There’s an old adage that says people love the sound of their own name. Scientists have been able to prove the truth of this rather egocentric phenomenon with research on brain activation. While not a terribly shocking discovery, this adage holds true for brands and social media listening as well. Brands are in love with their name, any and all mentions of it, wherever people are talking—they just can’t seem to get enough.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with brand listening, for your brands or your competitors’. There is a lot to learn from hearing what patients, family members, medical staff and the population at large have to say about brands, facilities, programs, products and their efficacy. In fact, it’s where brands should start their social media programs—listening and learning to understand and establish a baseline of how they are perceived and discussed. Without this baseline, it is difficult to determine whether or not any initiative to move the needle worked.
It seems that too many brands get stuck at this me phase, caught in an endless cycle of reading brand mentions, responding when appropriate and possible, then reacting with a messaging tweak here and new advertising channel there. These steps are all an important part of the process but there is a wealth of other valuable information available for the enlightened social investigator that can open doors to new ways to connect to audiences and patients looking at affinity groups.
The traditional definition of an affinity group goes back to the more politically minded groups with a common ideology who are motivated and organized around a common cause like saving the environment or animal rights. Today, social analysts refer to affinity groups as networking groups, connected groups of individuals with common interests or experiences who share knowledge and support.
According to the latest research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 80% of Internet users have looked online for health information. Additionally, 18% have gone online to find others who might have health concerns similar to theirs. By focusing attention on unbranded conversations about common ailments, brands can learn a lot about how consumers talk about problems, products and places they turn to for guidance, and how they feel about the process. This information can be invaluable in uncovering an under-addressed market or identifying an aspect of a condition that no brand is directly serving.
In fact, this was the discovery that decongestant brand Sudafed made not long ago when working with its agency. After analyzing the competitive field and how each brand was positioned, for example, as the “allergy” or “cold and flu” medicine, they identified what they thought was a potential opportunity—to position Sudafed as the go-to product for sinus relief. They turned to social media data to validate if this was really a rebranding opportunity for them. After reading the types of conversations consumers were having about sinus problems, how they talked about their discomfort and what products and solutions they turned to for relief, Sudafed confirmed its suspicions. No decongest brand owned the sinus-related category.
Today, there is no mistaking that Sudafed has effectively positioned itself as the brand with the tools to help consumers understand and manage sinus problems. By looking at an affinity group of sinus sufferers, they identified a problem that was not being directly addressed by any brand and created an effective campaign to leverage opportunity and increase sales. What opportunities will you find when you look beyond the branded conversations?