Leveraging APIs Will Soon Be Vital For Health Marketers

Over the past few months, an increasing part of my job has involved some interesting intersections of data, web publishing, apps and communities. These have emerged in various forms and have faced a range of challenges.

Some of the questions that have emerged from hospital and pharma marketers include:

  • How do we take our valuable web content, which goes through a more rigorous review and revision process than most book publishers require, and leverage it for other communities?
  • What are the best things to focus on as we develop our iPad app?
  • How much should we develop new content as part of our community-building strategy?
  • How can we better serve our audience with content that's contained, managed and updated in multiple locations and that's nearly impossible to group by topic?

As these conversations evolve, I find myself frequently singing the praises of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to marketers.



"Sounds tech-y," is usually the initial reaction. But quickly, they begin to understand the opportunity.

Wikipedia defines (as of this writing) APIs as "a particular set of rules and specifications that a software program can follow to access and make use of the services and resources provided by another particular software program that implements that API. It serves as an interface between different software programs and facilitates their interaction, similar to the way the user interface facilitates interaction between humans and computers."

So what does that mean for marketers?

Simply put, with APIs built for your content, you can more quickly make apps for a range of mobile devices, tablets, and social sites like Facebook.

It also means you could more elegantly build comment and engagement tools around your existing content without needing to drastically overhaul your existing web site. (A good example of how this could work can be found in the way pipes articles into its MyESPN space for commenting).

But this is just the beginning. APIs can truly become a powerful marketing tool, however, when they are opened up to outside developers. You need only look at the likes of Twitter, Flickr and Google Maps to see what can be built by very creative developers who are inventing solutions to problems you didn't even know existed.

"But what content, if any, would developers be looking to leverage?" you might be asking.

The best place to answer that question is probably from developers themselves, and fortunately, there's some upcoming in-person and ongoing online gatherings that you could attend (for free) to learn more.

As more and more developers are supporting various "Government 2.0" projects, the "Health 2.0" movement also is picking up steam. There are two "code-a-thons" in Washington, DC (Feb. 12) and Boston (Feb. 19) that are free and encourage patients and physicians in addition to developers to attend. There are several ongoing Health 2.0 online developer challenges and there's a lively twitter conversation happening on the #health2dev hashtag.

Marketers who listen closely to these conversations can learn what information patients, physicians and developers are looking for and how they want to experience it. Building proper APIs with this perspective and guidance should then make your content more compelling for developers to extend it into creative applications that serve the needs of real people.

And in a connected world where people are leaning more and more frequently on apps to get through daily challenges, I can't think of a better health marketing plan than that.

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