by everybody. If they take it upon themselves to identify a need within their own territories, within their own geographies, in their own language then the more progressive companies are seeing that they have a responsibility to support those affiliates and help them grow those presences themselves. So, there’s not a massive amount of evidence thus far, but you get a sense that the conditions of possibility are being created to support the development, the emergence, and the blossoming of pharma social media in Eastern Europe.

And finally, how would you evaluate 2011 in terms of health conversations on the social web? What do you foresee for 2012?

I wrote a blog post about this subject recently. I believe that we are in this three-stage process of identifying trends that are slipping away, trends that are dominating, and trends that are emerging so it is interesting to watch this organic process take place. I’ve only been paying close attention to and participating in the social web since 2008, it was my third Twitter birthday in November. So I’ve personally been on Twitter for 3 of 5 years of its life, and do not possess a complete contextual framework from which I may speak to this question with any more authority than anyone else who has been using the platform. However, it is my observation in the three years that we have seen what were considered fundamental issues for the industry, when it was more focused on trying to orient itself rather than participating, we have seen these issues like listening and engagement becoming less important. That’s not to say that you don’t need to listen and you don’t need to engage, but it’s a prerequisite of maintaining an effective presence on the social web: that one listens, and listens well and continually refines one’s listening strategy. So it’s pointless to talk about that, you have to be doing that anyway. And similarly if you’re not engaging on the social web than what are you doing? So these are trends that I think are disappearing.

I’m hoping that we will talk rather less about mobile next year because it is beginning to seem  superfluous. Almost everything is mobile now and therefore to have a mobile strategy is a redundancy. You should be taking Google’s lead by looking to serve the interests of the mobile user first and allow everything else to follow on behind this. So we need to focus on mobile, but we don’t need to separate it from everything else that we do on the basis that is becoming the core focus of the consumption and therefore (ideally) the publication of content. Hopefully we’ll just take it for granted that mobile is integrated and incorporated in everything that we do.

I’m also hoping gamification and anything game-related will prove to be rather less fascinating for us next year. There was a fantastic paper by Chia Hwu (@chiah) who delivered a paper entitled ‘Three Major Trends in Healthcare: Social, Mobile and Games‘ at an Ideagoras conference recently. She made some great points about games – gamification doesn’t work, games do work, she was saying. You don’t want to be taking game elements and trying to integrate them into a user experience or user interface but if you can find a way of conveying a message through a game that’s appealing then maybe you’re on to something.

Search remains important as the way that we are searching and what we are searching for and the environments within which we are searching for the information is changing constantly. We all saw that statistic last year about effectively Facebook being the world’s biggest search engine because more searches are entered to Facebook than to Google because Facebook, although it does link out into Google it links to its own content first. People are looking for health information for example within Facebook. And the quality of information that they’re going to find more often than not at this point of time is very poor. So if we believe that the whole purpose of healthcare is to improve patient outcomes, then there are issues there regarding search. So search is critical, the question of where patients, healthcare professionals are looking, the environment in which they are searching for information, to inform their practice and to inform their shared decision-making and the co-creation of their healthcare.

The things that I think are important in 2012 are two-fold. I’m really interested in influence. By which I mean I’m not interested in whether Klout is better than PeerIndex or Kred, and that shouldn’t matter to any of us. Rather, what is important is the fact that secondary services are appearing now which are harvesting and processing social metadata, ‘Big Data’ analyses of the totality of our activity across the social web and they’re doing something with it. Now in the case of Klout they are just putting a big number on it, but if Klout for example becomes a trusted measure of influence – it has done a great job making itself untrustworthy recently – but let’s just say they managed to have done that, then it becomes an issue for the industry. People’s opinions of brands and companies will increasingly be informed in part by the way that the platforms harvesting, analyzing and discussing their social metadata present them.

The industry therefore will need to be growing importance of presenting itself consistently through the content that it publishes all across the web. This is not going to be easily achieved, but it needs to be something which senior employees or those with a global perspective begin to look upon as a pressing issue: to make sure that data and messages are consistent. A great start from the point of view of your readership and your geography is just to make sure that everything that they do within their own geographies is consistent. So they don’t have many different people tweeting things from different accounts. It’s not a complex matter, but there has to be a plan that everyone is aware of, takes ownership of, and that is coherent. Big Data is another emerging trend. Patient communities are – like CureTogether, like PatientsLikeMe – beginning to have access to relatively significant numbers of pieces of patient reported information which allow us to say interesting things about symptoms and treatment options for patients.

Finally, the industry has to be absolutely transparent about the reason why it is using social media. If it’s trying to represent itself in such a way as to simply redefine how it believes it may be able to control messages – which it cannot – then it will be found out and made to look foolish. Pharma needs to take a new approach to the way in which it represents itself within social web environments. Credibility is another trending issue in 2012. Direct messages are the last thing patients want to see. The social web is not for pushing messages, and it’s also not for selling. I’m hoping 2012 is going to be the year within which some of my fundamental questions – which underpin the financial planning and the growth of companies – around marketing are interrogated because to me it seems that an expectation endures that ideas forged in the offline world of the last century can simply by transposed onto the social web as if they had some sort of universal value, significance and bearing upon the fundamentally different dynamics of the social web. It is my opinion that they do not, and that they do not belong there, and that is why I advocate discussion about the subject via the #postmarketing hashtag. I think we are in a post-marketing era – people don’t want to be sold at on the social web, neither do they want to be tricked, or cajoled or persuaded. They want to converse, to be informed and they want to be heard. But they do not, for sure, want to be sold at. The transition from monologue to dialogue and all the expectations that inhere within it from the perspective of the way that businesses need to present themselves and think about their customers’ perceptions of their activities are key characteristics of the social turn in communication.

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Social Media And Pharma: Thinking Ahead

With 2011 slowly coming to an end there are more and more articles surfacing trying to evaluate the past year and look ahead to predict what’s coming in 2012. Pharma is no different in this aspect either. With digital trends and social media being the center of the attention for a while now, it is no surprise that a lot of posts foresee online pharma engagement for next year. And looking at the progress that has happened the last couple of months I think we could finally be hopeful about social media adaptation in the pharma industry.

There are so many examples to mention from Sanofi’s WhyInsulin? Youtube channel to Pfizer’s Twitter account spreading global anti-counterfeiting messages. In 2011 we also saw the birth of Google+ which starts to draw attention from pharma as well with Roche and Pfizer both setting up accounts. While Facebook stirred up some controversy within the industry by pushing for user comments on fan pages, a lot of companies took the challenge and used this as an opportunity to connect with costumers.

For quite a while the conversation was about the need for pharma to acknowledge the importance of social media and a strong online presence. In 2011 I feel like we finally got over the statistics, we didn’t need numbers anymore to be convinced by how many people turn to the internet and social media for health information. The industry moved on from the question of “IF” to the “HOW”. And that is a significant step ahead.

With new profiles, accounts set up and social initiatives started it is pharma’s job in 2012 to concentrate on the “HOW” and use social media for what it is created for. That means no more one-way messages, but instead engagement. Connection, communication, engagement and community – these should be the key words for a successful 2012.

Embracing The Era Of Mobile

The last couple of days presented several news pieces that prove: we are indeed rapidly approaching the era of mobile. The longest Blackberry outage so far made people religiously using Blackberry Messenger furious. On the other hand, faithful believers of Apple were more than happy to share their numerous versions of “I told you so.” The timing was horrible for Blackberry and never better for Apple: days before the release of the new iPhone 4s.

It is safe to say, that by now mobile technology overtook our day-to-day life. But how much influence does mobile have  when it comes to our habits? And what does that mean for marketers, especially in the field of healthcare? The infographic below helps to understand just how much are mobile devices part of our lifestyle.

Reading these numbers and data it is obvious, that the old model of TV and print focused marketing is outdated, therefore a lot of money spent with minimum reach and success. It is time to consider regrouping marketing expenses and paying close attention to mobile technologies and trends.

(Source: – shared by Gary Monk)