Safe And Social: Striking The Right Balance In Online Health Marketing

Social media marketing has quickly become a valuable tool in every marketer’s arsenal because in addition to being relatively inexpensive, it has the potential to reach very targeted (and engaged) audiences. People are flocking to online communities to share experiences and opinions about everything from television shows and movies to restaurants, retail outlets, social issues, health, national tragedies and more. As these online communities become more ubiquitous, there has clearly been a great deal of change in where people turn for advice. 

According to research by Experian, Americans on average spend 16 minutes of every hour online on a social networking site. However, with such broad possibilities to reach online audiences, it is often hard for marketers to develop effective campaigns. The most successful social media marketing ventures are typically those with some sort of tangible benefit for the audience. 

Perhaps there is no better example of the possibilities for a social media marketing campaign to be mutually beneficial than with the healthcare industry – and pharmaceutical marketers would be wise to get on board.



The ePatient revolution has been steadily gaining steam for several years now, as health consumers – specifically those with a chronic illness – turn to online sites to gather information for their particular condition, seek guidance on how to best cope, and find a support system, all of which act as a day-to-day supplement to the care they are receiving in the doctor’s office. EHealth can never replace the primary care they receive from a qualified physician, but with 24/7 access and the ability to tailor the online experience to fit personal preferences, social networks add a familiar and easy resource tool that can work in conjunction with all aspects of professional care. 

EPatients place a high premium on sites that provide rational information about their condition as well as resources that meet their emotional needs. This is where a savvy healthcare marketer comes into play.

By creating a “safe social” platform that adheres to the regulations set forth by the FDA, the pharma community and ePatients can come together to share and receive information specific to a particular illness. Many marketers shy away from building these relationships online because the risks include steep FDA penalties for those who don’t properly respond to user questions about drug-related topics. However, when done appropriately, this arrangement can produce untold benefits for both parties.

In order to ensure a “safe social” platform, two main components must be in place. The first is to create an online space where members can remain completely anonymous, which allows for the open discussion of very personal and intimate health details. The second is to keep marketing efforts transparent by allowing members of the community to opt-in to sharing their information and opinions with marketers. 

There are some sites already finding success with this model. Alliance Health Networks has developed an extensive portfolio of condition-specific social networks that leverage social and mobile communities to empower ePatients to take control of their personal health. By partnering with healthcare marketers who provide dependable products, services and information, Alliance Health Networks has been able to cultivate an online community that caters to the very specific needs of ePatients dealing with specific chronic illnesses, and has created an environment where pharma marketers can integrate meaningful value to the consumer while delivering record-level brand engagement. 

This creates a true win-win for both the health consumers and the healthcare marketers. From depression to diabetes, arthritis to sleep disorders, these social networks have centralized everything members were already searching for on the Web: reliable information, useful resources, and a supportive group of people who can relate to a specific struggle and share personal experiences. And marketing partners have a direct line to the very groups of people they most want to reach as they strive to dispense information and gather feedback.

2 comments about "Safe And Social: Striking The Right Balance In Online Health Marketing".
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  1. Argelio Dumenigo from Razorfish Healthware, July 22, 2013 at 3:41 p.m.

    I totally agree with having to be transparent and I agree that balancing the benefits social media bring with the necessity to meet the regulatory demands of the life science industries is important to any marketer trying to reach patients or healthcare practitioners. But I do not believe that the need for complete anonymity is a prerequisite of using social media to help patients - look at the dozens of brand and user created health communities on Patients Like Me, MedHelp and Facebook - those folks are not anonymous. Nor do I believe that brands should think of social media being "relatively inexpensive." This thinking has hurt pharma and medical device brands for years since many are surprised at what it costs to concept, develop, create content for, monitor, moderate and optimize social media programs. Sure its cheap to throw up a community or a couple videos and walk away, but that is not what "doing social media" is really about. Social media efforts take nurturing and guidance from the brand that launched it. Its not like a campaign - set it and forget it. It's a living, breathing community that needs attention. The value that brands and patients will get out of social media is equal to what they put into if. Kind of like that Paul McCartney line about love.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 22, 2013 at 9 p.m.

    Caveat emptor: Your employment depends upon your health and your families' health. You'll never know why you didn't get hired.

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